Monday, 18 April 2011

Memories are made of this.

My Great-Aunty Glad was 4ft 9in, Welsh, single and lived in a one bedroom flat in Kings Cross, London until she passed away at 84. She worked well past retirement age in the post room of a store called 'Knobs and Knockers' (I jest not), had a passion for frogs and all things green, smoked two cigarettes every day: one after the other at 6pm along with her daily whisky, was good friends with a wonderfully eccentric gay couple long before it was widely 'acceptable' and was the most selfless lady you would ever meet. She was once briefly married, but always managed to avoid answering our questions about him.

Aunty Glad with me, rocking my shades!

My sister, brother and I frequently stayed with her for weekends, squishing into her flat and sleeping top and tale on the z-bed while the favoured one (we took it in turns) got to share her small double.  She would take us to see the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace declaring that we had seen it so many times we could change them ourselves: grey coats in winter, red the rest of the time, "march, left, right, left, right,  'ttenshun". We would copy them all the way back up the Mall to feed the ducks in St James's Park. Later she would take us on the 14-stop tube journey to Osterly to visit my lovely nan (her sister) where we said, without fail at every stop, "How many stops noooooow?". How annoying we must have been for other passengers, but Aunty Glad was always calm and smiling. What I later realised was that this tiny lady was regularly taking three small children for the weekend to give my parents breathing space and this was her way to wear us out and keep us out of her tiny flat for as long as possible.

Her flat was so small that the rolltop bath tub was under her kitchen worktop and she had a sign on the back of the loo door declaring it 'The smallest Ty Bach in London' (Welsh for toilet). When we arrived we would cannon in through the front door to be met by the overwhelmingly welcoming scent of what I now know was Channel No 5. Aunty Glad had a china cabinet bursting with the most amazing finds from her travels. She would let us play with our favourite things: mine was a beautiful miniature set of Limoges furniture from France which I loved to endlessly arrange into room settings. I was horrified when I accidentally chipped one of the chairs when a large stone dog fell on it while I was getting it out.

But the thing I remember the most was her biscuit tin full of buttons which she kept under her bed. I would spend hours sitting on her bedroom floor tipping them out, making patterns, sorting them into colours, just running them through my fingers; touching them.

We were adults when she passed on and were asked what we would like as a memory of Aunty Glad. Please, just the buttons, I said. But they had gone. In the weeks prior to her death Aunty Glad started distributing her possessions. Her sad friends would leave with arms laden so she knew 'things had gone to the right place'. To larger items still in use, such as her rocking chair, she sellotaped notes: "Lorna", or her standard lamp: "Barry". I can only hope the precious button tin made its way to somebody with equally special memories. I was lucky enough to receive the precious Parisian furniture. And her favourite bug-eyed stuffed frog, Ferdinand.

When I started my own family I decided we too needed a button tin. Over the years I've added to it, snipping the spare on new clothes and those beyond the charity shop are de-buttoned before sending out for recycling. And even though none of Aunty Glad's buttons ever made it into my tin, I am convinced when I open it there is a waft of Channel No. 5. Because precious belongings and experiences that touch all our senses nestle in our minds as memories to launch themselves at us when we least expect it. I love that many of the joys my own children are living are storing up in their little brains as memories to relay to their future offspring, and perhaps for blogs they may one day share about their childhood.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post, great memories. I was living the weekends you spent with her.
    And how much like you is Kate !!!