Once there were two grannies with one beautiful granddaughter. Her name was Alyson, her hair was the colour of Gold Blend, and she sang Pink songs wherever she went. (Hearing an eight year-old screech, ‘Teachers dated me – my parents hated me’ or indeed, ‘Push up my bra, I don’t wanna be a stupid girl’ always made the grannies want to speak up, but neither dared. If it had been any other child, yes – but not their darling Alyson, who could do no wrong.)
Because she had two grannies, Alyson’s parents alternated their visits from one Sunday to the next. (Sunday is, after all, the day for visiting grannies. Even the TV stations understand this, filling their schedules with granny-friendly programming – nary a naughty word or post-1973 film permitted.) One Sunday they would take her to see Granny Roebuck, the next Granny Beacham. Then Granny Roebuck again, then Granny Beacham. Holidays caused agony, since this would extend the gap between visits to dry, deathless millennia – and a postcard written in semi-literate schoolgirl scrawl barely made up for the grannies’ loss. (In her day, Granny Roebuck woed, children had been taught to start new sentences with a capital letter long before the age of eight. Similarly, the text-talk on Granny Beacham’s postcard added extra wrinkles to her brow. ‘Last nite we 8 swordfish’ puzzled her for many days, but she couldn’t bemoan ‘Luv Alyson’, since even misspelt luv was better than no love at all.) On the plus side, sometimes after their holidays Alyson’s parents needed a holiday themselves – on which occasions they’d allow their daughter to spend Saturday night with a gran too – but though also equally rotated, Saturday nights such as these always caused barely-concealed heartache in the granny whose turn it wasn’t. In such ways do lonely old women become bitter and spiteful, even if those traits were never in their nature before. But short of a timely heart-attack, stroke, chronic debilitating illness, or duel to the death with walking sticks and biscuit tin lid shields, there was no way out of this quandary until…
Until one day, Granny Roebuck discovered an amazing thing about her bedside clock. The electric had been off the night before due to a storm and the clock was flashing 88:88, but when Granny Roebuck came to reset the time, she forgot that this was a 24 hour clock and that if it was after noon (or indeed, afternoon) then a small red dot should be lit in the bottom corner below the alarm symbol. When her alarm didn’t go off the following morning but instead came on during the middle of Emmerdale that evening, she remembered the importance of that small red dot and set about moving the time backwards (since it was the kind of clock that allowed you to either advance or retreat the digits, and Granny Roebuck had always been the sort to think backwards rather than ahead) twelve hours. This is when the amazing thing occurred, although it did take Granny R. quite a while to come to terms with what it all meant: that the clock had somehow taken her back too, not just twelve hours – but exactly twelve days in time. Her first inkling of this was when she returned to Emmerdale to find the characters having arguments and dramatic confrontations Granny R. found curiously familiar. When she went to look for the TV Times to check if for some reason she was watching a repeat, she could only find an old edition with Dr. Who on the cover – even though she could have sworn she’d put that one in the recycling bin days ago. A few moments later the phone rang, and the hairs on the back of Granny Roebuck’s neck bristled (even the ones on her top lip seemed to be tingling) with déjà vu. She knew exactly who it was: Mabel Nolan from the WI, calling to see if she could bake a cake for the summer fair. ‘Don’t be silly,’ she told herself, ‘the summer fair was last Saturday!’, but sure enough her prediction proved accurate and a conversation she’d already had ensued. She was smart enough not to mention the perceived anachronism to Mabel Nolan though. Otherwise, it’d have been all round the WI by the end of the week – Petra Roebuck was “going”. But if Granny R. really were “going”, she’d rather keep it to herself; the last people she’d want to know about it were the busybodies at the WI. She’d seen how they reacted to Ena Kane when she took off her knickers at the Beetle Drive and handed them across the table to Milton Crowther with a cheeky wink. “Oh, poor Ena!” they all crowed, “how awful for her – she was always so smart, so quick.” They feigned concern, sympathy, compassion… but the overriding emotion was one of smug relief. “I thank god every morning that he’s allowed me to keep all my marbles thus far,” said Kathy Sykes, and a murmur of accord spread round the WI like a timpani roll. Soon afterwards they bundled Ena off to a home, and someone with a full shilling took her place at the next Beetle Drive instead. Only Milton Crowther seemed disappointed.
