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I was truly blessed with having the most wonderful Poppy any child could wish for.
Granddad Grayburn hailed from Yorkshire along with my Nannie in the early 1890s. They settled in Mid-Canterbury and built a modest home in the tiny little township of Hinds. They had three children, two girls and a boy. When my mother was around ten years old Poppy dragged the family off to Canada where my mother and her sister went to school for a few years. Poppy had hoped to make his fortune there but sadly, it did not happen so back to New Zealand they came. My grandmother was a frail woman and had dreadful asthma and she passed away when I was only ten while I was in hospital with TB Meningitis.
After Nannie left us, I spent a lot of time staying at Poppy’s. School holidays and weekends were so special when I could spend time with my Poppy. Sometimes my cousins would come and stay and we would have such fun.
Poppy had about three quarters of an acre and had it planted in fruit trees and wonderful gardens. Exploring was just heaven and hiding in one of his many outdoor sheds often scared the living daylights out of me. My cousins used to love to spook me and tell me of all sorts of scary creatures and people hiding out in the sheds. The coal shed seemed to scare me the most.
My cousins used to put on the old gas masks that were put away in old trunks and chase me around the yard, me screaming and them scaring the living daylights out of me. I know my cousins loved me but me being the only girl I was easy prey.
Granddad made such a fuss of me and often when I visited, he would keep lovely fat strawberries for me to pick. The fruit delights were wonderful; all sorts of berries, plums, apples, pears, apricots to die for and even gooseberries both pink and green.
Often we would turn up and Granddad had built some new contraption for us kids to play on or with when we visited. On one occasion, I turned up and my Poppy had made me this wonderful playhouse. I was so excited and when my Dad transported it to our house in Tinwald I was the most popular kid in the street. I spent years playing in it, my mother added curtains and I filled it with all sorts of weird and wonderful things plus my special friends. Only special friends (who I wanted to impress) were invited.
One thing I remember is Poppy giving me half a crown or two shillings and sixpence for pocket money on each visit. He also gave me the same for my brother who was actually working by this time. I thought that was unfair, I really could not see he deserved it. If Poppy gave me one half crown and one two shilling and sixpence, I gave my brother Tony the latter as I thought that was not as much. Little spoilt brat that I was.
There are so many things I remember; Poppy’s collection of pipes, some handmade out of old corncobs, (not sure if they actually worked). Cooking up a pot of potatoes on the old coal range tucked away in the trees, the home brew that would often blow up in the washhouse. Sometimes if it was successful, he would give me a discreet sample. I pretended it was great but often it was god damn awful but I thought it was neat to try beer. My mother did not know about this or she would have gone of her rocker.
Poppy had quite a cheeky spirit and was always coming up with schemes on how to make a bob or two. I so recall going to the local store with him and him getting money for handing in rats tails. I guess that was one way of trying to eradicate them by setting traps. Out of the money he would sometimes buy a pound of cake usually fruit, Madeira or ginger.
He had a lovely, kind heart as well and used to often help neighbours that were less fortunate than himself. Paddy Mulholland was one of Poppy’s special causes. The old man used to really frighten me, he was smelly and unkempt but Poppy said he was ok so I guess he was. He lived in a funny little cottage, which had a big well outside, and I was sure he was going to throw me in. I am sure he was a nice man but being a young impressionable child my imagination worked overtime and I thought he would harm me. He never did, in fact he was always kind. I never did eat his food though.
Anyway, I am sure that the wonderful memories I have of my days and holidays playing at Poppy’s house really helped me develop my weird imagination of all things small and wonderful lurking in the garden. Hence, my Pipsies stories which I wrote and published.
Childhood imagination is precious, we all need time to escape from reality even as an adult but as a child it helps us develop and turn us into the people we become.
I long to write more children’s books and hopefully I will find time in the coming years. I have two little grandsons, Hugo and Fergus who I want to write for so I must make the time to do it before they grow up and are no longer interested in Nana’s nonsense.
I am saddened that modern technology has taken over and no longer do our children and grandchildren get to enjoy the simple things in life. I am no fuddy duddy but I am sure I was a happier child. Having less for me was actually having more.
By Kay Rayner