My grandmother Velma Grant died on the 15th April 2016 from complications arising from colon cancer. She was 86. She was cremated on the 6th May 2016 at Westerleigh Crematorium outside of Bristol.
Velma was the most cantankerous, hard-to-please, and emotionally-volatile people I’d ever met. She could destroy the atmosphere in a room without saying a word. To most people she was a tyrant, and yet, being family, I had to engage with her all of the time. Sometimes it would have been easier to walk away and tell her to fuck off, but that’s not what family does – and I think she knew this, and took advantage of it too. In a way, I have her to thank for my enormous tolerance of others. I also have her to thank for my assertive qualities too.
It would be a shame to lose such an interesting character to the ages and so have based one of the more aggressive characters in one of my novels on her. I think she’d be pleased in her own way.
Here are some of the things I remember her for:
- She used to have a shop in Kingswood called Video Flix, opposite a pub called The Star. It was a video shop rental & off-licence, selling everything from cigarettes and beer to milk, coat hangars, and anything else she thought might make some money. Although she was, admittedly, a good bookkeeper, she wasn’t a social person BY ANY MEANS, and therefore her relationship with the customers can only be described as aggressive. She saw her customers as something to be exploited, and they were guilty until proven innocent as default. It was a paper-based business until I went to university, and I automated a lot of the operations using Excel and Access to fit in with some of my coursework objectives. Still, I wasn’t to be praised for doing this; I should have done it sooner, apparently.
- When Titanic was about to be released, people were making video bookings like crazy. Remember that this was the biggest VHS movie ever in 1997. I tried to persuade Velma to buy a lot of copies (they were £60 each, which is still a substantial cost for a film). She eventually agreed and bought two rather than one. She could have bought ten copies and still not had enough, but because she didn’t like movies, she couldn’t see the value in it and as a result lost out.
- She once banned a very regular customer for not returning one of her DVDs. He argued that he had returned it. A few weeks later, I found the DVD between some invoices she’d stacked away. Did she apologise?
- She once told the rest of the family that she had a customer that looked just like her cat.
- When the Playstation first came out, Sony pushed into the rental market and offered video shops the chance to buy a rental kit; one PSX, two controllers, a blue plastic carry case and twenty games. This was a rare occasion where she listened to my advice and bought it. Sony sent two Playstation kits, so she reluctantly gave me one, although it was always a hairs-breadth away from being taken back, depending on her mood on any particular day.
- She was once arguing with a customer who had a crash helmet perched on his head; from her aggressive stance, the regulars in the pub opposite thought she was being mugged and so rushed into the shop armed with bottles and pool cues. The poor (and innocent) motorcyclist was very shaken; he got a shouting-at by the shopkeeper for no reason, and then rushed by a load of Bristol’s finest. All he wanted was a packet of cigarettes.
- She generated a lot of rubbish but didn’t want to pay extra for a business rubbish collection, so she used to give the usual bin men a bottle of cider each to take her rubbish away.
- She used to get me to deliver a bottle of cream sherry to an old lady that lived a few blocks away. Suddenly I became a delivery boy/handy man would also change this customer’s lightbulbs, mend her shelves, and anything else that she’d ask Velma to get me to do. Years after she gave up the shop, I heard that she’d been asked to stop selling bottles of cream sherry to this old lady by her family, who was concerned about her health. Velma took it as a suggestion.
- She once told the landlord of the pub opposite, which was frequented by a large portion of her customer base, that he was running “a den full of thieves, ran by the biggest thief of all.”
- She was once invited on a date by an elderly Irish gent. She refused because she thought he was only after all her booze.
- She once went on holiday for a week with my parents, leaving me to run the shop. I was completely capable of doing this, and I must admit trade soared since people weren’t having to put-up with Velma, but she made my parents come home a day early because “the shop must be in turmoil”. It must be added that she had not talked to me during her holiday and therefore had no idea how the shop was doing. Even though the takings were very good, deliveries had come in and the accounts done correctly – I made sure she agreed that it was all done well – she was still convinced that she was right to come home early.
- The kids who went in her shop used to sing, “nanny nanny with the big fat fanny”. She was outraged every time they did.
