It’s the third time I’ve attempted to call my grandma this week. She is out a lot—and between our 67-year age gap and nine-hour time difference, it makes sense that we’re not always on the same page. She doesn’t have a cell phone nor an email address; her only form of communication is through her landline at home in Holy Jesus Bungalows Spital Tongues in Newcastle. The only day I’ll catch her for certain is my Thursday evening, her Thursday morning. This is because she goes to the club in Gateshead to play bingo every Thursday night with her girlfriends Joan and Ethyl, and stays at home during the day beforehand. Despite a few relocations and waning participants, they’ve kept the weekly tradition going for decades.
In the spirit of “mistakes” month, we’ve scheduled this particular call so that I can ask about her opinions on the mistakes she’s made in her life—and, in particular, which ones felt like they were worth it. Despite being 91, she has more spirit than anyone I’ve ever met, so, we wound up talking about some other things too. Below, a handful of her musings.
On Speaking Her Mind
I’m very outspoken. I should think more before I open my mouth and speak. Sometimes as I’m already lunging into something I’m thinking to myself, Ooooooh. You should not have said that. You know? I can be too straight at times and I need to watch what I’m saying. My husband used to always say my biggest fault was not knowing when to keep my mouth shut. I’m too outspoken. But it’s a bit late learning that now, isn’t it? I should have been living by that a long time ago…. But I don’t care what other people think of me. I mean, if somebody likes you they like you and if they don’t there’s not a thing you can do about it. There’s always people that we like and dislike. Some more than others.
On Trifles, Chicken Wings, & Pizza Hut
I’m quite stubborn in the food that I like. I have a sweet tooth. I like white chocolate and caramels. I don’t like Turkish delight—that’s something I care nothing for at all. Marks & Spencer do a lovely mandarin trifle. It’s beautiful. Morrison’s also do trifles and I get them on Tuesdays. It’s three for one pound. Very good.
I also love chicken wings. I tried them once when you were very young and you loved them too! People say there’s nothing on them, but it’s enough for me. I bring them home and I have them with bread and butter. It’s thoroughly enjoyable. Pizza Hut give me a big discount on my chicken wings every Saturday. The manager said I was a good customer, but I only go in once a week!
On Nude Modeling
I became an artist model when I was younger. A nude model. I did it at Newcastle University and in a lot of people’s eyes it was deemed inappropriate. But it wasn’t! The students were just there to draw and you sat there, motionless. I did it so I could go on holiday with my friends, because we were so poor and hard up, and we had already worked all the overtime we could get. My mother knew, but my father didn’t. All those years ago when you think about it, it wasn’t the sort of thing to do. But all the people in the class were very nice.
Of course it would be better if I didn’t smoke, but I don’t drink, Jodie! I do like my cigarettes, as you know. I know I shouldn’t be smoking, it’s definitely not good for me. I usually smoke Mayfair or Benson & Hedges. Australia only lets you take 50 cigarettes in. Fifty! That’s not much good when you’re going out for a month’s holiday. But you can bring 200 home when you’re coming back.
On Bargain Hunting
I love a bargain. I love thrift shops. I don’t know why. This is the honest truth. Mary, my best friend of 60 years who died, hated them. Mary used to say, “Ew Joan! You’re wearing things from other people.” Her and I disagreed on that. My son also said I had no need to go in them. Well no, I haven’t, but I like them! Some of them are getting quite expensive now. If I was to win the lottery, I would still not pay what they ask for [for new] clothes. I don’t know if you know this, but the profits on clothes are enormous. Sometimes I go in and gasp at the prices of clothes in stores. And the staff agrees with me! And when I see what some of them are charging, oh my god, thousands of pounds, and I think, Who in their right mind pays all that money?
On Asking Prince Charles the Hard Questions
Prince Charles came to an opening here at the bungalows when some of the houses were being officially opened. He went around all the tables and talked to everybody. He was very good and he asked me, “Do you shop at Fenwicks?” And I said, “Oh, yes! You’ve got one on Bond Street,” and he nodded and smiled. He was really nice with everyone, I have to say. But the bodyguards made me laugh—when you look around the room, we’re a bunch of old people. What are we going to do?
I also went to a Garden Party in Edinburgh when Prince Charles and the Queen were there. Only two people from each community could be invited, so they drew our names out of a hat, and it just so happened that mine came out! It was a beautiful day. They booked our transport and everything. I’ve always wanted to ask Charles one question–Why did he marry Diana? Diana was so beautiful, but he never loved her and he should have never married her. That was wrong. His mistake. Luckily I didn’t ask him that because I probably would have been escorted out!
Photos by Jodie Hill.