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Lessons from our grandmothers

‘What I’m saying — and nobody will tell you this but me — is that your hair is going to be frizzy. All of the time. You’ll be beside yourself.’

Bess Kalb has saved every voicemail message her grandmother – her best friend, her confidante ever left her. Stubborn, glamorous, larger than life, Bobby Bell gave Bess critical advice on everything from lipstick to life partners. Bess’ new memoir Nobody Will Tell You This But Me shares the truths full of devotion, killer instincts and hard-won experience that her grandmother told, even when they hurt and even though she’s gone.

As a tribute to the wisdom of grandmothers, we asked the Virago team to share the lessons they learnt from theirs. As it turns out, our grans, nanas and nannys taught us the big and little lessons which we have all come to live by.


Celeste Ward-Best

My grandmother’s practical but alarming advice was passed down to me by my mum and I realise now, as I write this, that it’s something I think of most mornings – ‘always wear matching underwear, you never know when you could be hit by a car’.

Zoe Hood

My grandmother was Irish so her advice was mainly (kindly) threats, but she taught me how to read, write and draw shoulders and that’s the best advice I would want.


Rose Tomaszewska

My Granny had a bath every night, and whenever I felt rotten, she’d tell me ‘Take a bath. I bet you’ll feel like a new woman!’ She also told me to straighten up and stop sticking my bum out when I walked. I took the first advice well – the second never really sunk in.


Sharmaine Lovegrove

My Grandma is the most important woman in my life. Right now I miss her food and her smile. She always says to me: ‘the stone that the builder rejected will become the cornerstone‘. It’s a biblical saying and she tells me this because, although I am estranged from my mother and have been homeless, she has always expected great things from me. Her love and pride in me and these words have seen me through the darkest of times.


Grace Vincent

Most of my Nana Joan’s advice was absolutely barking, and she used to believe everything she read in the Western Morning News, including the somewhat dubious advice ‘you must chew each mouthful 40 times for good digestion’.


Beth Wright

My Grandma Gwen’s advice was ‘always make your own mince pies, never buy them’ and it’s a life motto I will always live by!


Andy Hine

My mother remembers my Grandmother saying: ‘Above all, believe in yourself’. But, these quotes from my cousin are more the Nana Clara I remember: ‘Wear your coat to the beach so you don’t catch cold’ and ‘Don’t swim in the ocean at night because the sharks will get you’. Often preceded by phrase ‘They say…’ like she was quoting, sometimes attributing advice to Readers’ Digest or ‘the newspaper’.


Gina Luck

My Grandma Gunn would have survived this current situation like she survived everything. With biscuits, new dresses, dancing and whisky.


Kirsteen Astor

I still love reading through my Granny’s handwritten collection of recipes which includes some corkers – Banana Bonanza, Queen Mum’s Favourite Date & Walnut Cake, Christmas Pudding (1955) and my childhood favourite Toffee-Mallow Crispies (renamed Disaster Bars after my shocking attempt to recreate the magic).


Caitriona Row

My gran always used to say this:

‘Ná dean nós, ná bris nós.’

The literal translation from the Irish is ‘don’t make something, don’t break something’ and it means that you shouldn’t make commitments you’re not sure about, because you might have to end up breaking them. So she’d say it about, say, having a cup of tea with an annoying neighbour – ending it angrily in the future, when you’re sick of them after 50 maddening cups of tea, is worse for you (and them) than not starting in the first place. Very wise!


Emily Moran

Grandma May was a diminutive yet fearsome Glaswegian expat living in Yorkshire who, even well into her 80s, used to do the shopping for the “old lady” across the road (a woman at least a decade younger than her) and clean her own windows!
As a wartime railway worker she lived through rationing and, as such, her sweet jar was always full and she urged my dad and then my brother and I to always ‘eat your fat up, it’ll keep you warm’.


Millie Seaward

My nana is a style icon, has a pierced nose, a tattoo of a gecko on her foot and has been to Glastonbury (in the 90s – far less family friendly!). One of her best pieces of advice ‘Never trust someone who doesn’t like roast potatoes’.


Aimee Kitson

Grandma Seaside’s advice was – ‘It will all come out in the wash’. I say this to myself all the time when I’m worrying about something. She’s always right.


Madeleine Hall

My Granny Hall’s wise advice was ‘Don’t wear uncomfortable shoes, they will give you awful bunions.’