I set off on a damp morning to the V&A. My friend Patou and I had arranged to meet there to visit the Mary Quant exhibition, of which we have heard good things. Mary Quant came to prominence in the early 60s as a designer and entrepreneur, and name and her face were familiar to me throughout my childhood when the mini skirt was de rigueur.
Sassoon and Quant
However, fate intervened, and when I reached South Kensington, it was to find a message on my ‘phone to say Patou could not join me. It might have been more fun going round the exhibition with her, but I had a wonderful time on my own all the same.
Although Quant’s fashions would have been splashed across magazines, those magazines would generally have been of the glossier kind that rarely came my mother’s way. So it was with something of a shock that I realised how much Quant had influenced the clothing I wore or saw older cousins and neighbours wearing as I was growing up. Apart from mini skirts, there were shift dresses, pinafore dresses, boxy suits, and pin striped materials previously the province of men’s suits.
When I was at the Vice Versa exhibition in the Ulster Museum last summer, fortunate enough to have a tour with the exhibition’s curator, Charlotte McReynolds, it was clear fashion is very much part of social history. So it proved again at the V&A. At McReynolds 2018 exhibition Fashion & Feminism she included a quote by Quant: “Clothes always say it first, you know, then comes the effect.” That desire to get away from restrictive clothing, to be comfortable, to be gleeful, was all part of the emerging sixties youth culture. Quant does not claim to have invented the mini skirt, she says it was a street fashion, invented by the girls on the Kings’ road where she had her shop Bazaar. Continue reading
My little mum was born a hundred years ago today in Larne Co Antrim. None of her siblings was born there, but my grandfather, not the most pleasant or successful person in our family’s history, had lost his farm and was working as a carter, probably in the docks. Mother didn’t like the fact she was born in Larne. It doesn’t have a great reputation. It does have the most hideous roundabout ornament I have ever seen, though it’s fairly new, and Mother never saw it.
The street she was born in has gone. Cousin and I visited a few years ago. In a shop, we found a painting of a hare that Cousin fell in love with. If you ever visit her home you’ll see a print of it on the wall.
I left my details with someone at the museum who told me that the person I needed to speak to to see if there were records of our family time in Larne extant was Marion. Unfortunately Marion was on holiday. More unfortunately Marion has never got in touch with me.
So Mother’s early circumstances remain unclear, though they were obviously pretty tough. I know she was baptised at home because she was sickly and thought unlikely to survive. But survive she did.
There are no pictures of her as a child. I think this one is the earliest one I have of her. She looks like a young teenager. She probably was.
You may recognise it. I posted it in 2013 after she died. Continue reading
If there was ever an argument that might persuade me to move to the vicinity of Newmarket, it would be Southgate’s. I went there this morning to discuss Mother’s ashes. She died six years ago, and after the funeral, which we arranged with Southgate’s, she was cremated. The plan was to have my father’s ashes disinterred from the spot where they are buried, and which I think he would have thoroughly disliked, and mix and scatter his and Mother’s remains together.
In sitcoms, until the advent of Six Feet Under, undertakers were generally depicted as gloomy souls. At Albin’s, South London’s leading undertakers, the mood is upbeat, and when a colleague and I visited (for reasons I shan’t go into here) we had a wonderful time. We also learned that they watched Six Feet Under. I forgot to ask Luke at Southgate’s about the television programme, and I think now I should have asked him if he knew Albin’s, which like Southgate’s is a family firm.
He remembered Mother’s funeral, and Aunt’s; remembered that they came from Northern Ireland and we established that he has friends who live near to their birthplaces. But I was there to talk about the ashes. Or rather to collect them. Continue reading
My friend Octavia has been away for five weeks and is due back tonight. I’m hoping to see her tomorrow if jet lag doesn’t claim her. It was Celia’s birthday on Friday, mine tomorrow, and we are meeting up with a small group of mutual friends to have lunch in a local, unpretentious gaff at Borough. Yes, there are unpretentious places at Borough if you know where to look. I took my cousin-in-law to the same place for lunch when she was over with Food NI last month, and she loved it.
While Octavia was away, she sent me WhatsApp messages with photographs of stunning views. I suggested she start a blog. After a few days she said that it took her minutes to WhatsApp some photos, whereas it must take me much longer to write a blog post, (I assume she meant the type of post I am writing now), and when she had time to spare, she wanted to relax, not write.
It did get me thinking though. I use WhatsApp sometimes to send photos too. I think it’s a great medium for quick communication. But as a record keeping app, it’s lacking. It became quite frustrating getting tiny photos to see on my ‘phone when I should much rather look at larger ones on my laptop screen. Continue reading
One way or another today has included a lot of death. I spent much of it in Guildford, the town where I was born, and where I lived throughout my teenage years.
Looking down the High Street to The Mount
The main purpose of my visit was to see the dentist for my six month check up (all good). I was early and looked at my ‘phone. There was a message that made me gasp, notification of the death of Ernie, a really lovely man I used to see often during the course of my work. I made a note of the funeral arrangements in my diary. His partner Paul must be devastated. They were together for nearly sixty years. Throughout my appointment I was remembering his kindness, the way he used to call me Mate.
