Into the Mystic – Part 2

Posted: January 11, 2018 By:

From where I am now, it is easy to see the moment of grace that so clearly illuminated the way home.

It was early September 1990, and I had just spent three weeks at the Edinburgh Festival looking for acts for the 1992 NZ International Festival.  I was the Festival’s Deputy Director at the time.

I had to return to London for my flight back to New Zealand, and this provided me with a wonderful opportunity to finally meet my maternal grandmother, Peggy, who was in her early 90’s and lived in a pensioner flat above a Tesco Supermarket in South Croydon. I’d written to her a couple of months before to introduce myself and arrange things.

Not only was this to be the one-and-only time we were to meet – but it was also my first ever visit to London where generations of my mother’s family had spent their lives eking out a living along the east bank of the Thames. Like most East Enders, they were a blended mix of ethnicities and origins – many of whom had be drawn to London to seek their fortunes – but ended up surviving on their wits in some of the most dismal slums to be found anywhere in Europe.

I finally arrived at Nana Peggy’s place in the late afternoon, having left Edinburgh by train earlier in the day.

I made my way up from the street to the roof-top flats, and after a short search, found her door and knocked.  Almost immediately I heard her steps moving swiftly across the floor.  A far from frail voice with a strong cockney accent called out, “Who’s there?”  “It’s Kieron, your Grandson” I responded, trying, not very successfully, to hide the nervousness I was feeling in the pit of my stomach.

After a brief moment, the door opened, and there she was, five foot nothing and full of presence, her long silver-grey hair tied up in a bun at the back. She ushered me inside, stared at me for a moment and then gave me a heartfelt hug.

She reminded me so much of my Mum, yet somehow lighter and less complex.  I had brought her a small gift of an ‘air plant’ glued to a piece of driftwood, which seemed to truly delight her.

Though we had never met, there was no awkwardness and it was like I had always known her.  We talked about so many things… mostly about her growing up, and my Mum as a child. The realities of her life pre-and-post war, the blitz, the death of her husband, my grandfather, and bringing-up two daughters on practically nothing in the East End of London.

How my mother and father met at a rollerskating rink just before the outbreak of WW2.  What a great skater my Dad was – and how my Mum kept falling over on purpose to attract his attention, which totally worked!  And then their rushed, war-time marriage at Tottenham Court Registry Office on the 28th of April 1941.

Dinner that night was traditional ‘Bangers and Mash’ with a simple green salad – just like my Mum used to make – and I remember thinking that maybe the apple didn’t fall that far from the tree after all.

The flow of conversation barely paused over dinner, but as soon as I’d eaten I began to feel extremely tired.  Three weeks at the Edinburgh Festival had taken its toll.  I’d seen fifty-two individual shows during my time there – sometimes up to five a day, often starting at 10am and finishing well after midnight.

Nana noticed I was fading fast and led me to my room saying she would do the after-dinner clean-up.  I was too tired to make any kind of show of protesting, and was deeply grateful for her obvious compassion.

I don’t really remember getting into bed that night.  Exhaustion had taken over and I was obviously on automatic pilot.  One thing for sure though, I went out like a light the moment my head hit the pillow.

Continued… Into the Mystic – Part 3