Part of a series: "A Life of Less Liberty" by Jeremy Bamber.
“Where I’ve been so lucky in my life is that my Mum and Dad have always inspired me to reach for the stars and to be the best that I can be, and it sparks memories of Granny Bamber, who set the bar so high.
I know that Dad was all he was, for the most part, owing to his Mum and the values she aspired to. We didn’t get to see her all that often - but each year from Boxing day through to the New Year we would visit her at home, Clifton House in Guildford’s Castle Hill. The visits began as early as I can remember right through until Granny Bamber became too ill to live in her own home.
The best memories I have from my visits to Clifton House were when I was about five or six years old. Me, Mum and Dad and Sheila would travel down altogether in the car. Sheila and I would always play eye spy and the "are we there yet?" Game which would go on for ages. Sheila and I would take our shoes off in the back of the car and put our feet in each other's faces and giggle the whole journey.
Granny’s house was huge and was something like 6 storeys high. My great grandfather designed and built it but sadly I never knew him or my grandfather. It was a traditional old place and there were many trophies on the wall from shooting, old furnishings with old-fashioned carpets and curtains. Sheila and I had a room each made up for us when we stayed, Sheila was always on the fourth floor and I remember there were even a attic rooms too and Granny Bamber had her own suite of rooms. Very occasionally other family members would appear but usually it was just Granny and us.
Sheila and I would explore the two gardens and there was a large walled garden one side, which had a gate in the wall so that you could walk down straight into the town. We always had fun and I remember us looking out to the bowling green on the other side too. There was a big fig tree in the grounds and so there were plenty of opportunities for games and places to hide whenever we did venture out in the cold. The fig tree was perfectly positioned to get the sun and in the summer Granny would send Mum beautiful fresh figs that she posted in old light bulb boxes so each was safe in it’s own compartment and didn’t get bruised. When we visited in the summer I would climb the conker tree in the bottom garden.
Granny had house-guests who lived in. There were two elderly ladies who were both single, and they lived in their own small suites. There was also Mr Kennedy who also must have been in his seventies or eighties, and had worked for my Granny and Granddad for many years before he retired. He lived in his own suite too. They each had a bathroom in their suite, a baby belling cooker and a hot water urn, so their apartments were pretty much self contained.In the afternoons every day and including during our stays, all three house guests would join Granny Bamber and us for afternoon tea, and Sheila and I got to know them all well, though now the names of the two ladies escape me.
We enjoyed the traditional turkey for Boxing Day lunch and dinner and New Year’s Day included ham carved off the bone. Granny would serve wine too, and of course I always had fizzy pop. The dining room table was enormous it could seat something like 28 or 32 people. In the early years when I was
very young there was a cook and a housemaid who stayed in the kitchen area most of the time. The rooms had cords in them connected to bells in the kitchen to call the housemaids, they weren’t used any more but I thought it would be funny to run from room to room ringing them and Granny told me off for that!
The house was old and creaky and it seemed there was a shadow around each corner. I remember almost every room had a big old clock ticking loudly, there was a big grandfather clock on the floor where I slept and every hour on the hour it would bellow out a big chime, and I would almost jump out of my skin. I remember Granny also had another enormous clock that sat on the top of a chest of some sort and it chimed every fifteen minutes.
I loved Granny Bamber deeply and she was kind to me. She knew that the house ‘gave me the willies’ and she once set up a little game for me to liven up dinner. The main dining room was two floors up from the kitchens and Gran had a food lift that brought the hot food safely from the kitchen to the diners. She had me sit in the food lift holding a big bottle of Champagne and I was wound up to the dining room by Mr Kennedy. I would go “Boo!” as the doors were opened when it arrived at the top and it gave Granny the giggles and made the house fun. Everyone looked so surprised to see me the first time I did it, and of course I did it more than once and everyone still went along with the ‘surprise.’
As time went on I still went to Clifton House for New Year, I remember I was always in
bed before midnight, I can’t remember if anyone else stayed up. We continued with our annual visit until I was about 16 or 17 and Sheila started going out in London for New Year and eventually Granny became too elderly and frail to keep running Clifton House. I remember the house was getting run down and I think vermin got in, and she and Mum and Dad decided that she would come and live with us at White House Farm.
We had carers to help us with Granny and as a family we would also take it in turns to see her to bed at night. As she grew more infirm I remembered the times when she comforted me when I was afraid as a child at Clifton House, and I wanted to be there for her as she had been for me. Eventually Granny had to go to a full nursing home before she died but my memories of her remind me of how she influenced all of our lives.
Granny Bamber always wore high heels until she became too ill. She was a delightful lady and even though she became infirm she didn’t get cantankerous with it as some older people do, even my friends would come over and they loved to see her. She had a great serenity about her and she reminded me of Marlene Dietrich or Bette Davis because right up until she died she remained so beautiful because it came from her heart which is the lesson that one learns in jail, it’s laid bare as we have nothing but the cut of our jib to sail the shark infested sea. There is no hiding behind the bling or the bluster and it is all down to Granny Bamber that my little dinghy has sailed along for almost 30 years, ‘cos you see it can seem scary when the seas are rough and there’s no land in sight - but with a bit of luck what ever the storm it will always pass. So the trick, no matter what is hang on ‘cos things always change in time.”
Happy New Year for 2014