- She used to keep hold of any bottle or pack of cigarettes until the customer gave her money, then perform what can only be described as “at the same time” swap of cash-for-goods.
- She would never buy enough goods for the week, mainly because she “didn’t want to spend too much in one go” (she always had a lot of money in the current account; it wasn’t like she couldn’t afford it), and so would have to go to Bookers to buy a few thousand pounds’ worth of cigarettes towards the end of the week. She didn’t drive, and so would get the bus from our house to Bookers, and then drag a clear plastic bag full of outers of cigarettes onto the bus and up to Kingswood. I don’t think even she was surprised when someone eventually ripped a bag out of her hand and ran away with it.
- When comet Shoemaker-Levy crashed into Jupiter, she argued that she went outside and watched it “whoosh over her head”.
- She moved into our house in 1989, after getting a good deal on her house but then “forgetting” to buy somewhere else to live. It was only supposed to be a temporary move, and yet was still living with my parents at the time of her death in 2016.
- She used to live by herself in Easton in Bristol. I used to stay with her whenever I was allowed, and I had some very good times. She had a black and white TV which we used to put frozen mousses on (from Iceland) to thaw; I used to be able to see the trains if I stood on the compost heap at the bottom of the garden; her cat Sammy would sometimes bring in a dead bird for us to admire (or step on if she hid it underneath a mat). She would also pretend to take phone calls from the Queen.
- When I was at uni, I applied for a BarclayCard (when they were first had that gimmicky “cut-corner” design). I showed Velma my new card and she decided that she needed one. However, she got refused based on having absolutely no credit history. She went incandescent with rage, insulting everyone and anyone. One choice phrase was “how come they let YOU have one and not me? You don’t have a penny to scratch your ass with.”
- She would close one eye when wearing new glasses to stop them wearing out.
- On many Saturday mornings, I would drive us to Bookers to get some goods for the weekend. Once there wasn’t anywhere to park and so she made me park on a set of double-yellows opposite the shop, and inevitably I got a ticket for £60. Her verdict? My car, my problem. If I remember rightly, that was the last time I did a Bookers run for her. Rather than a simple apology, let-alone pay the fine for me (and I made it known why I wasn’t doing her cash-and-carry trips anymore), she paid for deliveries instead, which were £30 per delivery.
- She would have a mood about anything, and take it out on the family. If a customer hadn’t paid a bill, or she’d lost a £10 somewhere, or a delivery was late, she wouldn’t say a word when she got home, but sit on the sofa twiddling her fingers looking like death. She would insult ANYONE, even if they had nothing to do with her mood. Phrases like:
- “Bully for you.”
- “How is having fun supposed to make you rich?”
- “You are a complete waste of space.”
- “Is there any chance of someone doing something worthwhile around here?”
- “I don’t think there’s anyone on this earth that I actually like” (in front of her family)
- “Everyone is either an alcoholic, a thief, or just an idiot.”
- “I really don’t trust any of you” (again, to the family).
Even if she was asking for a favour, she would phrase it like a command or an order. I used to get a call and get told something like, “you need to take me up the bank tomorrow,” or “you’d better be around at the weekend to take me to the cash and carry.” There was no gratitude at all.
- She took me and my sister abroad on many occasions, not because it was a nice thing to do, but because she didn’t have anyone else to go with, and needed help carrying her bags.
- The people in the area used to call her Nana Bigtits.
- When she died, I went to the pub opposite her old shop and a few of the regulars gave their condolences. One of them summed up her relationship with the world in general by saying, “she was fucking horrible, but we loved her.”
- Before she had the shop, she worked as a secretary for a waste disposal company. When she retired, the company gave her the PC she worked with, which was an Amstrad 1640 IBM compat. She never used it, and yet would not let anyone else use it either. So, I started using it anyway. I played Lemmings on this thing in secret for about a year.
Despite all of the above, some of which made me want to slap her, hard, I loved her because she was my grandmother. She taught me valuable people skills – indirectly – and I have absolutely no fear in talking to a person who I know is angry or pissed off, because SHE WAS WORSE. There were times when she was lovely, and it’s these times that I try to remember when I think of her. She helped out when it really really, mattered, and I hope that she realised that I was there when it mattered too.
In a very complicated way, I will miss her immensely.