Nana Far Far Away

I just found out that my nan, who had a stroke just before the new year, is now receiving palliative care. There is nothing the doctors can do for her and now we will just wait for her to slip away. I wanted to write a blog about my memories of her while she is still here because then I can always look back on this post and know this is from the time she is still in the world.

She had a major stroke 18 years ago and has basically been recovering ever since, so most of my memories of her come from when I was 11 and younger – the ‘real’ her I guess, since she was severely limited in her capacity since then.

My nana is the person that I attribute the most of my main hobbies, interests and enjoyment to from my younger days, shaping who I am today. She was the only person in our direct family that was musical and I remember her playing the piano so beautifully when I was younger. I used to have to take my instruments with me whenever we visited to play her my latest tune, or even duet with her on the piano whilst I played the cornet or Eb horn. I loved that piano so much, it was a Knight and I can remember the feel of the logo, the touch of the keys, even the metal colour and shape of the pedals. Hell, I’m even pretty sure it had a certain smell that still lingers with me. She was the first person to teach me how to play the piano with both hands and how to read music on the bass stave – something I never really stuck with sadly. However, in amongst the huge piles of sheet music stored in the piano stool and stacked up on top of it was a book of Hans Christian Anderson nursery rhymes which were just about manageable for me. I can still remember my stilted attempts at playing ‘There Once Was An Ugly Duckling’ with both hands and trying to sing along.

The church at Missenden


We called her Nana Far Far Away because this was how we identified which relatives we were going to stay with at Christmas and so forth. We’d head down on Boxing Day, maybe we went to Nana Near in Stoke and then travelled South on alternative years, I’m not really sure now. They lived in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, a village I still love to this day and I really enjoyed revisiting two years ago. I remember the long walk up the hill to the church to attend some carol service or other, and occasional family gatherings or community events that would involve winding walks down ginnels and paths in that picturesque place, my nana with her lilac parka. 

The house in Missenden, I loved this house so much


Whenever we stayed with them, I would have a cot bed in my parents room and in the mornings my nana and I would always wake first, about 6am as I recall. We would sit and chat in her kitchen and my early rising would be rewarded by having the first pick of the multipack of tiny boxes of cereals, before my brother or sister woke up. Isn’t it silly the things that you remember, or that are important when you are a kid? I also remember that nan and grandad always had heavy brown sugar, which would melt on the surface of porridge and taste delicious. Weirdly, I had that this morning, as I bought the sugar to make gingerbread over Christmas. I suppose it’s the things that you didn’t have at home which were the most exotic and therefore the most memorable. They also introduced me to celery salt – another flavour which I still adore.

I also remember vividly my nana telling me about their adventures in Greece. My grandparents loved Greece and used to visit every year, possibly more than once a year. They learned the language and met all kinds of colourful locals. They had beautiful things around their house which they brought back, most specifically the coffee table which was topped with Greek figurative tiles and a set of heavy Ancient Greek image coasters which were covered with green felt underneath. As I recall it now, it was nana who got me into the world of ancient mythology, leaving me captivated by stories of gods and monsters. I blame her for my love of ancient history and subsequently my career in museums. Whether it’s true or not, this is the woman that I think of as my Muse, in a very literal sense.

All the grandparents! Nana Far Far Away is third from left


In more recent years, I’m glad my nana has been able to share in key events in my life, able to come to my wedding and my graduation even though it was hard for her to do so. I’m glad to have been able to share so much with her even though we never lived near to each other. And I’m glad I went to see her in the hospital the other day, where she was able to nearly say my name, telling the nurse who I was. Nearly. But I know she knew I was there and that’s what counts. I love my nana, and I don’t care who knows it. Now I suppose all the attention must begin to shift to my Grandad. He already seems heartbroken and I cannot begin to understanding how feeling a wife of 64 years slipping away from you can possibly feel. There is so much more to say, so much more to remember, but I think this is enough for now.

So Nana Far Far Away, before you go even further away from me I want to celebrate you, your place in my life and all the great times we shared together.

Eileen Coats
March 1926 to Present

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  1. Thanks Bridget and Sarah. I just found out she passed away this morning x

  2. A great tribute to your Grandmother… Thank you for sharing!

  3. Luara,

    What a beautifully written post to celebrate your wonderful grandmother and the huge influence she has had on you. She sounds amazing…..and even though her name is Nana Far Far Away, she will always be so near to you…

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