You can usually tell how long it's been between visits by the growth rate of small children. Cousins' kids who were in nappies a second ago are now attending school and I'm wondering how long it will be before someone buys bras for the twins.
At the other end of the growth scale is Grandma. She is in the shrinkage zone. She can no longer reach her own washing line, she's had to pinch in her trouser waistline and take a seated break between making cups of tea. Getting old just doesn't seem fair.
On this latest visit, my Mum and aunt had uncovered some old family videos, still on VHS, uncut and uncensored. It was a portal to the late 1980s. To be honest, most of the videos showed people walking away, embarrassed to be on camera but now and then someone stood still long enough for us to take a proper look.
Some of the footage was very funny, some quite poignant. At one Christmas lunch there were two grandfathers sitting together, no longer with us today.
There was Grandpa in his bowling whites showing us his rolling style. He looked exactly as I remember him and it was a rare treat to hear his voice, still with an English lilt, having moved to New Zealand as a boy.
And there was Grandma, in her old kitchen with the flowery wallpaper, getting cross with us for standing in her way while she was serving up Sunday lunch. She was plump and healthy and she could still reach the washing line.
Some things haven't changed. She still shoos us out of the kitchen and her eyes are sharp enough. Not long ago she not-so-subtly alerted my aunt and I to our moustaches. It's her ears that are the problem. Her hearing is long gone.
If you speak loudly and clearly, she understands perfectly but with a room full of people chatting, all conversation is lost to a low hum of white noise.
Midway through last year I was alone with Grandma at her house. We'd had a perfectly normal conversation about family things then I asked her a question about the supermarket across the road.
Her answer was swift and authoritative:
"I don't think her operation is until the 17th."
Right then. Moving on.
Instead of feeling bad that her hearing has gone, we've had some great laughs about it lately. During this last visit my 20-year-old cousin was telling Grandma all about her new life in Auckland and nursing studies.
Grandma asked what else she did with her time.
My cousin explained that she has been going to yoga classes, how she enjoyed yoga and how yoga had been really good for her.
This was followed by a short silence after which Grandma nodded and said: "Yes, I hear that's good for an itchy bum."
Poor old Grandma. She was roundly treated to a room of laughing people, doubled over yelling: "YOGA not YOGHURT!"
Still, even she found the funny side. Grandma and laughter have never been too far removed from one another.
- Originally published in The Press.