But it turned out that Granny Roebuck wasn’t “going” after all: she really had turned time back a full twelve days. This became completely apparent when Sunday rolled round two days earlier than it should have and Alyson arrived wearing the same mini-skirt she’d worn the last time Granny Roebuck had seen her (Granny R. didn’t think she’d ever seen Alyson wear the same outfit twice, and frankly this one would have been too short on a girl twice her age – though as always she kept her counsel on this matter, it wasn’t her place to interfere). Alyson then proceeded to tell all the same stories she’d told two Sundays ago… a boy in her class had been done for looking at dirty pictures on the school computers; she’d fallen out with her best friend again because they both liked that very same boy. But it didn’t matter to Granny Roebuck that she’d heard all this before, it was just wonderful to see her granddaughter two days earlier than expected. The wait between visits just seemed to get longer and longer, but now… maybe she had a way of changing that.
She tried turning the clock back by differing degrees – two hours on Tuesday morning, four on Thursday – but only twelve, and twelve exactly, seemed to have any effect. This was frustrating, because to turn the clock back to the precise time of Alyson’s last visit, Granny Roebuck then had to wait until the Friday before her next scheduled appearance. However, by the time that Friday finally arrived, she was often so desperate to see her granddaughter again that a further two days seemed longer in front of her than all the years she had behind, back to when she was a little girl herself, and the temptation to alter the clock was just to great. Besides, what did it matter if she experienced the same visit over and over again? She could easily change that by buying new and different treats – especially as, whenever Granny R. turned back the time, she also filled up any hole in her bank account that had been made during the preceding twelve days’ preparation. She took to messing with the clock on the Monday following Alyson’s visit, taking her back two Wednesdays and giving her more than enough time to prepare something amazing for the next one. The gifts became more and more lavish – a ruby and sapphire studded belt, Young Gucci sunglasses, a Shetland pony that ate all the conifers in Granny R’s back garden – but it was worth every penny to see the look on Alyson’s face. It didn’t matter that the presents couldn’t ever be kept – Alyson didn’t know that. All that mattered was her reaction. Sadly, the effect couldn’t be cumulative, since as far as Alyson was concerned it wasn’t the same Sunday lived over and over, but just once then forgotten, each time anew. But still, Granny Roebuck liked to believe that somewhere, subconsciously, all these extra special Sundays would be remembered, and that maybe Alyson would intuitively grow to realise who her favourite granny was as a result, the best granny in the whole wide world, the granny who would give her anything.
There was one other reason Granny R. chose not to wait those two additional days for a new visit from her granddaughter – what if something happened in that time, something that meant Granny R. wouldn’t ever see her treasure again? After all, Betty Swift passed in her sleep just two days short of her one-hundredth birthday, and Dorothy Chapman had fallen down the steps outside the church hall the day before her Diamond Wedding Anniversary. These things happened, and maybe something similar was about to happen to Granny Roebuck. Maybe that was why she’d been given this miraculous fortuity, the chance to relive her precious granddaughter’s final visit ad infinitum… rather than never, ever see her again. How could she take that risk? If this really was the final time, how could she let it go? But even if that wasn’t the future, and Granny R. still had a month of Sundays to come, little Alyson was growing up so fast – how long would it be before she no longer wanted to spend half her weekend with either of her remaining grandparents? Then what would happen? This way at least, Granny Roebuck got to keep her granddaughter the way she loved her, to protect her from the horror and corruption of growing up, to seal her in amber as that perfect spoilt-brat eight-year-old forever.
