My Granny the Tranny
Another cabaret story.
My Granny the Tranny
When I was just a boy, I felt extremely lucky to find out that whilst most other children were fortunate to only have the regulation four grandparents, two grandfathers, and two grandmothers, I had an extra grandmother, who only visited on weekends. And I didn’t find it odd that her name was Roberta, or that she lived with nanny-Abigail, or that I never saw her and grandpa-Bob in the same place at the same time, or that sometimes she had the beginnings of a beard, because sometimes old women are a bit stubbly, and it’s not polite to point it out.
Every now and again I went to stay at their house, in the spare room that smelt unused but very clean, with the bed that had floral patterned and held a slight scent of perfume, which I later found out to be Chanel number 5 as Roberta liked all her rooms to smell pretty. Over the course of the weekend I’d play games with my varied grandparents. I’d go travelling with grandpa-Bob, clambering over, around, and below the furniture, through Antarctica battling polar bears, through the regular Artic running from the penguins and more polar bears as we could never remember which pole they lived at, all the way to Africa where we were dodged and danced through Zulu spears in the dessert, then on into Asia to meet Maharajas and Samurai, and, with a startling disrespect for basic geography, we plunged into the Amazon, and Bob called the Amazons a gaggle of hussies who should put some clothes on. Finally on to the most dangerous place of all: Canada, where the Cannibals lived.
And all the time granny-Abigail would keep us supplied with glasses of ginger beer, pots of tea, steaming mugs of hot chocolate, biscuits, cakes she claimed to have baked herself and all the other stereotypically English things to eat and drink that grandparents think they’re supposed to give their grandkids because that’s what their grandparents did, and that’s what our generation will do to our grandchildren too, if only because we read it in Famous Five, and tooth decay be damned. Though none of my five grandparents ever gave me a Worthers original. Whoever made those adverts can fuck off and die.
Then on Saturday would always come the favourite part of my visit, granny-Roberta would descend one morning, make-up perfectly applied, summer dress swirling just below the ankles, hair held up with varied shining hair pins, breasts expertly in position and realistic as always. She’d sweep into the breakfast room, give me and granny-Abigail a kiss, then casually ask her that’s really what you’re wearing today Abi, darling? Then we’d all be whisked off for a nice breakfast at one posh hotel or another and one granny would try to feed me up, while the other tried to slim me down. Then we’d hit the shops and Roberta continued my education in looking damn good. She would point out to me which shirts looked good with my complexion, which jeans were too ripped, and which weren’t ripped enough and try and try in vain to wean me off wearing Hawaiian shirts. She bought me my first jar of hair gel, and taught me to style it in five different ways, each of which made me look like a marine from WW2, but in a retro kind of way, it really worked.
It was invariably granny-Roberta who I came to when I needed further education, when I started to realise that looking good was only the slightest of comforts in the battle of the sexes. Knowing the minds of both men and women she always gave me pertinent and sensible advice and while I always ignored it, I always realised I should have.
Eventually I had to find out exactly why I had a surplus grandparent, and suddenly a lot of things made sense to me. Like why granny-Roberta had fake breasts but never had breast cancer, and why she used a beard trimmer to shave her legs, and why grandpa-Bob had shaved legs, and why I was the only person whose grandmothers frenched. Though I never did find out why they still did that aged 80. I felt like they’d been lying to me all that time, maybe because they’d been lying to me all that time. It was like finding out Father Christmas wasn’t real, really like it actually, as my sister told me this one too.
But even though I knew, I never let on. It was a comforting illusion to us both to think we’d never figured each other out, even though he/she must have known that I/ … me(?) knew, and that I must have known that he/she knew that I/me knew, and if I say knew one more time it’ll become a really uninspired gag, won’t it? So we both knew, but to admit it would mean that I didn’t have an extra grandmother, merely a grandfather who liked to wear really nice dresses, perfume, make-up and a garter.
I kept up the pretence and one day when I went to visit granny-Roberta I was told by granny-Abigail that she was upstairs, getting changed. I went up the stairs and knocked on the door and, hearing no answer, I went in uninvited. Inside I found grandpa-Bob, face down on the floor, suit jacket half off, limbs splayed on the bright, yet tasteful, carpet. One hand reaching towards the red dress he’d picked out for Roberta that day. I saw all this, I took a deep breath, then I carefully picked up the dress and placed it carefully back in Roberta’s wardrobe and closed the door. After straightening Bob’s jacket, I went downstairs to tell my grandmother that her husband had died.
So grandpa-Bob died, and we had the funeral, and it was all very sad, people cried, old women got out of their wheelchairs, things like that. But we never had a funeral for Roberta, she never died. And she’s still with me, in the back of my mind, and every now and then I can almost hear her. Criticising my outfit.