Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Out with the old

A very happy New Year to everyone!

With the bug's effects receding, we were all able to enjoy the celebrations. Husband was toying with a bad tum but, a braveheart till the end, he manfully beat it back with felafels and wine.

He and I visited Daughter and Son-in-law in Silverton, Devon. Elder Son and Fiancee stayed in the cottage with them so we bedded down at the local hostelry, The Three Tuns (actually one of the small village's three pubs). A Grade II listed coaching inn dating from 1496, the accommodation was built on at the back and lacked the charm of old age and tradition, but was clean and comfy.

The main reason that I'm mentioning it is that it smelled of my cousin's house.

My cousin, Sue, has been dead now for - gosh, I can't remember - a good many years and I have rarely been inside her house since she died. (Her husband still lives there in case you think I'm knocking on the door of strange people and asking to be let in.) I wondered if the same polish had been used but our room was furnished with white melamine; alternatively it could have been - I don't know what. It wasn't unpleasant, just very distinctive. Not a disinfectant or cleanser or room freshener smell. 'Shake and vac?' Husband suggested. I don't think so.

But it reminded me again how evocative a scent can be.

Husband's sense of smell isn't particularly good; mine makes up for my poor hearing (who said that?). An aroma can transport me anywhere. Mostly back in my memory I suppose. Days long gone. People also long gone.

That makes me sound ancient! I'm not, honest, but yesterday, in the car travelling to Devon, I was contemplating - as one is wont to do at this time of the year - times gone past.

I lived, as a child, with my mother, grandparents and great-grandmother. She, Maggie, had eight children who all, with their offspring, gathered at Christmas and new year at our home, Albert House. Pubs in those days opened on Christmas Day and in the evening the grown-ups would go to the Park Inn before returning for supper, when the women would cook and serve the meal to the men before sitting down themselves to eat. When the table had been cleared, the fun would start. Or rather the singing would begin.

Uncle Woodie sang with Dunvant Male Voice Choir; my gran had a beautiful contralto voice; Sue was a trained soprano. And those were just the acknowledged voices. Everyone else crowded in the small living-room joined in too.

Except me. I tried my best to blend into the wall.

The cousins had their own groupings. I was in the middle group that consisted of Sue, Spencer, Howard, Lynne (all older than me by months or a couple of years) and John (younger). That's Howard and me in the photo.

Sue was old enough to go to the pub; Spencer and Howard were brought along later; Lynne, John and I were put to bed in Albert House and then got up again when everyone returned from the pub. I would rather have stayed in bed.

Better that than the ritual of saying goodnight. Being passed around, let's say, merry, uncles and aunties, to kiss good-night and be told 'what a lovely girl she is'. And knowing - okay, believing - that they didn't really mean it but that they much preferred my six-month-older-than-me cousin Lynne.

And yet I look back on those days with fondness and a wish to recreate them, even though I know it's impossible. Most of aunties and uncles are long dead as are Sue, Spencer and Howard (all three, much too young, to vile cancer).

I suppose it's that dream of the ideal, the one that could never be true, not really true or real, but that seems so desirable and allusive.

When I look at photos today of Uncle Bun (real name Hobart Pasha Honey) I think he looked a lot like a short Clark Gable. He's on the right with Auntie Eva and their children, Carol and Peter.

Uncle Bun enjoyed parties. He liked a drink; he liked to sing; he like to tell stories. He didn't like to go home. He was married to Auntie Eva. Much as she enjoyed all the same things she knew when it was time to go home. That was when she'd try to get Uncle Bun's coat on.

Now Uncle Bun was the only person who'd drink my mum's home-made carrot whiskey. He'd drink anything else as well and Uncle Horace, who loved to tease, would make sure he always had a full glass in his hand, particularly when Auntie Eva was trying to get him into his coat.

'Horace, you bugger!' That's Eva.

'It's just one for the road.'

'You are a gentleman, Horace.' That's Bun.

Eva takes the drink out of her husband's hand and sticks his right arm into the sleeve of his coat. Bun picks the drink up in his other hand.

Eva takes it off him and slips his left arm into his sleeve. Meanwhile Bun takes his right arm out of his sleeve and picks up his drink again.

Eva goes back round to his right side and prepares to start again. As she takes the drink away from her husband, she says, 'Will some bugger help me here?'

But everyone is enjoying the performance too much. Round and round like jolly little Christmas spinning tops they go.

And here are some of the family doing what they do best (singing, though drinking was another possibility) in the Park Inn under the watchful eye of the publican, Ronnie Jenkins.

Mixed memories.

Also in the car yesterday it suddenly struck me that one day I would be as old as old people in old people's homes. I've always disassociated old people from anything else. I've grown older with people I know who are now in their eighties so I don't think of them in the same way, not strictly as being old, even though I know they are. And one day I will be. I said to Husband, 'What will we have to tell our grandchildren about? Grandma (his mum) was a chorus-girl; grandad (his dad) was shot at by Germans. What interesting things will we have to tell our grandchildren?'

I began to panic. 'Don't worry,' Husband said. 'we can make something up.'

I raised the topic again yesterday evening. 'What have I done with my life that could be considered useful?'

Elder Son coughed and patted himself.

'Oh, yes, I've brought up - with a lot of help from Husband - three lovely children. Thank you for reminding me.'

I am so glad that they - our children - consider that a valuable use of a life. I do love them so.

And before I go, (yes, I am going, don't worry)you may remember the New Year cake that I mentioned a post or so ago. The Bug stopped me doing anything on it until New Year's Eve morning - just before we left for Devon - so this was the best I could come up with: 'Happy Birthday to 07'

Blog-browsing the other day I came across a site - and I cannot for the life of me remember whose it was - and the owner had created the most fantastic wedding cake for friends. It was three-tier and based on a beach theme with waves and fish and all very glorious. If I could remember I would link to it but it's probably just as well that I don't, having just shown you my cake-decorating skills.

Now I'm off to watch the last-ever episode of The Vicar of Dibley. A young friend is taking romantic advice from me and the Vicar of Dibley. With such an infallible pairing I can already hear the wedding bells.


My Heart Runneth Over said...

What a great post. Thank you for sharing all those wonderful stories. Amazing how rich life can seem when you look back! All the best. ~M

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I agree with M. A lovely post and again, I felt I was there! Smells, as you say, are very evocative and car journeys do bring back memories. Your photos are wonderful. They remind me of my own Welsh childhood - thank you.

Puss-in-Boots said...

What a lovely post of memories. After all that, I hope you had a wonderful time with your family.

That wedding cake you spoke of sounds like the one a blogger friend of mine made.

Not sure how to put links in but she's on my sidebar under Nicole.

Happy New Year, Liz

Beth said...

Well Liz, you have truly had a trip down memory lane. Nice to go back there sometimes though, and long journeys in the car, do tend to make us think of events gone by. Have a happy 2007 lovely. Beth XX

Anonymous said...

What a great post. We hold on to our memories, which is a good thing. One of my aunts wrote about her growing up, getting married and having her children. It lasted a little longer than that. She wanted something to pass on the generations to follow her. I have a copy and think it's great. When I was 20, those that were 40 were old. Then 30 and 40 and 50. Now that I'm edging toward 60, I realize they weren't as old as I thought.

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