Thursday, 12 November 2015

Bygone Days

I've written quite a few post about my childhood.

The best of times spent with my Grandparents when we shared their home in South Devon.

I've probably made it sound idyllic, privileged even with our outdoor carefree life, our ponies, church on Sundays and the characters that passed through our daily lives.

The truth is that much of it WAS idyllic, the kind of childhood I would have loved for my own children. 

The kind of childhood I would love for EVERY child.

Some aspects were a little harder, not so sugar coated, things that made me unhappy.  But they aren't the things I like to dwell on.  I don't want them tainting the happy memories.

The biggest event in our small seaside village every year was the annual show.

The whole year was a lead up to this with gardeners busy growing the biggest and the best produce.  Jams were boiled to perfection.  Chutneys and pickles were preserved in jars and carefully labelled.

Flowers were tended so that they reached their peak in time to be cut and artfully arranged.

Toys were knitted, blankets crocheted and buttons were sewn onto tiny baby jackets.

The morning of the show was always complete chaos with cars full of bounty drawing up at the village hall.  A hubbub of voices.  Boxes of carrots, cabbages and soft fruit.  Ladies wearing hats with armfuls of greenery.  Men wearing flat caps seeming unconcerned as they surreptitiously glanced at the competitions marrows.

My sister and I were employed as 'runners' for the judges.  As each section was judges and the score sheets marked we would 'run' them up to the person totalling the scores and would be given the next scoring sheet to 'run' back to the judges.

It was a huge responsibility.  Often we could spot the handwriting of our Grandmother against one of the entries and I would silently will the judge to award her first place.  She always won for her bread.  No one in the village could touch my Grandmother for making bread and I thought I would burst with pride every time I saw the judge taste a slice and then nod before putting a first before her entry number.

There were categories for children too which my sister and I would enter.  I remember winning first prize for my entry of wild flowers arranged in a jam jar.  I'm sure that between us we won many other prizes too but that's the one I remember best.

At the end the scores were totalled up and overall winners were announced as well as the winners of each class.

My Grandmother never won the overall prize to my knowledge.  There were many classes she didn't enter preferring to concentrate on her baking so she couldn't accumulate enough points for the overall prize.

When I was 12 and my sister was 13 my Grandmother announced that now she was a teenager my sister was old enough to take part in the adult classes.

Under her guidance my sister baked up a storm.  Cakes, pastries, bread, jams, puddings and chutneys.  You name it, she made it!

My Grandmother was very clear that it all had to be her own work, she was there to supervise and that was all.  She offered advice but no actual practical help.

That year, because we she was so involved in the competition it was decided that someone else should take over the role of runner in my sisters place and I should just be the runner for the children's section so we had no idea until the prize giving how well she had done.

Like my Grandmother, my sister ONLY entered the baking classes.  She didn't knit or crochet anyway and didn't have much of an interest in gardening or flower arranging but boy, could she cook!

Time after time her name was called out as the winner of a class.  She still didn't win the bread class though.  Despite not entering many classes that year my Grandmother DID make her famous bread and so kept the title of the best bread maker in the village for another year.

After the prize giving we were all congratulating my sister on her efforts when they announced the overall winner across the classes.

When they called out my sisters name I think we were ALL in shock.  I don't think ANYONE had ever won it purely on their baking.  I don't think anyone realised it was possible to total enough points to win it without entering other classes too.

The truth is that she had won first prize in so many categories that her total points made her the overall winner at just 13.

I think many noses were put our of joint on that day.  I suspect that had my Grandmother not been so highly regarded and respected that she might have been suspected of 'helping' my sister.

She didn't and my sister had won the coveted prize on her own merit and her talent for baking.

She had a great mentor and teacher in my Grandmother but she also had a natural ability and worked bloody hard!

The following year I turned 13.

Sadly my Grandmother fell ill and all thought of the annual show was put to one side as we nursed her.

I remember sitting by her beside as I did every day talking to her.  Some times she would nod off as I talked and often she seemed a little distant.

One day she turned to me and said, 'I'm sorry about the show, this was your year to shine'.

I told her it didn't matter, that there would be other years.

It didn't matter, I didn't care about shining although it had been something that up until that point had been so important to me.

My Grandmother had already instilled a love of baking in me that I carry on today.  I'll never be the baker she was and my bread has never won any prizes.

I think of her often when the smell of baking fills my house.

Sadly there weren't any more years and my Grandmother passed away that Summer.

I still picture her in her blue house coat pulling a tin of piping hot bread from the oven.

I still miss both my Grandparents but I'm so thankful that I had such wonderful people in my life.


joeh said...

Lovely story!

Holly Hollyson said...

Beautiful memories - you know that we shared very similar childhoods. I was right there with you throughout this story. My Nanna was a star baker but with her the thing that we all remember best were her chocolate chip cakes that became her signature bake.

Brighton Pensioner said...

What a moving tribute to someone who was obviously a very special person.

Sarah said...

Thanks Joe.

I know we did Holly - one of the things my Grandmother used to cook were drop scones (a little like scotch pancakes). They were my favourite and she always baked them for me.

She was BP, I was very fortunate in both my Grandparents.

Val said...

What a wonderful memory! She taught you both well.

Sarah said...

She did Val and I like that fact that her legacy is carried on through baking.