“Be a good girl, pet, and bring a chair for the gentleman” (lilting stress on the gen). My Granny sporting a green turban-like hat as if she were an exotic Queen with an emerald peach-skin crown, and a long-dead animal with shiny black beads for eyes wrapped around her neck, head dangling menacingly. Her only jewel, the ubiquitous brooch, possibly shaped like a golden sprig of leaves or a Celtic cross. The Gentleman, an eminent octogenarian whose name – like so many others in my early childhood years – began with ‘Reverend’, dropped with a sharp sigh and a strange squishy sound and landed almost demurely on the chair I had strategically placed in his projected line of descent.
The rattle of delicate bone china teacups filled with an aromatic, scalding brew from Ceylon, a deafening echo filling the room.
Another coffee morning; the typical parish social event bringing together all those careful to maintain their social standing with the neighbours and a chance to show off garishly tasteful brooches brought from far-off climes with strange, romantic-sounding names like Aberystwyth and Rangoon by adoring male offspring. Such a good boy.
My grandmother was in her element, an element I was expected to share, nay, splash about in with veritable gusto, although always maintaining respectable levels of decorum and discretion; one must never bubble over or enthuse, simply not done, my dear. I had been ‘a very good girl, pet, very good indeed’ that week, thus earning the honour of being the one to thrust porcelain plates of coloured sponge cakes and chocolate caramel shortbread squares – principal element of the Scottish diet – along with small white triangles of bread and butter under the discerning noses of the parishioners. I was also allowed to place the tiny china vases of tissue paper carnations one by one in the centre of each table, and, even more delightful, inevitably disappear under the piles of damp, steaming, warm fur and camel hair coats handed to me to be hung up in the cloakroom, as these people too tall to see clearly entered the hall. And then, I might even receive, as a special treat, a few words of Biblical wisdom from the very mouth of the Famous BBC Actor, also an Eminent Reverend Gentleman and friend of my Reverend Professor Grandpa, the special guest at the coffee morning today.
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“Mummy, Mummy, come and play! Come on, pleeeeeeease!” My Mummy-I-Love-You-So-Much, absolutely gorgeous, beautiful creature in her magenta turtle-neck and straight-legged black and white dog-tooth trousers. My Mummy, as beautiful as the ladies in the films my Granny watched on a Sunday afternoon with a tear-sodden handkerchief by her side. My Mummy, like a dark-haired Hitchcock fetish, with skin of alabaster and forget-me-not blue eyes. Those eyes that, to the end of her days, retained their captivating watercolour depth and mood, accompanying her sparkling, glittery smile.
“Mummy-y! Plea-yease! Come on!” “I can’t, darling; it wouldn’t be good for the baby.” Ah. Of course. That bump that had started to stretch Mummy’s angora jersey making it – and Mummy - lose their shape. Ava Garder in a fairground mirror. Hm. Not much fun, this baby brother of mine. Or sister. Who knows.
“Come on. I’ll play” Wow! My Daddy! My Daddy’s going to play with me! Of course! It was Saturday, the day that that ghost-like figure clad in suit and tie that I just managed to make out through fast-closing eyelashes as I tottered on the threshold of dreams from Monday to Friday – ‘Night night...nipe nipe, nipe nyuff… Kissssszzzzz’ - the day he appeared tall, dark and handsome in his Aran pullover, oh so masculine and clean-smelling, and wanted to play! With me! Goodness me, we’ll have to make up something new, something to impress my Daddy, something FOR my Daddy.
“Let’s play pirates!” Pure inspiration. “Yes, yes, pirates. We can wear hankies on our heads” “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeell alright, though me, a hanky, um…” “Alright. No hankies. But you wait here while I hide the treasure.”
I little later I saluted Captain Daddy and handed him a perfectly drawn treasure map of Back Garden Island. “Right. Let’s go and dig”. A radio voice. A Man’s voice.
My own little patch of garden was near the area my mother hung out the washing so she could keep an eye on my excavations. Just there by the raspberry canes and the enormous jungle-like leaves of the rhubarb plants. There were no plants, weeds, rocks, palm trees, waterfalls, or skeletons whatsoever in my patch of garden, which made the map, with its large red cross indicating the whereabouts of the treasure, somewhat difficult to interpret through lack of landmarks. But my father, in a rare moment of parent-offspring bonding, began to hunt, dig, and scrabble in the earth. After a while, zip. Not a bean. Not even a bit of cress. “Alright. What shall we play now?” “Nooo! You’ve got to find the treasure!” “But, what treasure?” “Ohhh, Daddy!” Poor man. Didn’t seem to know anything about pirates, which was strange coming, as he did, from the same country as the creator of Captain Hook. “We’re pirates. And we have treasures. And we hide the treasures. And then you have to look for them.” Clearer than that…..? “Wait a moment. What are th……what is this treasure?” “You know Mummy’s necklace? The one with the pretty blue glass beads and things……..?”
The garden, my garden. Nowadays there’s a bijou piano room with a coffee table and two wicker chairs – or similar – plonked on top of it. Who could ever want so many raspberry canes and things that need pruning and looking after? Let’s be practical! Cement, steel, glass – so much easier to look after.
Ah, but they don’t know about the treasure.
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