Grandparents, generally speaking, like to treat their grandchildren. Visits to the pantomime, beach days, trips to the adventure playground, a thrilling escapade on the High Ropes. Yes, I have treated all my Tremendous
Ten grandchildren in a variety of ways and received even more pleasure from the experiences than I gave.
It has to be said that my day out yesterday with granddaughter
Eleanor, fourth oldest of the Tremendous Ten, might not have seemed quite so much fun - a trip to see an exhibition on the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 which killed 50 million people across virtually the whole world - many, many more than had died in the Great
War of 1914 -1918. Regular readers will remember that my paternal grandmother, Clara, died in the pandemic, leaving my two year old father unable to grasp why he felt a loss he couldn’t explain. I felt a visit to the exhibition would pay homage to the
grandmother I never knew, buried in an unmarked grave with the baby she gave birth to in her dying moments. If there was one person in the family who would find such a visit meaningful it was surely medical student Eleanor...
Eleanor and I used to play a Wii game when she was smaller in which we both had to answer multiple choice questions at the same time to determine how similar we were. We invariably proved ourselves
to be Kindred Spirits. So we were as one yesterday in deciding how to spend our day out in London. We would meet at Victoria Station, have a picnic in St James’s Park, saunter along to St Thomas’s hospital in Westminster where the Florence Nightingale
Museum, home to the exhibition, is based, spend an hour or so absorbing the somewhat gruesome details of the flu pandemic, then join a free guided tour of the museum to learn more about the Lady of the Lamp before wending our way back to the station to catch
our respective trains home.
St James’s Park was at its most beautiful. We stopped to take photos of the swans with their cygnets whose progress since they
were hatched has been followed and reported on a daily basis by Eleanor’s father who walks through the park on his way to work. As he had explained, the Swan Family is invariably joined by a black swan - which looks a bit like the family nanny, all dressed
in black with a splash of white tail feather. We were also delighted to see the pelicans - Eleanor (who is, of course, of the YouTube generation) immediately fished out her phone to show me a video of a pelican yawning: “Once you’ve seen this,
Nanni, you honestly won’t be able to forget it!” How very true...
At the museum, before entering the Spanish Flu exhibition, we were given scratch
cards each representing a character - I was seven year old Tom while Eleanor was 33 year old Mary. At six points as we worked our way round the exhibition, we had to scratch out a panel to discover what was happening to us. We had a horrible sense of foreboding
about poor Mary who seemed rather too similar in terms of age to my poor, fated grandmother for our liking. So, sadly, it proved to be. I (as in Tom) survived serious illness but recovered to find my sister had died two days earlier; poor Mary, having nursed
her own child through the horror, succumbed herself and died. The exhibition pulled no punches about the horrific nature of the illness, the bravery of the nurses and doctors who desperately tried to treat the thousands of sick patients, many dying themselves
in the process, and the way ordinary families tried to keep their families safe. It was both gruesome and sobering - but we were both glad we had somehow kept the faith with poor Clara, my grandmother and Eleanor’s great great grandmother.
Back at Victoria Station, we decided that we had enjoyed our Day Out At The Museum so much that we should establish a new annual outing, to join those other traditional family
events such as the Beach Day and the Jolly Girls Outing, not forgetting the Lunch and Theatre Dates I enjoy with the Youngest of the Darling Daughters. The purpose of these outings, Eleanor and I agreed (as I told you, we always agree on almost everything
according to the Wii game) would be to visit museums - but not the obvious, well-known ones. Instead, we would search out and visit the rather more obscure depositories of precious artefacts, knowing that each and every one would have a story to tell us. We
even came up with a name, sitting there on Victoria station - OMO - which you might mistakenly think is a washing powder but actually stands for the “Obscure Museums Outing.”
Thank you for your company yesterday, dear Eleanor, and for sharing in my pilgrimage. Where shall we go next?