Daphne Wood: The Best Woman I know
Daphne Wood is sitting opposite me at the kitchen table in her very English Tudor home. We are currently looking through some dusty old frames that have lived in the loft for years until now. Looking through things from the loft is always an education here, as an old news paper cutting about the Nazis drops out from one of the frames.
“War is such a dreadful thing.” she says to me. “On the other hand, war put this nation through a lot, it showed us what we were made of, men and women. My siblings and I are extremely close, we always have been, we got evacuated together. That makes you realise what you have.” The woman sitting across from me is my beloved Grandmother, and the solider in the frame is my Great, Great Grandfather.
Granddad is forever watching documentaries about the war,
“I know it inside out” he tells me. Worried that he has become a stereotypical old person, I jokingly tell him to “get over the war”. Actually, I often feel sad thinking that soon this entire generation of soldiers and people that lived through the war will be gone, and we won’t be able to ask them anything first-hand. They will be a real part of history and we can only hear about them in books and through second-hand information. As I think about how lucky I am to have such grandparents in my life, I tell my Grandma,
“I feel sorry for you, because you don’t have a grandma like I do, everyone should have a you! You need a twin.”
One day, I had asked her to help me make some props for a shoot, and she loyally obliged. It occurred to me, she had never seen any of my work at that point, yet she was willing to give up her time and effort to help me. When I asked her about this she said,
“Well you need to be encouraged, I wouldn’t like to dishearten you”. This is one of those days, where I escape the real world and reside in the comfort of Grandma’s kitchen. We are currently working on framing some images for a set. Nowadays, Grandma is the first person I turn to when I have an outrageous idea for a shoot and need it turning to a reality. I trust her completely to share my very private ideas with, away from judgement and bad intention. Grandma is my favourite person on my team! Granddad is at the sink, washing up some willow pattern saucers. Grandma turns to him and says,
“You’re part of our team, sometimes.. when woodwork is involved.” My Grandfather has a talent for woodwork indeed, and also can make just about anything. Grandma tells me,
“You would play for hours with the doll house Granddad made, you’d come into the house and go straight upstairs to it. After a while it got absolutely trashed, and you said ‘well I’ve done the best I can with the place!'”
She then goes on to tell me how I used to chop all of my Barbies’ hair off and give them facial piercings with my compass. When I got older Grandma took my Barbie dolls to the charity shop and they said,
“What’s happened to their hair?! We can’t sell these!”
I think it is amazing that one person has lived through so much and watched so much change over time. The progression of the telephone, the invention of the internet, decades of new fashion. I always ask my Grandma about the styling of certain periods and she would say,
“Well we used to wear…” because she was actually there. She would go into anecdotes about my Aunts when they were young, one of which adored dressing up for parties. Amazingly some of these outfits have been kept. I look at my own generation, and wonder what I have witnessed; somehow countless upgrades of the Iphone don’t seem to compare. I can’t help but feel bitter that I was born too late. The world seems so complicated and technical now. We’re taught how to use a computer but not how to catch our own food or make our own clothes. It seems bizarre, perhaps why I am so inquisitive about my Grandma’s life.
People from my Grandma’s generation have this amazing ability to create; if they want something they just make it and get it done. This is the woman who has taught me how to sew and knit, how to play cards, make cushions, bake cakes and is currently teaching me dressmaking. Not only does she have the skills but also the patience.
“Oh I can do anything Dear, I built this house!” My grandparents built their own extension on their home, which my Grandmother designed. “We bought this orange floral wallpaper, rolls of it! We put it all up the stairs and on the landing walls. Once it was up I thought, ‘oh God, I don’t like it!'” She throws her head back and laughs. To this day a small amount of that wallpaper remains on the wall.
“I hope tacky never goes out of fashion!”
We get further into the subject of the house. Grandma has so many robin ornaments! I saw a real stuffed robin in a taxidermist’s, I was going to put it in the collection and see if she noticed. I doubt that she would! There are also many plates displayed on the walls in this house, and when I asked my Grandfather why he said,
“It’s nothing to do with me, I don’t know where this stuff comes from!”
“If I see something in a catalogue and I like it, I’ll order it! I’ve started up a few collections, plates, Toby jugs. For no real reason” Grandma explained.
Grandma didn’t even realise how many fake cats she had laying around the house; a collection which was completely accidental. In fact she only realised how many she had when we put them all in one room. Her justification?
“They’re no trouble! They don’t get fleas! I don’t even like cats!”
“I have a thing for fabrics. If I see one I like, I have to get it. I think of something handy I can make out of it, but I never get round to doing it so they just sit in boxes piling up. I wear a lot of floral blouses because I like them, some are quite similar. My grandson said, ‘not to be rude but do you only have one shirt?’ The cheeky toe rag!”
At this point my Grandfather came over and stood, hands in pocket, looking round the room.
“This house is full of crap all lining up for its photo shoot!” he declared, as he looked up at the gnomes on the kitchen cabinet. I don’t like to imagine the house without all its kooky objects on display. Grandma commented,
“When I take everything down to clean the shelves, it looks very bare, I don’t like it.”
I suggested some of my theory ideas about the renewal of furniture through cleaning it.
“People spend a lot of time dusting and polishing furniture, but it’s still the same piece, it doesn’t change! What a load of old rubbish! After a while you think, ‘oh, I can’t be bothered!’ As for talking ornaments, who needs them? Women tell each other things. I had this friend, she didn’t like how her lady parts looked, down below. I didn’t know what to say! So I said, ‘Stick a flower in it!'”
As they sat drinking their afternoon tea in the conservatory, I overhear my grandparents discussing the shoot which is later going to take place. My grandmother is giggling, saying,
“She wants me to paint my nails red!” They then discuss which garden chair and table set would be best to use. Without wishing my life away, I watch my Grandparents around their home, and that is the life I cannot wait to have. I look at them and I cannot wait to grow old. You can do what you want, freely, but also have a sense of security, relaxation and routine.
“I sometimes think, when I get really old, I shall swear! And eat chocolate and cake, all with the same mouth!” laughs Grandma.
From the way they spend their evenings in front of the box, to the way they drink tea, to how they sunbathe in the garden, to how they have decorated their home, there is something just so terribly British about my grandparents!
Words and Photography by Loo Loo Rose
This is a re-post. This work was originally published in ‘Betty Magazine’ Issue 06