“Grandpa will be here soon, are you ready?”
I nod. ‘Doesn’t it look obvious?’ I think. Jacket on, bag in my hand. But then that’s my mum all over. Treating me as if I’m two, which I’m not. Old enough to make my own decisions, get myself ready.
“OK well,” she continues, “are you sure you’re going to be warm enough?’
With two layers bottom half, four top half, this is… to use one of my dad’s phrases ‘a redundant question’.
I nod again. The only question left is “are you eating enough?” She says that to Nick, my older, freer, university-living brother.
“And make sure you eat enough.”
There we go. I’ve officially been ‘Nick’ed.
“He hasn’t said where he’s taking you.”
Mum is Sarah, Dad is Christopher and Gramps (or ‘Grandpa’ as mum always calls him when I’m around) is Norman. Mum says he was named after Norman the Conqueror but we’ve done him in history and as far as I know, our Norman has never conquered anything – made an impression, definitely. He can’t fail to do that. She’s still talking.
I’m Lizzie by the way. English as English can be. That’s our family. Elizabeth, me, named after the Queen and my dad’s mother… or probably more likely my dad’s mother then the Queen. I’ve never asked. I don’t have any relatives called Nicholas so that must just be a name they both like. Mum did say they picked things that could be shortened but still sound OK. Nothing to be laughed at. I’m not laughing.
Gramps takes me out every other Saturday when Dad’s working. I see him other times of course, but our Saturdays are… well, ours. Just the two of us. And the most fun I have all week. All fortnight. He comes over for tea twice a week and he’s a different person. Mum’s dad. Normal, still funny but quieter. Fits his conversations in with everyone else’s. Keeps quiet when there’s nothing to say. But on our Saturdays he’s who I think he really wants to be – who he is to me.
“He’s here!” Mum shouts, and I fly out the door, slamming it behind me. I catch “And don’t slam…” and smile, looping my bag over my head.
I’d forgotten about Gramps’ new car; a bright red convertible Ford Ka, like Wayne Rooney’s. This is my second trip in it and I imagine mum behind the curtains tutting and saying “why he has something like that I don’t know. It’s so impractical. You can only fit two people in it. And the colour… He’s acting like someone half his age…”
And that’s what I love about him. My parents act older and I don’t want to get to their age without acting like mine. OK, so backwards baseball cap is going a bit far. He only puts that on when we’ve left the street so there’s no chance that mum can see him.
And he wears jeans. Not even mum wears jeans. Not sure why, I’ve never asked her that either. I take after my dad more really, but he’s at work all the time and really I’m closest to Gramps. He’s the one who gets me. Nick sort of does but he’s never here either. When he comes home he’s out with his non-uni mates. And he’s popular, so he’s always out.
Gramps starts the conversation with school. Takes an interest in what I’m doing so I tell him about Kelly and Tony but then he talks about my schoolwork and I figure that mum’s asked him to say something. She’s worried about me, he says. She doesn’t need to be. I do alright. Nick’s always been the bright one. I’ll catch up.
He never tells me where we’re going. We’ve done allsorts. Started off with the normal things; Gulliver’s Land, Whipsnade Zoo, Willen Lakes, but then it got a bit more adventurous. More fun. Instead of walking round the lake or having a picnic by it, we went surfing on it, water skiing. Can’t do that now; it’s all frozen over, not safe. Too cold to go somewhere outdoors, and on the ground of course; Gramps is afraid of heights. Even gets wobbly on the shopping centre escalators.
I think we’re going to the cinema or maybe go-karting – we did that last time but he knows I don’t mind doing things twice, like mum’s casserole on a Wednesday. We all know it’s leftovers but it tastes fab anyway.
We’re driving further than we normally do, and in the opposite direction; north… and fast. Easy Gramps.
But he’s laughing and he has such a funny laugh. It makes me laugh.
