Sunday, July 20, 2014

Granny's quilts

When we were visiting my aunt recently, I spent some time writing down recollections of her childhood and the family because she's the only one of the older generation left on my side and when she's gone, there will be no one left to ask.

I mentioned to her that when I was a little girl, we had a patchwork bedcover that always fascinated me. It was made up of large oblong patches of - in some cases - quite rough tweedy material, cross-stitched over the seams. It wasn't exactly pretty - I remember some of the patches were an orangey brown and some green - but it was interesting. I had mentioned this to my mum a few years ago and she said that an uncle on my dad's side was a traveller for a suiting company and that my (paternal) grandmother used to be given obsolete sample books, out of which she made that cover. Of recent years I've thought of the cover but it's long gone, to my regret.

My aunt said that this uncle had been Uncle Tom, her father's brother. "I've got a couple of those covers," she said. "Would you like them?"


These are made of (I would say) ladies' suiting samples. They're much softer and finer material than ours was, and the patterns of the material are less varied, mainly grey but in one quilt with a certain amount of pink.

They're interesting to me on various counts. For one thing, they were made for a practical purpose - true to (I imagine) the origins of patchwork. She wasn't someone like me trying to create something pretty; she was the wife of a foreman mechanic making cheap, warm bedding for her children. For another, they were made by my granny, the one I didn't really know. Until I was 5, she lived in Edinburgh with my aunt, quite near us, but then my aunt moved down south and Granny went with her. I don't remember her before the move and it's only in recent years that it's seemed odd to me that she would move away from her only grandchildren. I suppose she loved her daughter and didn't want to be separated from her - a feeling I understand. In those days, Cheltenham, where they moved, was a long and difficult drive away - there were no motorways and I was a carsick child. We visited twice and she came up occasionally; but she developed dementia when I was in my early teens and I can't really claim to have known her at all.

Her corners aren't all perfect. It must be genetic. Or maybe she was just busy; and was happy enough to make covers for her children's beds without worrying too much about the aesthetics (though the rather dull materials have been set out with at least a bit of thought, I'd say).

Sorry, kids. More stuff for you to deal with after I'm deceased.

Waving to you, Granny. Sorry we never got to chat.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The camper van birthday

Dear little N was 3 yesterday. His other grandparents are visiting and they all came to tea, but since they didn't all fit in the car, Son-in-Law 1 and his father came by bus. There were presents to open, but he patiently waited until his dad and grandfather arrived before opening them. He and Granddaughter played happily with my polished stones. He will with justification be able to tell his children that when he was young he made his own amusement and played with (sticks and) stones.

He got various presents. One of them was ...

... a yellow camper van...

... - a companion piece to one of his favourite toys, which is a red camper van.

He forgot about the unopened presents for a while, though his little sister was quite interested in them.

He also got a scooter and was very serious in his attempts to ride it.

And then there was cake, made by his mum. He was extremely pleased to see it and very happy when we sang "Happy Birthday" ("Again!" - so we sang it again) and quite keen to eat it as well.

Inside it was chocolatey. It's amazing how babies who have never seen chocolate cake can still recognise it and reject their healthy raspberries till they get a bit of it.

Another satisfied customer.

And then when they all went away and we turned on the news, we learned about the awful attack on the Malaysian Airlines plane.

Nationalism. It's madness. People are people; what do labels matter? Kindness matters.

Scotland is having a referendum for independence in September and we will be voting No, for those very sorts of  reasons.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Visiting Auntie E.

We have been away on holiday (thank you for the kind birthday greetings) visiting my aunt in rural Norfolk, who, for reasons I have explained before, lives in this wonderful house.

In short, she and three women friends retired there in 1981 with - crucially - the much younger husband of one of them. Now only my aunt and the much younger husband (not hers) are left. They live fairly separate lives but keep an eye on each other. This is great for her, since she's now 89 and a half. He is, I think, 73, but a very youthful and energetic 73. How good it is for him - I'm not sure. He's a lovely person but we now worry about the burden this may be putting on him - even though my aunt is amazing for 89 and a half. She still gardens every day, drives and otherwise looks after herself - but the chap is always around to help in a crisis and to maintain the fabric of the house. (Couldn't we all do with a much younger husband, not necessarily our own, to perform such functions?)

I think this is the 15th time we've visited - at least every two years since Son was nearly 3. And we feel so privileged: the house is by far the grandest one we've ever known well and the garden is huge and beautiful - about three acres, with an extensive lawn, a small wood, a large walled garden and so on. My aunt has created it in its current form and does much of the maintenance of the flower beds though there are now more weeds than there used to be.

Daughter 2 came down for the weekend from London to brighten the lives of her aged parents and her even more aged great-aunt.

This is the view from one of our bedroom windows...

... and this is the view from the other.

It's paradise. On the other hand, it's a 7 hour drive from here so if there were an emergency, we couldn't get there quickly. And when you're nearly 90, there do tend to be emergencies.

Having coped with both parents and my other aunt through their slow and sad declines, I do worry a lot about what might happen to this (unmarried, childless) aunt. And yet worrying doesn't help and it's hard to plan for an unknown future.

