top of page

My Tribute To The Most "Awesome" Granny

Granny, this one's for you...

About 12 years ago, I had it in my mind that I would start asking Granny a different question every time I popped in to see her, in part because I was hoping she would inspire my next novel, but mainly because I thought it would be a subtle way of getting to know her better. And it worked. I learned loads. Some trivial stuff that made me smile for weeks and some deeper things that left me imagining what life would have been like in her heels. But there is one very simple exchange that has lived rent free in my mind for over a decade. Sat around the kitchen table at Milson’s Cottage in Langham, beneath that hanging light that I hit my head on three times a visit, I looked at this slightly-wrinkly and incredibly cheeky best friend of mine, and said, “Granny, what’s your favourite word?” She paused for a half a heartbeat, smiled that devilish smile of hers, and said, “awesome!” 

There is no word I could choose to describe that lady better because that is exactly what she was, and I learned that from various chitchats we had, as I bent her ear for story after story, so curious about the life she’s led – and those stories are what have formed this eulogy today. 

Starting life in the suburbs of Middlesbrough, a city that was built using the “most boring shade of grey”, Granny was the only child of Mollie and Herbert Rowe, a hot shot barrister involved in the war effort. To try and describe what those war years were like seems impossible, especially when you consider the sacrifices made by so many. But for a young Prue, well, as she told me, life couldn’t have been more amazing as she swapped the metropolis of Middlesborogh for the endless outdoors of Lake Windermere in the Lake District. In fact, there was a certain twinkle in her eye as she regaled the adventures she had there, causing mischief around the manor house she now called home; in a house full of other children and a place where imaginations could run riot and adventures were born out of thin air. 

Of course, this Enid Blyton-style fairytale couldn’t last forever, and so she left the North and moved to Brighton with her dear mother to set up a new life while they awaited the return of Herbert, a father that Granny only got to see twice in three years of service. 

Back to being an only child, it all felt like a very stark change from the life of mini-adventures she’d enjoyed with the other evacuated children but, with the war over, she began getting to know her other family members, from Martin Rowe in Guernsey to the now family-famous Uncle John, who lived in Ottawa, Canada. And just like Granny, Uncle John had a panache for making mischief, creating stories and enjoying the more glamorous things in life, such as his treasured Rolls Royce. But the real apple of his eye was his niece who he had such a special relationship with. In many ways, she was the daughter he never had and the stories granny would share about her time in Ottawa were the kind that made her eyes twinkle like only Granny’s could. 

Shortly after this, Prue met Derek Turnbull in Wilton up in the Borders, Pa an Estates Manager and Granny in the catering world, before they married in 1958, had three children - Johanna, Johnny and Katie –  and the life of adventure and travel continued. To regale them all would be impossible, but one adventure included hopping across the pond in 1964 to explore the US of A, which included an epic night at the boxing as they watched Mohammad Ali go toe-to–toe with the great Sonny Liston. Granny even brought back a pair of golden boxing gloves with the fight night details on them, a token that hung in Johnny’s bedroom at Litcham, glinting in the light like a constant reminder that my grandparents got to see the Greatest of All Time dance around the squared circle. 

As for Granny’s reputation at this time, well, everyone in the Glaven Valley knew Mrs Turnbull to be the ultimate hostess, whipping-up the most extravagant drinks and baking the most delicious cakes, as Katie and her friends cannonballed into the pool, Johnny raced around the Glandford grounds in hand-painted cars he’d go on to write-off and Mum would sneak out to carry-on the mischief making traditions of the Glandford Patrol. Oh yeah, Granny was a lady that loved creating the ultimate home life; one that involved a kitchen garden full of homegrown produce, homemade jams and chutneys, and a place where the kid’s friends were always welcome. She was quintessentially wonderful, forever busy, forever patient, and forever smiling. And when you did something that crossed the line of dangerous or reckless or a little bit foolish, she would meet it with the kind of whimsical wink and playful smile that you would miss with a blink, as if to say, “well done, kiddo.” 

But it wasn’t just Glandford Hall that was on the receiving end of her love for gardening. Oh no. That passion was pursued in every house she lived in. From Litcham to Langham, my every memory is framed by the pristine borders that ebbed and flowed around the lawn, the multicoloured flowers in bloom and that welcoming smile of Paul Hendrickson (aka Paul the Gardener) as he tended to every inch of the grounds with a meticulous love, something he had done since he first first started at Glandford aged 16. 

Of course, the garden club wasn’t granny’s only hobby. Always a different book on display, she would pour over the pages of any novel or biography should could, while also being a huge supporter of the Glaven Committee since it was founded over half a century ago, as well as being an avid member of the stitch bitch club, where Granny and her gal pals would gossip while perfecting their basting technique.

Then there were the whole clan trips to the family villa in Portugal’s beautiful Algarve, where I can remember the sizzle of sardines on the bbq as we played in the pool, pedalo trips around the lake as us kids pointed out which million pound villas we would buy when we were grown ups to a chuckling Granny, and burning my feet on the boardwalk towards Julia’s beach bar, as Prue led the way. And how could we forget Granny’s love of all things British. The sounds of Wimbledon playing out of the TV, the scent of strawberries, cream and a sprinkle of sugar presented in the kind of bowls us kids should never be trusted with, and an unwavering admiration for the Royal Family with all the pomp and ceremony that came with it, from the Queen’s Speech to the Trooping of the colour; an admiration that pre-dated Granny’s role as a waitress at The Queen’s coronation in 1953.

