Tuesday 21 January 2020

Saint Agnes Day

Today is my grandmother Gladys' birthday, which I can't help but remember because love is stronger than death.

Also, hers was the first family birthday of the year and mine was the second.

Meanwhile I cannot imagine what she would have thought, during her life, if she knew I would write about her quite openly on a publishing device than anyone could potentially read. Now that I think about it, I only ever had one philosophical conversation with my grandmother, and it was about the fact that her "adoptive" mother was her real (and unmarried) mother. My poor dear grandmother felt burdened with shame, and I said she shouldn't be and nobody else thought that way anymore.

Okay, she really wouldn't want me writing about that, but it makes me remember my great-grandmother, too, who was slipping into dementia by the time I met her, but she had been an interesting character and a good mother. Imagine being a mother but never being called "Mother". Not Mum or Mom or Mummy. How terrible. However, both Edinburgh and Toronto were sniffy places before the 1970s, and there was indeed a massive stigma on single mothers, so I suppose it was for the best. At least, it was meant for the best.

My grandmother told me that Auntie, who worked and saved until retirement, always made sure she had very good shoes.

Usually when I think about my grandmother, I think about how well-groomed she was. She was of a generation that went regularly to a salon for a wash and set and painted her nails. In very old age, and residing in the seniors' home at which she had previously volunteered,  her fashion sense slipped. But  needless to say, when she turned up posthumously in my dreams to tell me she was fine, she was her soignée self once again.

"My grandchildren keep me young," she would say happily in the seniors' home, which was nice but also a bit of a nerve as she intentionally had only one child, my mother, and my mother would have liked siblings instead of her parents going on expensive holidays. (They weren't Catholic, by the way. Au contraire.) And meanwhile, I think she enjoyed us more the older we got, for when we were children, her Nerves interfered with her ability to babysit more than two or three of us for a time, or for very long.

All the same, she loved us and brought us cookies wrapped in paper towel every Sunday for years and years. They were usually of the sandwich variety and smelled and tasted very mildly of cigarettes. After my grandfather died, she was the only smoker in the family and would sit at the kitchen table drinking tea and smoking away. Thanks to her, I never really mind it when someone smokes, and have discomfited any number of young male smokers by saying, "Oh no, please go ahead. It reminds me of my grandmother."

My family back home will be interested to know that on Saturday evening B.A. and I went to the Brandenburg Concertos at Edinburgh's Queen's Hall. The performance was by the Dunedin Consort, which is a Baroque ensemble. The programme (£2) was so learned that not even B.A. understood it entirely. He said they had pitched it high, which impressed me.

Meanwhile, I'm not sure why I know so little about music when I took piano lesson for at least 8 years and grizzled over my music theory book. Well, I can guess. Last month I spoke to a classmate and discovered that she, too, had the same neighbourhood piano teacher, who was similarly unpleasant to her. On the other hand, I distinctly remember being taken with my brother, when we were both very small, to a Beethoven concert, and whereas I was bored, my brother was utterly rapt.

 I was not bored at the Bach concert, fortunately. In fact, I found it very enjoyable, even though I don't know what it is that musical people experience at concerts. (Do they read the notes in their heads?) The audience was incredibly dowdy, which was amusing. I imagine concert-going Edinburghers think they are not dowdy but unassuming or understated. However, they are dowdy.

One of the spiritual joys of Edinburgh is that it was my grandmother's family's city. I think she would have enjoyed knowing that I live here now, and if she cares about such things now, she does.


  1. 'Thanks to her, I never really mind it when someone smokes, and have discomfited any number of young male smokers by saying, "Oh no, please go ahead. It reminds me of my grandmother."'

    Love it! I'm fond of second-hand smoke myself, although I didn't get it from my grandmother.
    I have occasionally thought that it might be a bit of a kick to take up pipe-smoking, but perhaps I should wait about 40 or 50 years for the best affect!

    1. Well, I think taking up carcinogenic habits is generally a bad idea. My grandmother quit cold turkey at 70 or so. Her husband, sadly, died aged 65, thanks to his tobacco habit. This was very sad and meant that he never met his youngest three grandchildren. Also my grandmother was distraught, and my poor mum was left without a father at the age of 29. So I must qualify my earlier statement. I must add also that I mind very much when people smoke around pregnant women, babies, and children.