20 Going On 80: Musings On Being A Nan Kid

Nan Kid is a term that Russell Brand coined several years ago, to describe a child who has been raised by their grandparents. Brand and the Internet may have them marked down as awkward “misfits,” yet there is a lot to be said for somebody who has been raised or heavily influenced by a much older generation.

As a child, my mother was taken seriously ill and for years, my grandparents took care of my brother and me as my Mum fought to recover. As I’ve grown up, I’ve found myself inexplicably drawn to fellow Nan Kids, finding that though our stories vary wildly, we share a unique sense of humour and perspective on the world.

Even though my boyfriend affectionately refers to me as a Nan Kid to poke fun at some of my more unusual quirks, my fellow Nan Kids and I have inherited some pretty fantastic qualities from the grandmas and grandpas that stepped up to the plate and reared the young of their young.

If you’ve ever met somebody that says “please” a thousand times, thanks you for every little thing that you do and then sends a card displaying their gratitude a week later, you can be pretty sure you’ve met a Nan Kid. Our grandparents’ generation were raised to follow a strict code of etiquette and manners which truly matter to them. Whilst sometimes you’ve got to demand the things that you want, adding a “please” at the end never hurt anybody, and no self-respecting Nan Kid would ever forget their P’s and Q’s.

Invite a Nan Kid over for dinner and you’re guaranteed to receive a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a carefully selected bottle of wine because we were taught to always thank our hostess!

We also make remarkable hosts. Before the Internet, cable television and disposable income, our grandparents’ generation would have to entertain themselves. This would often involve having your girlfriends over for a stiff drink, and twisting and jiving to the hits playing on the radio. They’d always “put on a spread” for their guests, utilising their baking skills to offer homemade delights.

When I was a child, my Nan would always host a birthday party for me. I remember a table being set up in the dining room, with matching plates, cups and napkins, heaving under the weight of jelly, trifle, sandwiches and cakes. I idly wondered how me and my fellow five year olds would ever consume such a plethora of treats, but my Nan happily wrapped the leftovers in napkins and sent my friends home with enough food to feed their family for supper that evening.

And then of course, there’s entertainment. Grandparents know all of the best party games and have no qualms about donning Santa suits or clown costumes to make everybody laugh. Now that I’m older, I prefer cards and word games to keep my guests occupied, mostly learnt from my grandfather, who could turn any rainy afternoon into an event with a pack of cards and a hot pot of tea.

Of course a large part of entertaining revolves around food. My grandfather and I share a strange taste in food; his developed through necessity, growing up in post-war Britain. Nothing went to waste and as such, I grew up learning to love offal. Some may be squeamish about chowing down on lung or kidney, but a Nan Kid knows the pleasure to be found in a simple dish of liver and onions.When my boyfriend and I visit his uncle in Cyprus, I happily munch away on fish heads and brain, much to his uncle’s delight and my boyfriend’s horror. When my grandfather would take my brother and I out to explore woodlands and fields, he would take two flasks; one of hot, strong tea, the other with Bovril. For those of you unfamiliar with Bovril, it is basically salty, thin gravy consumed as a beverage. Even now, whenever I visit my Grandparents, the kettle goes on and I make us both a mug of steaming, savoury Bovril. This savoury drink can be used in stews and casseroles, another reason my grandparents loved this multi-functional tipple!

My Nan, of course, is a marvellous cook who can make a splendid Sunday Roast using vegetables from her garden. Nan Kids learn skills that are not only valuable, but thrifty too. Just today, I have potted tomato seedlings, ready to use in sauces and salads come summer. My best friend, who is somewhat of a Nan Kid herself, grew up with the influence of her Jamaican grandmother and as such can make a mean mutton curry.

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elderly couple holding bouquet of flowers while holding hands

I was also taught to crochet, sew and knit (although admittedly it was my father that taught me to knit, a skill he picked up in the army). Remember a few years ago when models starting knitting backstage at Fashion Week? I bet you they were Nan Kids. I used to get strange looks for pulling out my wool and needles on a train or in a cafe, but now knitting is a popular hobby for many young people and Nan Kids will never drop a stitch.

As my mum was recovering, my grandparents were not only caring for her, my brother and I, but were still out at work. I never felt like I missed out as a child, however, when Nan would return from work and cook dinner, she would like to sit quietly and read. I believe quietness is something most Nan Kids experienced as a child and something many carry into their adult lives. After a hectic day at work, drinks with friends and the general chaos of life, I love to retreat to my kitchen table with a book, a hot drink and just be still for a while. In an age where our minds are constantly stimulated, by social media, careers and our overly analytical thoughts, silence and solitude is often overlooked. Yet, we all know the value of switching off for a while. Try it out, embrace your inner Nan Kid and turn off your phone, your laptop and your thoughts. Watch the clouds drift along the sky, observe the late afternoon sunlight dancing across your bedroom or lay back with a good book.

Besides reading being a huge part of my childhood, storytelling itself was quite the norm. As great hosts and entertainers, grandparents sure know how to tell a tale. Again, I believe it stems from their own childhood, a different generation where stories were passed on through word of mouth. My Nan has some brilliant anecdotes, my favourite being the time she went on a trip to London and asked a hairdresser to give her a Mary Quant hair cut, before realising Mary Quant was sat in the chair next to her. Ever since I read “Matilda” by Roald Dahl, I have wanted to be a writer and growing up with such a rich tapestry of tales woven by my grandparents, allowed me to explore the art of storytelling and on occasion, embellishment.

One quality that I truly appreciate about fellow Nan Kids stems from a childhood surrounded by conversations, stories and quiet; they listen. We all know that there is a real difference between hearing and listening. Your grandparents will dote on you and listen to your dreams and ideas with great intent. You will listen to them because they are full of warmth and wisdom. The reason I love my Nan Kid buddies is that when I have a bother, they will listen to me, truly. Through listening, we learn.

I would consider myself to be one of the luckiest girls in the world to have such a close relationship with my grandparents. My Nan provides me with the shrewd insight of a woman that has seen and done it all, smattered with the love only a grandma can offer. I cherish the times I get to spend with her, sat gossiping over a pot of tea, shopping in local markets for plants and second hand books and watching old movies, adoring the hairstyles and dresses. Your grandparents have reached a point in their lives where they are comfortable with who they are and don’t feel the need to impress anybody. This quiet confidence is a trait I see in many Nan Kids, who have grown up surrounded by strong men and women who have been through some real hardships in life and have come through it smiling and content.

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