As I was leaving the dental practice an elderly gentlemen was making a follow up appointment. When I heard his name my ears pricked up and I turned to look at him. It was an unusual name and one I recognised, though I did not recognise the man. He was our family GP for some years. More grist to the memories mill.
Then it was a trip to the museum, a place where I spent some time almost every Saturday until I was around twelve. I walked there via the Castle Grounds where I used to walk my grandparents’ dog. I’m sure some of my DNA has entered the soil there.
The Castle Keep
Two and a half weeks to go until I cross that little strip of water known variously St George’s Channel and the Irish Sea for my hols in Northern Ireland.
Oh hang on a moment, I need to sort out some photos first. Maybe I can wait.
The plan hatched earlier in the year, which i hope is still live, is to have a family day with Uncle Bill, with as many photos as we can lay our hands on, and have a good session of family stories. Continue reading
Tomorrow, as well as being my birthday, is the fifth anniversary of Mother’s death. Clearing out some papers a couple of weeks ago I found a letter sent by a friend I have known since we were both five. She sent it just before Christmas 2013, and I imagine it must have been contained in a Christmas card. In the letter she commented on the fact that Mother’s death and my birthday happened on the same day, and remarked that for me this is a time of year when the space between heaven and earth will be particularly thin. It certainly feels like it today.
Although tomorrow is the anniversary of her death, today is the anniversary of the last time I saw Mother alive. And on and off today I have felt waves of emotion, reliving some of the memories of that day, and other memories of very different times. I’m sure part of the reason for this is that I am at das Boot where I stayed as she lay dying and for for several days afterwards, and also that I was with Older Nephew yesterday so family feelings got stirred up with the pair of us reminiscing about Mother’s wonderful baking repertoire. For the most part we had different favourites, but we were united in loving the marmite whirls she would make from scraps of left over savoury pastry. Heaven. Continue reading
Since Cat died 20th March 2011 I have invited people to join me the Sunday following the anniversary in remembering our pets. It began the week after Cat died and brought me tremendous comfort. I was overwhelmed by people who emailed me telling me stories of their pets, how much they had loved them, how much they missed them, how much they appreciated those animals’ contribution to their lives.
Often when a pet dies it’s hard to talk about it. Colleagues can be unsympathetic; it’s only a cat/dog/guinea pig is a fairly common response. Yet it is normal and right to grieve, and wrong if we have to hide our grief, be made to feel ashamed, made to feel weak or foolish.
As it turned out, by the end of yesterday evening it wasn’t Cat’s life and death I was thinking about, but my Aunt Ella’s. I got the call around 10.30 to say she had died earlier in the evening. An expected death, but not expected quite this soon. Tonight I spoke to her husband, my Uncle Bill, Mother’s favourite sibling and the last one surviving. He’ll be 97 in the autumn. I don’t know how old Aunt Ella was, but I’m guessing around the same.
We spoke the other night after I had spent some time over the weekend with his daughter-in-law who was in London for a few days. It was she who told me Ella had widespread cancer and the doctors were talking about weeks, at the most, months. Yesterday afternoon I sent this picture to her of her then infant husband with his mother Ella.
Mother and Son
I’m ending the year feeling much better than I anticipated this morning. The cold which I started on Christmas Eve was gazumped midweek by a much more aggressive version which has left me in no doubt that I am not stoic invalid material. As a headache gripped my brow in a rusty vice and left me feeling sick each time I bent down I yearned for my health to be restored so I could enjoy my cat, my home, my life.
Friday was a particularly low day. I went out to work telling myself I’d be fine. My nose ran almost constantly and grew redder and sorer by the minute. I began to feel self-conscious and embarrassed at the number of times I had to blow my nose and find yet another bin to dump a wodge of used hankies. Yuk. I went to bed early, then up betimes yesterday for another day at work. Less nose blowing, but still gripped by the vicelike headache and prone to sudden outbreaks of sustained coughing. However by the afternoon I was convinced I was on the mend. Home via the shop to stock up on more boxes of paper hankies where I realised at least half the local population is in the same boat as I am. I nabbed two of the last three boxes of my favourite brand.
I made myself stay up until half past seven and then climbed gratefully between the sheets where I slept for twelve hours with some interruptions for coughing, nose blowing and glasses of water. I thought I’d be fully rested and on the road to health this morning, but instead I should have gladly turned over and slept some more. MasterB desperately needed time and attention from me and was keen to play. Off I went to work feeling as though my body belonged to someone else somewhere else and my feet were not truly making contact with the ground.
Then magically, mid afternoon, something shifted. I’m still coughing, still blowing my nose rather frequently, but it’s almost eight o’clock and I don’t think I’ll be in bed for at least an hour. I’ve eaten a meal with pleasure rather than out of a sense that I need the sustenance, and I have a glass of wine at hand, my first for nearly a week. Admittedly I’ve not drunk any of it yet, but just looking at it makes me feel more festive. I’ve even lit the candles and decided the Christmas decs can stay up for another day or two. Continue reading