Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My fair ladies

- Knock knock
- Who's there?
- Li'l old lady
- Li'l old lady who?
- Didn't know you could yodel.

In my new capacity as a family man we marked the first two days of half term with an extended weekend with my parents, of which highlights included the Boy being taken (deer) stalking by my father, a trip to Bovington tank museum, and an average of slightly under one quite formidable little old lady per day.

Little old lady #1: great aunt on my mother's side; physically quite rugged for someone in her early nineties, eyesight virtually non-existent, mind in tip-top condition ("I've still got a top storey") despite the necessary perceptual blinkers that come with being to the right of Pinochet. On hearing we were down for a long weekend and we had dropped in on our way, she perceptively remarked: "doing the rounds, are you? Well, I'm delighted to be included," with a knowing twinkle in her eye. This aunt was Senior Wren in Sri Lanka during WW2. (UPDATE: apparently it was after WW2 that she was Senior Wren.) When she was promoted to Commander she wrote to her brother, my grandfather, also on the sub-continent, claiming precidence. He wrote back to say that when she could spell precedence, she could have it. Yes, that man's DNA is in my genes.

Little old lady #2: my grandmother, only grandparent I've had since 1980, aged 97, eyesight and hearing not quite as bad as she can make out but still pretty limited. When you sit down beside her you have to choose the side with the good eye or the good ear, but you're not getting both. I have to admit this visit was more out of a sense of duty, but was very pleasantly surprised to strike conversational gold. Turned out she and my grandfather honeymooned very close to where we did, which led to talking about the penury of their early married years (what you get for marrying a subaltern), but their first married posting was Dover, which was the best place for being poor because the herring were so cheap. A fascinating window into a world that was recognisably modern but not yet buggered up by WW2 and the Cold War.

Little old lady #3: not a relative of mine but almost-family to Best Beloved: the matriarch of the family she used to work for. A mere nipper at 87. Born and bred to White Mischief-type society in Kenya; retired to Ireland at 77; didn't like it and returned to Kenya; didn't like that either and re-retired to Lyme Regis. Wow. Also possessing a top storey but not much hearing to go with it, which led to this conversation when I described myself as a technical editor.

- Her: what exactly do you mean by technical?
- Me: well, I work for a computer network. [She smiles brightly, nods, turns away.]
- Her [conversationally to daughter]: it's jolly hard when you're deaf.
- Daughter: didn't you hear what he told you?
- Her: no, I didn't. ['He', i.e. me, was sitting three feet away from this discussion.]
- Daughter: well, don't act as if you did or he won't repeat it!
- Her: but if you ask everyone to repeat themselves you sound like a ninny.


Do other countries have little old ladies like ours? Some nations have withered old things who sit by the fireplace wearing black and gossip with the other women of the village. Others have elderly women who are basically like younger women, but older. Only we have this type: cut glass accents; impeccable manners; a dress sense that can alternate between glamour and animated rummage stall, and make it work either way; political views about as incorrect as a scantily clad page 3 model serving you a whale cutlet while smoking and telling jokes about Muslims; and effortless charm. As you approach their aura, so you move back in time and if you actually touch them you find yourself transported to the height of the British Empire. Which you rule, and don't you forget it.

Gawd bless 'em, every one.


  1. Ben, while I am fully intending to be a proper little old lady in the old school style (though likely not so posh), all this begs the question 'what did you do over half term in your previous capacity?'.

    Personally I celebrate empty roads and unusually straightforward parking / cycling / Tesco shopping [it's so-called reading week as well for those as are not at proper University] *plus* (of late) a week off plumbing classes with extended schoolnight Pernod-and-ranting sessions. Oh, and I am roasting squashes.

  2. True, the empty roads are something to celebrate (shame they only apply in the mornings; evenings still the same as ever). 'Part from that half terms in my previous existence were pretty much like any other week ... Pernod and ranting sounds a good combination.


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