Lessons from my grandparents – ‘All work and no play’

By the age of 18 I was working almost seven days a week as a broadcast journalist, and every weekend when I left my humble home shared with my extended family, my Grampie, while tending the bicycles in his shop would say to me ‘All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl.”

I never considered much of it then.

But now in my early thirties, living abroad away from the love that made me, I think of it often.

My Grampie is a story teller. He would tell me and my cousins stories and riddles for hours on end, much to the chagrin of my Grandma and aunties. But it always made me laugh. It amused us. It was steeped in history and humour. The lessons were strong. My Grample isn’t full on. He would never try to enforce his teachings onto another. He would gently, very gently try to illustrate what he means, from his rich life experience.

He’d tell us stories of riding his motorbikes to the beach on a Sunday, the wind in his hair and freedom against his face.

All work and no play…

It took me ages to catch on to what he was trying to say.


I was so serious. So sad, and so uptight. And tired. I was tired thanks to fibromyalgia. Consequently, working so much meant I had no time for anything else.

I didn’t discover the joy of dancing until my late twenties. Oh, the euphoria! Of being in a space jam-packed with people moving their bodies to the rhythmic sounds of music, carefree and together.
I’d never properly taken joy, I mean real joy (and gratitude) in the food I ate until my late twenties. Savouring new cuisines, ales, and wine, taking in the tastes, the smells and the fulfilment of eating mindfully.

It took a little longer for me to discover the joys of socialising, and group socials with the right dynamic! (oh my word). It took even a bit longer to discover so much joy in cooking that it was no longer a task, but an art.

Neither had I considered the treasure of meeting a new person, a total stranger, with their own depth of experience and talent and skills to share with me, until my late twenties.

It took me ages to learn how to play; and to realise that I deserved play, and that we all need play – children and grown ups alike. It is an integral part to our whole selves – to enjoy, to discover, be creative and process life. It has taken time too for me to not feel guilty for allowing myself to play, and taking time to enjoy myself. It took for me to see that play is as important as work…for my physical and mental health.

Grampie taught me that.

The lessons that stay

I hadn’t truly lived until then. I had merely been existing.

And it was miles away. Very very far away, in one of the countries that colonised my little island that I learnt and understood what Grampie had been trying to tell me.

It was some time after I tried hard and consistently to end my life, that I really tried living.

Everything worth knowing in this lesson came from my grandparents. They’ve had so little material-wise; they, descendents of African slaves and East Indian indentured labourers, who came from nothing, and had everything else taken away, even their names. But all the truest riches are not material, and they kept these inside, and bestowed them on our family. Onto me.

I’m still trying to get the hang of living. And yes I still struggle with living and wanting to live. But every so often my grandparents’ lessons come back to me. They come in an open floodgate, streaming through with a clarity I’ve never had before. And they give me life.

I remember. As if it were yesterday. As if I were still 18 leaving my front yard in Tunapuna, Trinidad, while my Grample ,with his greasy hands  changing a bicycle tyre would say “All work and no play makes Jill a dull girl,” as I walked out the front gate to work.

I often lament the likelihood that I will not see my beautiful grandparents before they leave, (just as I didn’t get to see my paternal grandma before she departed) thanks to hostile immigration policies.

But I take some comfort in knowing that there are some things that can never be taken away, or stolen or ransomed. The teachings, the stories, the love…

Because of this I know they will never me. As I will never leave them. The lessons will stay.

Gentle hugs x

Story image by Veronica Kei

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