Tuesday, 29 August 2017


My Nana, and me.
I'd like to introduce you to my Nana.

Her name was Trudie Lough. She was (and is) the bedrock that my whole life is built on.

She died 25 years ago tonight.

She was as close as I got to a real mother, and she was the strongest, and kindest, woman I've ever known, so I'd like to share some of her life with you. It's mostly a series of anecdotes she told me over the years.

She was born Gertrude Foster in Scarborough, on the Yorkshire coast, in 1920. She never knew her father. He disappeared from the family when she was young, having drained the family finances.
As a little girl, my Nana spent a lot of time at the beach, and danced and acted – one of my great grandmother's friends was Charles Laughton's mother.

Nana was always one of those annoying girls who could see a film on Friday night, knock up a copy of what the star was wearing on Saturday, then wear it on Saturday night. Eventually, it was natural that she became an apprentice tailoress.

Her mother became sick when Nana was still a teenager, and with all the family money gone, they had to take in laundry, including the Dr's shirts, to pay the medical bills. She finally lost her mother when she was 16. Her mother was 48 years old.

On her mother's death, Nana had to leave their rented rooms. Her job wasn't enough to pay the rent on her own, and her brother (Ronnie, two years older) had already joined the army.

She packed up her things in her trunk, including the books she and her mother had won as school prizes, and the oil paintings of her mother as a girl, and her grandmother, and moved in with the family of her best friend. All her life she considered them as her second family. She always called her friend's parents Mom and Pop Hume.

Eventually, Nana got a job in service as a trainee cook, and graduated to cook in her own right. She moved to London, and got engaged.
Then the Second World War started. Her fiancé joined the navy, and the family she was with decamped from London and moved to Hitchin in Hertfordshire.

In 1940 or 41, her fiancé, whose name she never told me, was killed. His ship had been somewhere near the coast of Italy, (or possibly between Spain and Italy), when it was sunk.

One day, while still with the family in Hitchin, she apparently became despondent because her brother, who she had not seen in several years, had one day of leave in Liverpool. The man of the house liked to hang around the kitchen, because he always had as a boy (his wife didn't approve). He asked Nana why she was so sad, and Nana explained she couldn't afford to go to see her brother, even if the leave had coincided with her day off. Her boss gave her the day off. He also gave her the money to get the train to Liverpool to see Ronnie. On that trip, she met a friend of Ronnie's, a tall thin soldier who also had a day of leave. He was called George.

She left the family she'd worked for, because she'd been called up to work in a munitions factory. Her walk home from the factory involved crossing a field, with a style, in the blackout. She heard somebody coming up behind her as she got to the style, and a man tried to grab her. She stabbed him in – er – a delicate place, with the tip of her umbrella. It was the same umbrella she had when I knew her, and it was sharp – that will have hurt a lot!

Nana and George got engaged. They had the wedding all planned. The church was booked, friends and Mom and Pop Hume donated their rations and got hold of some eggs for a cake, another friend had got a worn out parachute on the black market for a dress. George's leave was cancelled.

He managed to get a short leave a few months later, at hardly any notice, and they got married in a registry office – George in battledress, and Nana in a dark blue suit. Three months later, George jumped into Arnhem.

George always said he 'got out without a scratch', which he attributed to the good luck charm of my Nana's photo in his pocket. He wasn't killed, wounded or captured, so he became one of the survivors, known as evaders, who had to escape from occupied Europe. I don't know the story of how he did, but he made it home safely (lucky for me, since I called him Granda).

After the war, Nana found herself in the north east, and by 1951, with three kids under 7, and married to a fireman (Grandad). She wasn't content with that though, because through the 50s and 60s, she and Grandad fostered around a dozen other kids for varying lengths of time.
She used to take in animal waifs and strays too - she couldn't resist, hence my childhood preventing the cats chasing the budgies, and preventing the dog chasing the cats...

She also had double pneumonia three times and a major thyroid condition, but the woman was a force of nature, and nothing kept her down long.

Till in 1977, Grandad died, at 57, from lung cancer, and she never got over it. She couldn't even bear to hear his name. Little over a decade later, her youngest son, my Dad, died at 37. And four years later, without warning, at 9.02pm, she just stopped breathing. And everything I'd ever known was gone in front of my eyes

I try not to think of her that night though.

I remember us sitting by the fire watching Fred Astaire films together; of her cooking – baking with her, and her making mushy peas using tablets of bicarbonate of soda; of her teaching me to sew and forcing me to unpick it **again**; of the horror stories she told me about nearly sewing through her finger, as she was teaching me to machine sew using the same machine; of her taking me to Newcastle every Tuesday (pension day); of her teaching me to read, and taking me to the library every week; of how she used to tell me 'no you can't do that, because it's not appropriate, dear'; of her taking me to the beach; of her reading while she watched TV, and knowing exactly what was happening in the book and the show; of her dressing me up as Shirley Temple, because she always wanted a daughter of her own, and I happened to have natural blonde ringlet curls; of playing her Bing Crosby 78s; of how she had a summer wardrobe and a winter wardrobe, and they got swapped over every autumn and spring; of how her hat and coat ALWAYS matched; of us doing the Polka and the Charleston together round the kitchen like mad things...

It's hard to think it's been 25 years since I saw her last. In some ways it feels like yesterday; in others it feels like knowing her was a dream that never really happened.

So, Trudie Lough, 24.10.1920 – 29.8.1992, this is how I'll remember you, coat and hat matching, shoes matching collar... and with Grandad.