pancakes on plate


Dorothy waves her hands in the air, trying to catch her granddaughter’s attention. Sal is only at the other side of the front-room, but to Dorothy it feels far more distant. Eventually, Sal looks up from her phone, returns the wave and gives her grandma a generous smile.

“What do you want for lunch?” asks Dorothy.

Sal leans back into the sofa, slips off her headphones and waits for the question to be repeated.

Dorothy is well aware that communicating with a ten year old is not as simple as it would seem. You have to break into their code of technology, before any message can filter through.

“I was just wondering what you wanted for lunch.”

Sal thinks for a moment, then asks her grandma if she has any pancake mix.

Dorothy nods and Sal grins; a silent conversation that doesn’t require a decoder.

They sit quietly at the kitchen table, sharing a small pile of freshly made pancakes. 

“Just what do you do on that thing all day?” Dorothy asks, as she points in the direction of the phone. Sal has propped it up against the unopened peanut butter jar.

After a few seconds delay, the answer is given. Dorothy isn’t sure whether the pause is down to politeness (not wanting to speak with her mouth full), or the need for time to think of an acceptable response.

Finally Sal says: “Most of the time I play Minecraft. I message my friends, look at videos. Everything really.”

“Minecraft?” Dorothy is a little disturbed by the violent sounding nature of this game.

“Yeh, it’s a creative one where you build things. You have to use your imagination. It’s really good. I’ll show you if you want.”

“That would be nice. As long as I don’t have to wear those massive ear things. I think they’ll blow my hearing aids up!”

They both share a brief laugh; one of those special moments.

“Do you know Sal, when I was your age, Granny used to babysit me during the school holidays. I loved going there. Do you remember, she lived at the other side of Bradford, in one of those big houses I once showed you? She’d make me pancakes too. But not out of a packet. Real big ones. She used a huge mixing-bowl. Enough batter to feed the entire street. After we’d cleared our plates, she set me up at a wobbly, square table, which was covered in green felt. I was given an old cotton bag, stuffed with mixed buttons, a wooden box of dominoes and a pack of  Guinness playing cards. Then off she went, back into the kitchen leaving me alone just to ‘get on with it’, while she finished off her chores. There was none of this all singing and dancing electronics stuff, like you’ve got. Just a bag of assorted buttons, the dominoes and a pack of cards with Guinness bottles on the back.”

“Guinness? That’s a bit weird for a kid isn’t it?” Sal asks.

Dorothy offers no response. Like Sal earlier, she doesn’t even register that she is being asked a question.

Dorothy’s mind has floated back to those simple childhood memories.

After a short while, she reconnects to the present and says: “Those were great times. I was never bored. I used to build little houses with all the dominoes. You couldn’t stack them too high, because I think there were only about 30 pieces. But do you know what the best part was?”

It isn’t really a question and Sal knows Grandma isn’t waiting for an answer. She realises that her grandma used to build things, just like she does now in Minecraft.

“The best part was when Granny had finished doing all her housework. She’d bustle into the room, wipe her hands on her pinny, hang it up near the fireplace and then she’d sit down at the tiny green table to play Snap. Game after game after game. I loved it so much.”

Dorothy recalls her granny’s weathered hands, grasping for the matching cards. Hands so old, each crease and fold a sign of tough times. She briefly looks at her own lined hands, as if palm reading. Yet it’s not the future she’s predicting, it’s her past she’s mulling over; a life line that indicates joyous times.

“Snap?” says Sal.

Dorothy jumps at the sound of her granddaughter’s voice

“That doesn’t sound too exciting,” Sal continues.

This time it is Dorothy who delays giving an answer.

“Yes, game after game of Snap. Do you know it? Where you have to shout out ‘snap’ when you turn over two cards that are the same.”

Sal nods. She does know the game, but can’t recall ever playing it.

“I always won, as I was so much quicker then her. But it wasn’t just about the game, it was more about doing something together. Just playing with each other.”

Sal doesn’t say anything, because a new message flashes up on her phone. Dorothy feels a gentle vibration through the table and knows this will clearly need Sal’s immediate attention. 

Dorothy reaches over and slides another small pancake onto her plate. She wonders if Sal will have a game of Snap with her later. There is probably a pack of cards in the spare room cupboard, in the ‘bits and bobs’ drawer.

Then the front door bell rings and, as if manipulated by a magician, her thoughts disappear into thin air. Dorothy knows she will have to answer the door, as Sal has her ears completely covered and her eyes firmly fixed back onto the phone.

The deliveryman is simply wonderful. He is smartly dressed in a blue sweatshirt and matching trousers and is ever so polite. And helpful too. With great care he carries Dorothy’s new chair into the front-room, making sure not to scrape the paint work or hit any of the ornaments Dorothy has collected over the years. He is also a chatty soul. Dorothy is pleased to be able to have a bit of a natter with someone, without having to depend on hand-signals.