And alas, no: we won't inherit the house! They all agreed to make it over to the much younger husband; which was very sensible.

Every time we visit, I wonder whether it'll be the last time. So far, I'm pleased to say, my aunt appears to be fairly indestructible. She hopes that she eventually falls down dead in the garden and I hope that I do too - in our garden, you understand. I don't want poor old Mr Life to have to drive my stiffening corpse all the way home.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Will you still need me...?

Friday was my birthday*. On Friday night, Daughter 2 came up to Edinburgh; and on Saturday, Son came down and we had a little lunch party, catered by the offspring - very nice and very restful. Well, it would have been restful if it hadn't been for the little people, who are lovely in almost every respect but don't really make for a relaxing afternoon. They both enjoyed playing with the polished stones that used to fascinate Grandson when he was Granddaughter's age - and he was interested in them all over again, though also played with his cars.

Auntie Daughter 2 loves her nephew...

... as does Uncle Son. We went for a walk at Cramond.

Then Son and Daughter 2 leapt around the garden for a bit. Serious professional people, my offspring.

* (You know that Beatles song, "When I'm 64"? And you know how, when you first heard it, you never imagined that you could possibly, ever, actually be 64? Yes, well. Seems I was wrong.)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

A hundred years

I don't know much about E equalling MC squared - happy to take Einstein's word for it - but it's certainly true that something odd happens to time when you get older. Not only does it whizz by, propelling you smartly towards decrepitude and the grave, but something happens in reverse too - to the past.

There's a lot in the media at the moment about World War 1, since it's the centenary of its beginning. When I was little, or even just young, World War 2 was a lo-o-o-ong time ago and World War 1 was more or less prehistory. And now I think: gosh, it was only 100 years ago and that's nothing. Nothing at all. 

It seems to have become more recent; which is a bizarre sensation.

I was born in 1950 and as I've said in this blog before, my parents were both very much affected by the Second World War. My dad was in the Royal Engineers from the ages of 19 - 25 and for most of that time he was overseas, in Egypt doing bomb disposal and then Belgium and Holland, building or destroying bridges. He could easily have been killed. My mother went to London at the age of 17 and was working there during the Blitz and some time thereafter. She too could easily have been killed. Naturally both parents spoke quite a lot about their war experiences - particularly my mother - and yet for a long time I felt that it all happened in such a distant past that there was little connection with my life. Yes, the past: five years before I was born. Really, really, really no time at all.

And my grandparents, of course, lived through two world wars. Two! Twenty-one years apart! Again, hardly any time at all. If the first one had finished in 1993, which feels more or less like yesterday, then what would it feel like for the second to be starting now? Appalling. Unthinkable.

My maternal grandfather, above, was in the Royal Scots and, as I've also mentioned before, was shot in the hand at Gallipoli. Again, he was lucky to survive when so many didn't. He was a printer, a compositor, in civilian life, and operated a sort of typewriter to set the type. His war injury left one of his forefingers permanently bent down to his palm and so from then on, he had only nine working fingers. I thought nothing of it (ancient history...). And as for what he witnessed at Gallipoli and elsewhere - I have no idea. I never asked. I probably didn't want to know.

Anyway. 100 years. Less than twice my life - considerably less than twice my life - and that seems to have passed in a flash. It makes you think. And even though many other people have said much the same thing, it's not till you get older that you really appreciate how short life is and how events are which you used to think were far back in time are actually quite recent.

So. Must get on.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fun in the sun

It's been a fun day. The children and I went to the Botanics, as we so often do. We did a lot of walking around (at least, Grandson and I did - Granddaughter has not yet embraced walking as her favoured method of locomotion) but we also sat on a bench for a while.

When we came home, Grandson helpfully watered my outdoor plant pots.

Then there was a bit of what my father used to call "noise and nonsense". Granddaughter decided to try on her Grandpa's sunhat.

It suits her.

It suited Grandson too...

... but his sister wanted it back.

Later I was surprised to hear that it had been raining at Wimbledon.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Jekyll and ... solanum

Granddaughter is a dear little soul and on the whole very jolly. But occasionally, like any other baby, she is less impressed with life and lets us know this. It's comical but at the same time a bit stressful when babies are suddenly distraught - as if their entire worlds had crumbled - when you restrain them from putting their hands on the hot oven door or dropping a heavy glass paperweight on their foot. They yell louder than you would think possible; they weep hot tears; they dribble copiously from their tragic mouths.

Once, somewhere, I remember reading about a chap's reaction on seeing a baby - it might have been his own, newly-born one - and not finding it particularly attractive. As far as I remember, the chap said that he was handed "a sort of roaring tomato". And this describes rather well Granddaughter's instant change from being a jocular, tolerant sort of person to being - well, a roaring tomato. (She's got quite rosy cheeks, rather like her Granny (sorry, little L)).

Most of the time she's lovely, though. Yesterday I took her with me to have coffee with friends and she just sat on the sofa beside me the whole time, beaming and playing with her toys. So yummy.