At the beginning of December, my grandmother passed away. Olive Evelyn Awcock was stubborn, blunt, and wonderful, and she will be sorely missed by my entire family. Born in nearby Rottingdean, Nan lived in Brighton for most of her life. She married her childhood sweetheart, John, and they were together for more than 50 years. They had two children, Hilary and Graeme, my Dad. I knew her as Nan though, and it was a role she performed very well. Since her passing I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my memories of Nan, and I was surprised to find a lot of connections between her and my politics.
Nan was not one to mince her words, or hold back on her opinions. The two of us frequently differed in our political opinions, although we did agree in not liking or respecting most leading politicians. I mostly chose not to engage her in political debate, because she was my Nan and it didn’t really feel right. We all found her intransigence desperately frustrating at times, but it was one of her defining characteristics and we loved her for it.
Nan was not what you might call a radical, but I think in her own way she embodied feminist ideals. She was fiercely independent. My grandfather was in the Royal Marines, so was frequently away, and Nan had to look after my Dad and Aunty on her own. This included a two-and-a-half year stint in Malta in the late 1950s, when my Dad was just 10 months old. It must have been terrifying to move to a new country with two young children, leaving behind the support networks that she had in Brighton. She was also keen to have her own income independent from my grandfather, so worked in a local post office for more than a decade before her retirement. She tried to instil that desire for independence in her grandchildren. It was one of her biggest regrets that she never learnt to drive, so frequently had to depend on others to get around. As such, she helped every one of her grandchildren who wanted to learn to drive to do so. These are perhaps not the actions of your stereotypical feminist, and I very much doubt she would have described herself as such. However her attitude was one which I think any feminist would be proud of.
Despite my Dad already having achieved a PhD, I don’t think she really understood what one was, or what it entailed. Nevertheless, she had strong opinions on my topic, and never failed to let me, or the rest of my family, know what they were. Nan was more than a little surprised when I decided to study for a PhD on the historical geography of protest in London. She was concerned that it meant I must be a “closet red,” and it didn’t fit with her opinion of me as a gentle, kind, shy young woman. In a way, she was right. I am scared of protesting, and terrified by the prospect of getting arrested. I do go on protest marches, but I have always been too nervous to participate in more daring ways than that. I strongly believe in the need for protest and social movements, and I hope I will someday find a form of activism that I am comfortable with. In the meantime, I feel like studying protest, as well as being enjoyable and engaging, is a way in which I can comfortably contribute to the ongoing struggles and conflicts.
Nan and I shared many traits. I too am stubborn, and like to be independent. I am not as blunt when voicing my opinions, but I think that the elderly, like children, can get away with saying things that most people cannot, so perhaps that is a trait that I will develop with age. Everyone that we love impacts us in ways that are hard to define, and it is through the characteristics I have inherited from Nan that she will remain with me.