The kitchen was cold. We perched on the same polished wooden chairs I sat on as a child. Not the kind you buy in Ikea. Proper chairs built to last. Like Gran. Jack and Tilly sat awkwardly, uncomfortable in the unfamiliar atmosphere of Gran’s kitchen. We didn’t visit as often as we should. She was almost a stranger to them, and so very old.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked, her well to do voice reflecting the queen’s english despite her background as a farmer’s girl on the Chilterns.
“Er pardon,” Jack said, lifting his head from his lap where his iPhone might have been if he had been allowed to have it.
“A cup of tea. Would you like one?”
“Oh, yes please. Can I have two sugars and lots of milk please.”
“You like it sweet! I bet you’re sweet enough aren’t you Tilly!”
“Um yes, I mean, I wouldn’t like one thank you,” she stumbled.
“Still a camel? Like you’re mum!” she said looking my way. “Your grandpa always called you a camel. Do you remember?”
“I do yes,” I replied warmly.
Her ‘indoor’ clothes hung from her slight frame, age stripping her of the limited height youth had given her. She poured boiling water into the tea pot and the remainder into a flask to keep warm for later.
“I’m hungry,” whispered Jack.
“Ask Great-granny for something.”
“You ask,” he pleaded.
I rolled my eyes.
“Gran, would it be possible if they could have something to eat, a piece of toast maybe.”
“And I suppose you want one too," she teased, "never one to miss out!”
“Yes please, just one,” I said, though I wanted two.
Gran pulled a plastic bag from the freezer and snapped four ready-cut slices from the frozen loaf.
“You’ll have two won’t you Jack? A growing lad like you,” Gran said.
“Yeah s’pose,” he replied.
The warm smell lifting from the toaster transported me to rainy holidays watching Gran bake whilst Grandpa tinkered in the garage, fixing something broken.
We chomped on our late breakfast. Gran busied herself at the sink, doing nothing but busy all the same.
“So, what have you two been up to then?” Gran asked.
Jack and Tilly waited for one another to answer. Neither obliged.
“Tilly went on the Youth Climate Strike yesterday,” I said filling the gap. “Didn’t you,” I nodded towards Tilly.
“The what?” Gran laughed.
“The strikes, in Sheffield. Young people standing up for the planet they are going to inherit. Reminding adults to respect it.”
Gran leant against the kitchen cupboards; an ugly smile set on her face. Tilly stared down at her toast. Jack slurped his tea, trying to work out how to hold the tiny handle of the china teacup.
“A waste of time,” she replied.
“Oh, why’s that,” I asked, not wanting the answer and wishing I could save Tilly from what might come next.
“It’s the youth of today's fault, their greed. They must have a car, can’t walk anywhere, everything has to be new, no one cooks anymore and they spend their life on a screen!”
Jack handled the iPhone in his pocket.
“And what about school?” Gran asked Tilly.
“I didn’t go,” she answered apologetically, looking to me for reassurance.
“That’s the point of the strikes Gran,” I explained. “Young people are saying there is no point in school if the planet has no future.”
Gran stirred the hankies boiling in the large pan on the hob, the smell of scolded germs and bleach stinging the air. Outside, a blackbird fought with the wire Gran had moulded over the bird feeder.
“Get off!” She shouted banging on the window. “Greedy bird; leaves nothing for the others. When I was a girl,” she started, “we walked to school, for miles over fields. No four by fours dropping us at the door.”
“You were tied to your seat by the teacher for being naughty, weren't you?” interrupted Tilly.
“More fidgety than naughty,” she replied grinning.
“That’s right funny,” said Jack, not looking up.
“And we didn’t have unnecessary stuff,” Gran continued. “A present at Christmas and one on our birthday. And when things broke they were mended. Nothing went to waste.”
Gran took the hairdryer from the kitchen drawer.
“You’ll want sandwiches later, won’t you?” she asked, ending the conversation.
Using the hairdryer, she defrosted more frozen slices balanced against each other on the bread board. Jack glanced up looking for an explanation, then returned to You Tube.
“We’ve not lived like that for a long time,” I suggested bravely over the din of the hairdryer. “Our children have inherited my generation’s so-called progress. Driving everywhere, the overuse of plastic. You can’t fix anything these days. Not for less than the cost of buying it new.”
Without answering, Gran used a shoehorn to pull on her garden shoes; the same shoes that were her best shoes when I was a child and she was less old.
“Back in a mo,” she called.
“Jack, go and help your Gran,” I said.
“Why," he moaned barely moving his head.
“But I can’t pause it.“
“Of course you can.”
“You actually can’t,” chipped in Tilly unhelpfully, or helpfully, depending on who you were. “Why don’t grown-ups get that you can’t pause live games?”
“Init,” agreed Jack.
I didn’t understand, but I knew I’d lost. Gran returned. The hankies steamed on the line. Butterflies flitted over the deep herbaceous border bursting with colourful life. The hungry blackbird sat on the spade planning its next move.
“Jack and Tilly, take these,” Gran instructed passing them each a badminton racket, “and go and swot the white butterflies eating my cabbages.”
“For real?” Jack exclaimed, eyes bright!
“Yes, for real,” Gran mocked. “Now where were we, oh yes, saving the planet,” she said, pouring half a bottle of bleach down the sink as part of her daily cleaning routine.