But of all the hobbies Granny had, I think it’s safe to say that family sat right at the top of them all.

No matter what stage of life, that’s what I remember most. At Paston House it was Sunday lunches in the dining room as I stared at the old portraits of family members on the wall and the silver sword by the fireplace. Running off to the tyre swing with Angus, Ella and Oli after we’d kicked another football over the wall and into the next door coach yard. Seeing the kitchen full of laughter (and a stuffed parrot hanging from the beams) as Uncle Johnny introduced me to Formula 1. Al fresco luncheons on the courtyard patio, before us cousins headed into the summer house to bash the drums and play scalextrics. And we can’t forget all the grandparenty bits and bobs she would forever make an effort to attend, from school sports days to Pony Club camps across the county. She loved family get-togethers more than anything – and this sense of love and family fun only grew when Granny met the unforgettable Dan.

Oh how in love they were. Laughing and giggling and creating mischief like teenagers back at school. It was the kind of marriage where every second spent with them seemed to be more wholesome than the last, as we spent weekends away at the farm in Suffolk, playing croquet on the perfectly manicured lawn, enjoying movie afternoons in the snug, watching The Railway Children for a fiftieth time, and enjoying Sunday lunches with the whole Yates family – Julia, Robert, Sarah and Kate, as well as our new step-cousins – all of us watching on in awe as Granny would pass the food to Dan through the serving hatch, before fetching a pack of cards or Happy Families, those two smiling away at each other the whole time. I honestly don’t think I have ever seen two people more perfect for one another. 

Of course, that was probably because they both had a wicked sense of humour and enviable level of wit that never seemed to slow up. I remember one time, when a ruddy-faced Dan said to a greying-haired Prue, that he had a thing for blondes, and so the next day Granny popped to the salon and got highlights put in her hair. The act itself was almost as great as their reactions, both of them stood at the front of the house in absolute hysterics. That was a relationship worth emulating.

Then there were the adventures big and small that pockmarked their love story from start to finish. I’m talking about trips to Vietnam and Cambodia. Excursions up and down the coast of New Zealand. Once in a lifetime expeditions around Australia, even touring part of it on a three-wheeled motorbike in which there are photographs to prove it; Dan at the controls, Granny in the seat behind him, both of them smiling from ear to ear as they rocked matching helmets and the same love for life. But if she could have visited anywhere in the world again, well, she answered that question as if it was the easiest one she’d ever been asked: Cape Town. That was her favourite. The place her and Dan could never get enough of and the one she would have retired to in another life. Good choice, Granny.

After Dan passed in 2003, though, Granny found comfort and love and energy in the stories of the next generations. She was the kind of person that was forever involved in the lives of her children and step-children, was always passionate about the pursuits and dreams of her grandchildren and step grand-children, and was totally devoted to play dates with her great grandchildren, Phoebe and Isobel, with whom Wednesday mornings were spent sipping imaginary tea, stacking cups, making dodgy music and cake-tasting – lemon drizzle being her absolute favourite.

Then, in 2020, Granny had a fall, which saw her suffer a bleed on the brain. It was a moment that changed so much for so many. But as difficult as it was, she still managed some quintessential Prue moments. For instance, I remember getting the call in 2020, while I was living in Nottingham, and it rocked my world. The information simply came through as, “Granny’s had an accident and the doctor’s don’t think she’s got very long left.” So with tears running down my cheeks, my heart thudding in desperation and my mind trying to churn up positive thoughts, I jumped in my car and headed towards Norfolk at the speed of Michael Schumacher in 90s. But barely half-an-hour into my journey, I got a second call to say that Granny was sitting up in bed eating jelly and ice cream. But of course she was.

But despite this folklore worthy recovery, Granny gradually lost her mobility and, with it, her independence, which is when the wonderful Jo and magical Maria entered our lives, and a new special bond was formed. Such dedicated carers, Maria and Granny became ultimate companions, the kind that laughed and talked and cried together, forever supported by Jo Honey with her perfectly matched funny bones. These two slotted in perfectly. 

But as difficult as this decline was to watch, it was also a journey that showed Granny for exactly who she was. A stoic lady with a wicked sense of humour; a lady who never once complained about life’s roll of the dice, who would always manage a little corner-of-the-mouth smile whenever someone whispered a mischievous story into her ear, and a lady who still managed to come out with some perfectly-timed one liners right to very end. Like in her final days, when Maria walked into Granny’s room to say, “Your ex-husband, Derek, just called to see how you were doing.” To which Granny replied, “Good grief.”

Yepp. It doesn’t matter which snapshot of her life I look back on, which moment I press pause at, or which part of memory lane I wander down, one thing is for sure, Granny will always be remembered for her immaculate warmth, that cheeky smile and the twinkle in her eye that served as a constant reminder that she both loved life and loved the life she got to live. 

GG, Granny, Pruedence, Mary. Like everyone sat here today, and all those beyond these walls that were lucky enough to call you a friend, I will miss you terribly. I will miss the safe space you created, the enthusiasm you projected, the gentle guidance you offered, the stories you shared, the lessons you taught, the playfulness you protected, the mischief you subtly encouraged, the questions you answered and the role you played in shaping the person I am today. Now go and have the best time with your man, Dan, and remember that not all of you has gone because you will live on in the memories of each and every one of us for a very, very long time. 

And with that, I’d like to sign off using the same two words and three syllables she would probably use to do the same: Toodle Pip. 


bottom of page