He takes off his baseball cap and I see a bald patch. He’s got more hair than Dad and more grey. White actually. “Distinguished,” Mavis says. She lives next door to us and I think she’s got a soft spot for Gramps. I’m pretty sure I see her curtains move when he drops me off. I should get him to stay, or invite her to supper in the week. I think they’d get on. But on a Saturday he dashes off, says he’s got things to do. Well, it’s the weekend, people are busy at the weekend, aren’t they?
“Yes Lizzie but not far. One junction, Rugby.”
I can’t think of anything to do at Rugby. Dad took us shopping there once.
“Are we going shopping?” I say, disappointed.
“Just wait and see.”
Mum says the same when I’ve got something right that’s supposed to be a surprise. Otherwise she says ‘no’.
I haven’t brought much money with me. Mum usually gives me a little but forgot today. I don’t like to ask as I know we don’t have much. I hear my parents talking about it. I think the university’s expensive. More than Nick thinks. Dad gave him a summer job last year but it’s still Dad’s money isn’t it? He’s got a factory making paper but it’s not the sort of paper Nick can use at college or me at school so that doesn’t help.
Gramps leaves the motorway and turns right, away from Rugby. Now I’m really confused. It’s signposted Blaby which I think is a village so we can’t be going shopping. It’s not long before we turn right again and as I see a line of old planes ahead of us, it twigs what we’re doing. He’s always loved Messerschmitts and Spitfires so we’ve come to watch them, and I’m thrilled. It’s a bit cold for standing outside but maybe there’s a room with a glass window.
We’ve seen them on TV. They’re so graceful, like birds. We’ve been bird watching too, that was fun. Not as boring as you’d think. Gramps knows a lot of people so we had an expert tell us what was going on – nothing like the TV. So much more when it’s real.
A man about Gramps’ age greets us as we park the car. He introduces himself as Eric and invites us up to his ‘office’, a glass room on top of the red brick building.
He asks us if we’d like a drink and Gramps asks for two teas, strong as Jack Russell. Eric laughs and I can’t tell whether he knows that Gramps means his favourite cricketer or the dog.
One of Eric’s colleagues makes the drinks while we sit on two old leather chairs. I love the smell so breathe in as hard as I can.
“You’re not getting a cold, are you?” Gramps asks.
“No,” I say and point to the chair.
He smiles and explains it to Eric who says, “Why do you think I wear one of these?” pointing to his old flying jacket. I hadn’t really wondered, but OK.
I’d drunk my tea slower than Gramps but he’s always had a… what is it Mum…? Oh yes, cast-iron constitution.
Gramps and Eric are chatting away so I don’t feel in a hurry and I can’t see any planes doing anything.
I’ve just finished my tea when Eric turns to me. “OK miss, are you ready to go?”
“Already?” I ask.
“Well, if you’re fit.”
“Um, I think so,” I reply. I play netball and swim for the school but I’m not sure how fit he needs me to be to walk back to the car. He can see I’m disappointed and turns to Gramps. “You’ve not told her, have you?”
Eric looks back at me, steps forward and reaches out to take one of my hands. “Come with me young lady.”
I look at Gramps and he winks, so I hold out my right hand which Eric takes and leads me back down the stairs. Down the stairs and not back to the car but towards a big metal shed. I turn back to look at Gramps and he catches up and holds my other hand.
As we walk into the first building I see the most beautiful thing. It reminds me of the noughts and crosses board that Gramps and I often play, only this one is bright red and white.
“It’s a Tiger Moth,” Gramps says.
I stare up at him. “Am I?”
I scream, jump up and down like a pogo stick, clap my hands wildly then throw my arms around him. He laughs which makes me scream again and he puts his hands over his ears. He’s so funny.
“Would you like to go first or second?” Eric asks.
I turn round to him, puzzled. “Before or after who?”
He laughs. “Your grandfather.”
I look back at Gramps. “But you’re afraid…”
He gulps, smiles a little, then bursts into giggles.
Then I realise that he is Norman the Conqueror after all.
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