Meanwhile, in another timeline – or perhaps in a different part of that selfsame timeline, since no-one truly understands how time works, and most scientists think time travel an impossibility unless you’re skirting the event horizon of a black hole or popping in and out of wormholes like you would the Co-op (they certainly wouldn’t believe anything so simple as a faulty digital clock could cause such an irregularity – but what do scientists know?)… somewhere else, or somewhen else anyway, Granny Beacham made an amazing discovery of her own. Like Granny Roebuck, it began with a power cut and a clock flashing 88:88, though in Granny Beacham’s case it was the clock on her oven that needed resetting. Once again though the am/pm dot caused confusion, and when the roast hadn’t cooked on Sunday morning but the oven instead began leaking black smoke later that evening during Songs Of Praise (thinking the oven broken, Granny Beacham had put the fat-dripped grill pan back inside, and now it was burning and stenching out the whole kitchen) she finally cottoned on that the clock was twelve hours out. (This, in case you were wondering, was a Granny Roebuck Sunday for little Alyson, and the worst day of the fortnight for Granny Beacham. Raw roast beef and enough black smoke to set off next door’s alarm were just the icing on that particularly stale cake.) Granny Beacham however was the sort of woman who looked forward rather than back, so it never occurred to her to reset the clock by pressing the minus button. Instead, she rushed through twelve whole days with her finger on the plus, and before she knew it it was Thursday and Songs Of Praise had been deposed by Eastenders (in which all kinds of things appeared to be happening that didn’t follow on from last week – had she missed an episode?).
Like Granny Roebuck, Granny Beacham went through a similar process of doubting her own sanity before settling on the only rational explanation – the horror of her predicament being that she had actually missed last week’s visit from Alyson, and now had an extra two days to wait until the next one. To try and make sense of it all, she went to the graveyard to talk to Albert – but the old man was as much use as he’d ever been, and so instead she went down the bottom of the garden, just below the weeping willow, where her son-in-law had buried Pickles three years ago. Did she ever think it strange that she found it easier to talk to her much-lamented cocker spaniel than her somewhat less-lamented husband? Why should things be any different in death than they were in life? She often remembered that final afternoon at the vets, stroking Pickles’ ears as the last of the joy slipped from his devoted eyes; she rarely thought back to the stinking hospital ward where Albert ran out of reasons to grumble at her once and for all.
Talking to Pickles then, helped Granny Beacham put things into perspective. Although her initial time-travelling experience had been a negative one, there was no reason that in the future she shouldn’t use the oven clock to her benefit. Rather than waiting fourteen days between her granddaughter’s visits, now she only had to wait two. Those long weeks of lingering anticipation were over! Of course, it didn’t go unnoticed by Granny Beacham that by doing this she was also hustling on her own mortality, but Sundays with Alyson were all she had to live for – why drag out the time between? Besides, she was younger than Granny Roebuck and still reckoned she had a good ten years left (or just over two at the rate she was using them up) by which time Alyson would be a fully grown woman and probably wouldn’t have much use for a granny anymore anyway (in this regard, unfortunately, Granny Beacham was just as deluded as her rival: even at eight, dear, dear Alyson had little time for her elderlies, beyond their function as a perpetual source of presents and an occasional psychological bargaining chip to be used in the never-ending conflict with her parents).
And so Granny Beacham burned through Sundays faster than a flame would take this story, anguished as her granddaughter’s visits soon became even less frequent than they had been before – once or twice a year now with all those terrible teenage distractions, and sometimes not even on a Sunday (every now and then, one of Granny Beacham’s desperate leaps forward actually leaped her past Alyson’s visit – aching, she’d call her daughter, only to be told, “we came by on Wednesday, Mum – where were you?”). Then, at last, on the eve of Alyson’s 16th birthday, when it had been much longer than two weeks (even two weeks of twelve-day leaps) since Granny Beacham had last seen her granddaughter, one last leap proved more than her heart could take. They found her in the kitchen five years later (by which time someone else was living in the house as Granny B. had been missing, presumed dead, for a very long time), the index finger of her right hand still pressed tight against the plus button on the old oven clock. No-one could explain how she’d got there, or where she’d been in the intervening years, but Alyson (who was working as a prostitute and living in a squat in Salford by this time) didn’t even come to the funeral.
On arriving in the afterlife, Granny Beacham was given a choice. Heaven, where a forever-young Albert and Pickles were waiting with bright eyes and bushy tails (not necessarily in that order), or that other place… where, if she stuck around just a few more years, she’d soon be joined by her beloved granddaughter, the bad apple of her eye. Which do you think she chose?