My February column in the Tetbury Advertiser reflects on my father’s role in historic events and looks forward to a talk I’ll be giving next month to the History of Tetbury Society
While in my head I still feel about 12, there’s considerable evidence to the contrary, January marked my twenty-fifth anniversary of living in the Cotswolds, and then came my birthday, which occasioned a nostalgic flick through old albums of me as a child at my parents’ house. Continue reading “History is Relative”→
My column from the June issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News
When I posted a photo of my dad on Facebook yesterday, a friend who hadn’t seen him for decades remarked how similar we are. That’s nothing, I told her – you should see how much I resemble his mother. I added a picture of my Grandma, aged 60 when I was born, by way of demonstration.
Only then did I realise that my older brother is about to turn 60, and how much he looks like our father and our grandfather. When family resemblances are so strong, it’s easy to see why older people often call relatives by the wrong names. Grandma often resorted to a roll call of possible candidates, stopping only when she hit the right person: “Thelma, Sheila, Merna, Mandy, Debbie.” At least she didn’t include the cat, unlike my friend’s mother, much to her disgust.
When did my brother and I become this old? I should take comfort from recent reports that no-one should now be considered old until they hit 85. I prefer my own definition, which works on a sliding scale of my current age + 10 years. The elegance of this system is its “jam tomorrow” principle: by definition, I will never grow old.
I also recommend the ploy of marrying a Mr Young, another way to ensure I remain forever Young. It’s also a great incentive to avoid divorce.
A post celebrating wedding anniversaries and other special occasions – with tips on how to pick a date for your wedding
Writing this month’s column for the Tetbury Advertiser in the run-up to my parents’ 62nd wedding anniversary, I’ve been thinking about how we choose and mark the days we wish to celebrate.
How to Choose a Special Day
My parents’ choice of wedding date has always struck me as the romantic ideal: 21st March, the first day of spring, subtler and wiser than Valentine’s Day. If a Valentine’s marriage ends in divorce, that day is forever blighted with a reminder of rejection.
For some events we must take pot-luck. My brother had the good fortune to be born on Midsummer’s Day – surely the perfect birthday, half way between two Christmases – whereas my sister’s Trafalgar Day birthday was fitting for the first-born of my father, then serving in the Royal Navy. Continue reading “Celebration Time”→
Picking up on the thread from my Mother’s Day post, The Scent of a Mummy, I’m reporting here on a memorable meeting with my late Grandma’s cousin Nina.
It was with some trepidation that I offered to take my Auntie Thelma (my father’s younger sister) on a round-trip to Minehead, on the Somerset coast, to visit her mother’s (my grandmother’s) cousin Nina.
Outings with Auntie Thelma are always good fun. She’s good company, generous, funny and liberal-minded, and from since I was very young, she’s been more influential on me than perhaps she realises. She’s introduced me to different arts and crafts concepts, taken me to terrific museums and galleries, and helped shape my aesthetic tastes. She’s also inspired me with her endless creativity and application to the arts and crafts that she enjoys producing herself – much like my dad. (There’s a post here celebrating my father’s many talents.)
Next Best Thing to Visiting Grandma
So it wasn’t Auntie Thelma’s company that made me nervous, but the prospect of meeting for the first time a lady who was my Grandma”s cousin. Grandma died when I was 12. We were very close, and I still often dream at night of going to her house to tea, and wake up disappointed to realise I can no longer do that in real life. Grandma was born in 1900 (a very neat achievement, I’ve always thought), so would have been 114 if she were alive today. Nina, by contrast, at just 98, is a spring chicken. She is however the oldest person I have ever met. Born in 1916, meeting her was a useful opportunity for my daughter Laura, who is studying the First World War at school this term. We took a special photograph of the two of them together for Laura to take into school the next day for show-and-tell. Her classmates were impressed.
Nor was I anxious about being in the company of a very old person. I love old people, and for years was good friends with my next-door neighbours in Hawkesbury Upton, James and Hester Harford, who when they died in 2000 wer aged 96 and 90 respectively.
Why So Nervous?
So why the big build-up? It was because the only photograph that I’d seen of Nina made her look very much like my Grandma. I thought it might be emotionally overwhelming to meet someone who was Grandma’s spitting image, not least because it would fill me with remorse for having never made the effort to meet Nina before.