The man tells Dorothy how much he loves his job, apart from the weather, as he skilfully cuts away all the protective, brown cardboard. Then, with a little bow, he reveals the new piece of furniture.

Dorothy is immediately delighted with it. The greens in the large leaf pattern go so well with the room wallpaper, just as she had hoped.

The deliveryman helps to gather all the card and carry it through to the kitchen. There is so much, it requires three trips. The man attempts to give Sal a high-five, as he walks past her for the last time. Sal doesn’t even look up from her screen and seems to be totally oblivious to all the to-ing and fro-ing that is going on around her.

Whilst getting the forms ready to sign, the deliveryman says: “So, you’re on child minding duties. The wonder of grand-parenting. Where would our families be without them? I’m the first call when one of our grandkids is off school sick. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we’re a real help for our Julia.”

Dorothy agrees. “Oh yes, the cost of childminding is ridiculous. It’s great that I can help. And it’s really nice having someone around in the house.”

“Oh, I bet it is,” he says. “And it’s so much easier than it used to be. They can certainly entertain themselves these days. All they need is a computer and they’re in their own little world. No bother. Just like your young girl through there.”

Dorothy finds herself nodding in agreement.

“Now, you enjoy that new chair of yours.”

And with that, he is away down the path and swiftly climbs into his van.

Dorothy sinks down into the soft foam and pushes her shoulders deep into the high back. She brushes the arm rests, as if stroking a small dog. The chair feels perfect. She closes her eyes and allows her memories to drift back to her granny and their games of Snap. Simple, innocent fun. An old lady bonding with a young child. It was easy in those days. Dorothy gradually realises that what the deliveryman said was wrong. It is actually far more difficult nowadays. The games the children play are so solitary. Games which older people find impossible to access, let alone share. And with that final thought she falls asleep in her new chair, completely forgetting that Sal is still in the kitchen entertaining herself.

Sal turns her phone off and starts to tidy up the kitchen table, eating the remaining cold pancake as she does. Their unwritten agreement has always been that Grandma makes the food, Sal tidies up. The kitchen area is a little more cramped than normal, with all the cardboard scattered over the floor. When she’s finished, she picks up her phone, slips on the headphones and types ‘how to play Snap’. After watching a couple of videos, Sal has learnt two things:

Snap is a very simple game to play.

And secondly, it is fun; especially if you like shouting and snatching.

She removes her headphones and wanders over to the ‘bits and bobs’ drawer in the spare room. It is probably the most untidy place in the whole house. Everything that doesn’t have a real home ends up being dumped in there. Sal loves to rummage through the drawer, but doesn’t dare tidy it up. She seems to remember that there was a pack of cards in there somewhere. Shuffling around the balls of string, pens, old batteries, mats, torches, scissors, masking tape, rulers, take away menus and tubes of glue, she fails to find what she is searching for. She decides to ask her grandma if she knows whether there are any cards in the house.

As soon as she opens the front-room door, she sees that her grandma is enjoying a nap in her new chair. Very quietly she leaves, carefully closing the door behind her. As there are no cards, she’ll have to find something else to do.

She walks back to the ‘bits and bobs’ drawer and has another forage. Sal has developed a new idea, picked up from playing Minecraft.

Over an hour later, Dorothy finally opens her eyes and gently shakes her head. Sal is in the front-room, sitting on another brand new chair. No, this one hasn’t been delivered. This second chair is made out of the cardboard from her chair and, by the look of it, yards of masking tape. There are four short legs, all of which are about the same size, a tall back and two armrests. It has been decorated with large, green palm leaves; just like Grandma’s new chair. 

The phone is nowhere to be seen. She has just been sitting there, staring, waiting. Waiting for her grandma to wake up.

“Snap!” she shouts and pretends to grab her grandma’s chair. The two chairs look remarkably similar.

“That’s amazing,” says Dorothy, chuckling.

“Definitely a snap. So creative of you. Look at those leaves and the arms. It’s a perfect match. It’s wonderful, but I don’t think I should try to sit on yours.”

Sal laughs.

“I was building a Minecraft house on my phone, saw all the cardboard and thought I’d make myself a new piece of furniture, just like yours. There was loads of tape in the drawer. I think I might have used most of it.”

They are both smiling as they push themselves out of their chairs.

Dorothy gently takes hold of her granddaughter’s soft, smooth hand and wonders if there’s enough packaging left to build a small square table too.

She’s also pretty sure there is a piece of old felt in the garage. It might not be green and it might not be square, but it will be good enough for them both to play a game of Snap on.

And of course, she’ll let Sal win, just like her granny had let her win, so many years ago.

Published: People’s Friend