Opinion

At 87, my flirty, menacing grandma gets away with murder. What a role model!

When my grandad died in 2007, we all worried about my grandma. But she had not yet finished eating at the table of life – indeed, she surpassed our expectations and entered her Michelin-star era. At 87, she is now a prolific WhatsApp user, is fully literate in emoji and calls the actor Regé-Jean Page her “young boyfriend”. Her widowed heartbreak was keenly felt, but my sister calls her a sunflower for a reason: bright petals, solid in the centre. Stems of iron.

She also has a flair for the dramatic, preferring to threaten us with her mortality – “I hope I’m still here when you graduate” – than to actually “kick the bucket” (her favoured euphemism). But she is consistent: my cousin, on a beach holiday, was ominously warned (via a text in all caps) that “THE SEA IS A GOOD SERVANT BUT A BAD MASTER”. And she has no qualms about making her indignations known: when a suit-and-briefcase type pushed her out the way to get on the bus, she kissed her teeth and told him that if he pushed her again she would “clap yuh wi’ me stick”.

Only a 4ft pensioner could get away with threatening GBH, but Grandma Sylvia gets away with everything now. She bats her eyes at the Marks & Spencer staff and discounts appear. When she arrived in London as a trainee nurse in 1962, on her 27th birthday, she was the height of professionalism; now, as a patient, she flirts with every male medic she encounters. Because she grew up with one pair of shoes in 1930s Jamaica, 2022 Grandma refuses to leave the house unless resplendent in a silk blouse, matching silk scarf and rose-gold Skechers – because “I might see someone I know”. And she always does. An intended 40-minute round trip takes two hours as she is hailed like the prom queen of Clapham. She is an octogenarian It girl – and I can only aspire to be the same.

Ella McLeod is a writer, poet and performer

Rapunzella, Or, Don’t Touch My Hair by Ella McLeod is published by Scholastic (£8.99). To support the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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