As it turned out, Nina didn’t remind me of Grandma visually (although comparing her photo with Grandma’s I still see a resemblance). But she shared my Grandma’s quick wit, dry humour and candour, and I really enjoyed her company. Although she is less mobile than she’d like to be, using a tea-trolley in lieu of a zimmer frame to get around the house, she is absolutely on the ball, and her conversation is wide-ranging, evocative of past times but anchored in the present, seasoned by the self-knowledge of a very old lady looking back.
A Lovely Afternoon
We enjoyed lunch together, and after a couple of hours took our leave, wary of wearing her out, but not before we’d taken plenty of photographs, both of her old family portraits – there’s a stunning picture of her when she was 20 – and of ourselves as a group: Auntie Thelma, my sister Mandy, my daughter Laura and me. There can’t be many 98 year olds who enjoy being part of a selfie.
But the visit was not without its emotional trauma. Having parked outside her apartment block (an elegant building with a view of the sea), as we stood waiting for her to answer the door, I was overwhelmed with a strong perfume that suddenly descended upon me like a cloud for no apparent reason. It was an overpowering floral scent. One moment it was not there; the next it engulfed me.
A Fragrant Mystery
I couldn’t quite identify the fragrance. It was neither honeysuckle, nor freesias (my Grandma’s favourite scent), but it was equally heady, yet I didn’t spot any immediate cause of it in the plain, paved yard in which we were standing.
Then Nina opened the door, we went in, and in the flurry of greetings, I neglected to mention the perfume to anyone else, to see if they’d noticed it too. (I did however doubt my sanity for a moment, because a former boss of mine, the editor of a magazine I worked on decades ago, told me with the benefit of his previous career as a psychiatric nurse that olfactory hallucinations, to use his technical term, was a sign of madness.)
It was only days later, having opened a purchase that I’d made on the bric-a-brac stall at a village fete on Saturday, that I realised which flower it was. What I’d bought was a richly-scented Penhaligon candle, still in its box. Its perfume, exuding so powerfully from the packaging that you could almost see it, was Lily-of-the-Valley.
And then the connection hit me: that this was the fragrance that engulfed me as I stood on Nina’s doorstep. And what you need to know to realise why this connection was so extraordinary is this: my beloved Grandma’s first name. It was – of course – Lily.
On Father’s Day today, seeing so many people remembering their late fathers on Facebook reminded me just how lucky I am to have reached my age and still be able to share this special day with mine.
How lucky my daughter is, too, to be able to spend so much time with her grandfather, especially as I was 43 when she was born. Living just 20 miles away from my parents, she’s been able to build a close bond with them that will always be a part of her and who she is.
One of the many things that Laura has learned from my father is to paint beautiful pictures. They’ve both inherited my grandfather’s artistic talents. Here are two pictures that I treasure, which grace a corner of our living room – my dad’s garden by Laura and our garden by my dad:
My dad’s love of music has also filtered down to her. Here’s a music stand that he made for Laura when she started flute lessons:
He’s made many extraordinary pieces for me too, over the years, perhaps the most remarkable being this pewble:
He even made an information panel, as you find in so many National Trust properties, giving curious visitors the history of this unusual piece of furniture.
Actually, that’s just a bit of fun – the pewble is entirely his own invention, created to make a virtue out of the uneven floor in my kitchen. It’s a cross between a pew and a table, the table behind the pew serving as a worktop. The table has longer legs than the the bench, to accommodate the steps. How cool is that?
Above the pewble is the stained glass panel my dad made to replace the old larder window that was broken when I bought the house:
With 18 separate panes of glass, it has the same proportions as the original. My dad etched it with the date that my first husband and I moved into this house. After John’s death, I remarried, so my father added a new inscription with the wedding date. Never let it be said that my dad isn’t even-handed.
A further celebration of my second marriage is the gorgeous calligraphy my dad made of the song sung at my wedding by my cousin Sarah (who also carries our grandpa’s musical genes):
Now, stop me if I’m boasting, but I haven’t even mentioned the rocking horse yet, lovingly carved over many months as an early gift for Laura when she was barely big enough to sit on it. It now takes pride of place in our sitting room and is very popular with Laura’s visiting friends.
I’m very, very lucky to have such a gifted, focused and productive father to make such beautiful things for my house. But that’s not the point of this post. What matters isn’t the beauty of these things – their good looks are just a bonus. What matters most is who made them and that he made them for me and my family. Whenever I look at any of these artefacts – painting, calligraphy, pewble, window, rocking horse – what I see most of all is a manifestation of my father’s love. Now that really is something to boast about.