I wrote this post about 10 months ago before I actually found the courage to start the blog. It seemed appropriate to post it today because yesterday was Nana’s 101st birthday and nothing has changed.
My paternal grandmother had her 100th birthday a couple of months ago. We always said she would get there as her mother died the week before her 100th birthday, but sadly, Nana doesn’t really know what’s going on.
I am incredibly proud of her. She has always described herself as a simple country girl and her life has been a lot more difficult than mine (so far). She didn’t have the type of education which we take for granted now and went into service at the age of 14, eventually becoming a cook. When my grandad died 25 years ago, she had to learn to do things she never thought she’d have to: write cheques, look after the house, pay bills etc. In fact she only moved out of her house five years ago. I have fond memories of nature walks and her asking me questions about subjects which for her would have been hitherto taboo, such as living with someone before marriage and childminding. My parents gave my brother and me a book when we were children called How a Baby is Made and Nana read it afterwards, announcing, “I learnt a lot from that book”!
For her 90th birthday, I compiled a book of things that had happened in those 90 years and updated it for her 100th birthday, mainly for her great-grandchildren to see the magnitude of what has happened during Nana’s lifetime. It includes family events and also world events. Women didn’t have the vote 100 years ago and her century has witnessed the sinking of the Titanic, 23 prime ministers, 4 monarchs, 2 world wars, the break-up of the British Empire and the arrival of numerous inventions, including television, computers and many of the home appliances we take for granted. In fact when I looked back at developments of the last decade, it was dominated by advances in technology which is odd when you think that in 1910, electricity wasn’t really commonplace in homes. When you realise that Nana’s lifetime has witnessed the use of the gramophone, record players playing vinyl records at 331⁄3, 45 and 78 rpm, cassette decks, CDs and now MP3 players and iPods, it really is incredible.
Clothing was incredibly different; not even the zip had been invented when she was born (it was invented in 1913). Do children even know what petticoats are these days? I’m sure that most of them haven’t heard of corsets or liberty bodices. My daughter has been fascinated by the recent TV programme Downton Abbey and so have I, because my grandmother would have worn the clothes and done the work of the girls downstairs. My daughter also started Brownies last year, just in time to celebrate Girl Guiding’s centenary which also puts things into perspective.
In the year that Nana was born, Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, was first published in Rewards and Fairies. It made me realise how much our language has changed too. Words, such as gay, have taken on completely different connotations and no doubt some words have become obsolete, just as new words have been coined. Susie Dent, probably best known as the lexicographer from Channel 4’s Countdown, put together The Language Report, a list of words which define the spirit of each year between 1904 and 2004. Lists of these words can be found here. They really define the eras: the list gives entries for 1923 as Charleston, 1934 as Gestapo, 1949 as Big Brother, 1972 as Watergate and 1998 gave us the verb to Google while another list contains entries such as teddy bear for 1906, racism for 1935, psychedelic for 1957, toy-boy for 1981 and text message for 1998.
Nana will never get to read this but I am in awe of her achievement in light of all the things that have happened in a century and also slightly scared at the speed with which things move these days. Congratulations, Nana.