He would substitute raw bacon for Black Forest ham – no wonder the German delicacies were much better received than Granny Ruth herself
Unlike most people, I don’t remember the summers of my youth being hotter. But that could be because the temperature dropped by 20C as soon as Granny Ruth arrived. Back then we had no idea why, and could only observe my mum banging pots in the kitchen and demanding how one person could get through so many strawberries. Meanwhile, her mother-in-law sat serenely, pale flesh pillowing from her armature of boned pink satin, tapping out Lili Marlene with pearly fingernails on the wooden arm of her chair. We didn’t know it was all about The Mistress, whom Granny considered a better match for her boy than the baffling, brainy Yorkshirewoman he had married. Perhaps the Yorkshirewoman can be excused her response.
I don’t know how much pleasure anybody got from those visits, but at Christmas she wisely sent a parcel instead, which seemed to work much better. Parcels back then were double-wrapped in brown paper and an agonising skein of knotted string, every knot of which had to be unpicked for future use. The parcel needed to be strong because, apart from the inevitable copy of Struwwelpeter, which my mum just as inevitably pounced on and threw away before it could give us nightmares, it contained almost exclusively tins and jars of food. Wax beans, goose liver paté, pfifferlinge mushrooms in brine: all the tastes of my dad’s childhood, imperfect like all recollections but good enough to transport him, temporarily, back home.