When I was a small girl I used to go and spend a few weeks during the school holidays with my grandparents. They were a very interesting pair who tried their hands at a lot of different and interesting enterprises. During the spring school holiday of my eighth year, I went for a visit to Granny Joan and Granddad Jack. At this particular point in time they were working as caretakers at a yacht club at the Vaal Dam. One of their duties was to run the tuck-shop that served the visitors who were enjoying the swimming pool facilities. I thought this was absolutely great as it meant that I got to help out with serving at the counter and also to enjoy lots of free ice-creams.
I can recall quite clearly Granddad Jack coming to fetch me in his old beige hatchback car. Granddad Jack could be quite grumpy but he liked me. We stopped at a garage shop during the two-hour car journey and he bought me a packet of wine gum sweets. I always remember this kindness as we didn’t get a lot of sweets.
Granny and Granddad’s house at the yacht club was very nice. They had a door stopper shaped like a frog and a long sausage dog that was pushed up against the gap under the door to keep out the wind. I could sit quietly and amuse myself for hours playing with the frog and the dog. They also had two lovely cats, Tom Cat, a very fat ginger cat, and Ash, a very pretty grey cat. We didn’t have any animals at home so I really enjoyed having the cats to play with. I have always loved cats.
My Granny Joan was very artistic. She used to paint watercolours and sometimes oil paintings of flowers in pots. My parents still have some of her paintings. One day, about three days into my stay, Granny Joan offered to help me make paper dolls. She drew the dolls onto stiff paper and cut them using a sharp pair of scissors. She drew on faces using coloured pencils and helped me to make hair for the dolls from small bits of left over knitting wool. She also showed me how to make all sorts of dresses and other clothes for the dolls out of bits of coloured paper. We had to cut out little tags to fold over or around the paper dolls shoulders, waists and legs so that the clothes would stay on the dolls.
My granny also helped me to make a dolls house for the paper dolls. We made the house out of a tomato crate. At that time these crates were made from wooden slates, with a shorter slate across the middle of the container. I made windows from squares of white paper which I pasted to the walls of the house. I made curtains for the house out of small pieces of scrap material which I cut out with granny’s pinking shears. I also made all sorts of furniture. I made a chest of drawers by stacking four match boxes one on top of the other and gluing them together. I used small buttons for the handles of the drawers. I made beds from plastic margarine tubs. I turned the margarine tubs upside down and cut out the sides to make bed legs. I then cut the legs down so that the bedsteads were not too high. I made bed clothes and even knitted some small blankets and crochet some tiny rugs. My Mom had been teaching me how to knit but I was not very good at it, it is still not something I am very accomplished at although my sewing is impeccable. My granny even helped me to make a Christmas tree for the doll’s house from a small branch of a pine tree. She gave me some cotton wool which I draped over the tree as snow.
I was thrilled with my tomato box house and paper dolls and they kept me entertained for a large part of my stay. I took them home with me at the end of the holiday. Catherine was most admiring of my house so I made one for her. We spent many a delightful hour playing with those houses which just goes to show you how imaginative children can be and how much pleasure they can derive from really simple things.
Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series