The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

I’ M not ter­ri­bly good at babysit­ting; as a mat­ter of fact I have done so only once, when my daugh­ter paid an emer­gency visit to the hair­dresser, aban­don­ing me and her chil­dren in a cof­fee shop, and I counted the min­utes with panic and pursed lips un­til she re­turned.

It’s not that I don’t love the lit­tle boys to bits and it’s not that I don’t want to see lots and lots of them; it’s just that, due to no fault of my own, the lit­tle pa­tience with which I was born has dis­ap­peared, along with my read­ing glasses and the front door keys, which keep los­ing them­selves.

On the other hand, their other grand­mother is a saint, as I keep telling her.

I won­der how my grand­sons will re­mem­ber me when I’m gone. My grand­moth­ers were the prover­bial chalk and cheese. They never spoke to each other be­cause one was Ir­ish and gave us drip­ping on brown bread as an af­ter­noon treat, and the other was English and drove her­self into the city to con­sult her stock­bro­ker; she trav­elled the world with large trunks of clothes and three hat­boxes.

When we went to visit Ir­ish Gran she played gin rummy with me and my brothers for our pocket money, which she ea­gerly swooped on, and once she came along on hol­i­day to the coast where, aged at least 200, she al­lowed us to bury her up to her neck on the beach. She bet on the horses and went to church on Sun­days wear­ing green.

I re­mem­ber go­ing with Grand, as we called the other one, to the air­port to pick up my un­cle, re­turn­ing to South Africa from a pris­oner- of- war camp in Italy. She nod­ded at him and he gave her a peck on the cheek; there was lit­tle to show that this was the wo­man who had sat up night af­ter night twid­dling the knobs of the old brown wire­less, hop­ing to hear her son’s name broad­cast as still alive. On the way home I sat in the dick­y­seat, my legs hang­ing out the back of the car.

If a grand­mother al­lowed a child to drag her feet along the tar­mac to­day she would be taken out and shot at dawn. Only a saintly grand­mother will know the ef­fort just to get two small chil­dren in and out of the car. There are the safety cap­sules into which you need to know how to stow them, you need to be a lock­smith to work out the seat­belts and you need a huge car for the stroller which, for some rea­son never quite ex­plained, is the size of a space rocket; steer­ing it through a sub­ur­ban shop­ping so­ci­ety is a bit like play­ing Rus­sian roulette, only worse.

So if I cark it in the near fu­ture I will not have fig­ured strongly in their lives.

I think I’ll be bet­ter with them when they’re older and I can teach them my old tricks, such as peel­ing and eat­ing ba­nanas with their toes, short- sheet­ing their par­ents’ beds and rolling each other down the road in an old tyre. Fun beck­ons.

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