Friday, 10 October 2008

Long lost Aunts and itchy jumpers

Thanks to the ever hilarious Katyboo who ranted about itchy 70s jumpers foisted on them by well-meaning but aging relatives, I was reminded of a relative whom I have not thought about for many, many years. In fact, had the itchy jumper story not come up, I doubt I would have thought of this person again in my whole life. But now I have and thank goodness, because I feel as though I've given my long term memory a good workout. And it has reminded me what it feels like to be a child.

Her name was Aunt Jean. She was (I think - don't shout at me please mother) my maternal grandmother's sister. I don't really recall much about her other than these things:

She wore pointy glasses. The type you found on most people in the 70s. Or maybe she didn't and I'm just superimposing them on her. If she didn't, she should have done.

She knitted us very thick, very scratchy woollen jumpers at Christmas each year. They were as unattractive as they were uncomfortable (I recall a bottle green fiasco which had me in tears on Christmas morning). However, we were still required to try them on in scorching temperatures (this was in South Africa so Christmas isn't the snowy affair you get up north). For this reason alone I didn't enjoy Aunt Jean's company.

She had a lesbian lover called Maude (maybe it was Maude who wore the pointy glasses?). Now as a child I didn't know that Maude was her lesbian lover. I had no idea what a lover or indeed a lesbian was. And even now this could be wild speculation on my part. They could just have been old dears who were good friends. But I am almost positive that they were slightly more intimate than that. Maude (never Aunt Maude) would have been the man in the relationship, I'm sure. And the thing I remember most about both of them was that they didn't like children. As a child, this didn't sit well.

They had a flat overlooking the Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth. Again, mother, if I have this wrong, my apologies, but my brain has been addled by wine and I was very young and it was a long time ago. The Donkin Reserve is a park with a lighthouse and a stone pyramid in it. In thinking about this, I vaguely recall that the Donkin reserve was named after some British bloke called Donkin and that he'd named the city after his wife Elizabeth, but I digress.

We used to (rarely, luckily) go and visit Aunt Jean and Maude in their flat. It was hell on earth. They didn't like mess - or as I mentioned, children. So we would be invited to sit on the floor on pieces of newspaper. We were given a biscuit (I recall them being dry and fairly unpleasant) which we had to eat over a plate and we had to ensure that the plate was over the newspaper. If a crumb dropped onto the floor, we would be skinned alive (or similar). We had to sit still and be quiet. It was boring. Very, very boring. We would be able to see the green space of the park outside the window and wish we were running on it instead of eating our horrid biscuits on the newspaper.

I do recall they had some lurid 70s swirly wallpaper in beiges, browns and orange and they must surely have had an avocado-green bathroom suite.

I'm not certain if they ever tried to kiss us hello or goodbye. I imagine if they did, that all parties concerned were repulsed by the process. There definitely would have been hairy moles on upper lip type involvement.

I don't recall her dying. I don't recall us stopping going there. All I really remember with any real clarity is the hideous green jumper, the newspaper and biscuits on plates. How sad that a person's life can be reduced to that. Sorry Aunt Jean. I'm sure you were a lovely person. Children are fickle. You were probably right not to like them. Or maybe you did and I just didn't realise it, fooled as I was by the torture-inducing jumper and miserable biscuits.

I would love to go back to that flat now as an adult and find out if you really were like I remember you. I would like to revisit it through the eyes of an adult instead of a bored, ungrateful child.

I know full well that if I had an aging relative who knitted my children hideous jumpers and asked that they eat biscuits on newspaper, I'd insist that they try the jumpers on regardless of the weather and would probably suggest the newspaper given the mess my children make when eating. I know I would instantly forget what it feels like to be a child having to sit in silence without making mess and my children would sit silently seething and hating every moment. And then one day in the future they will write a blog (or probably broadcast a live show) and rant about how their mother made them try on itchy jumpers. It's the circle of life. Also known as retribution.


Anonymous said...

I think the pointy glasses belonged to Maude, and my memories of these two old dears are exactly the same, except I recall being asked to sit and eat my biscuits on the floor and I am sure I was about 10 years old at the time! I quite often think of relatives that we knew only fleetingly as children, and wonder what they were really like as adults.....I'm dying to read your blog on Aunt Grace and Uncle Trevor! Love K

Anonymous said...

I knew something about your story didn't quite gel, and then it hit me, mid morning toast, her name was Mavis not Maude! K.

Home Office Mum said...

Mavis!! That's it. Thank god for sisters.

katyboo1 said...

Ye gods! Sitting on newspaper? That's a bit fierce. I thought I was bad for making Tallulah sweep up her own crumbs with a dustpan and brush, but now I feel positively liberal...

Frank said...

I have only one argument in defense of Aunt Jean - apparently, in her youth (circa 1730) she could sing rather well.

The bloke with the pyramid and lighthouse was Sir Rufane Donkin and he named the town after his wife who had died in India aged about 28. Every so often the more obnoxious wogs attempt to change the name. The same lot who don't understand why Queen Vic's imposing statue still gazes disapprovingly over Market square in front of the City Hall.

I bet the same lot will be falling over themselves to meet Princes W and H when they visit us shortly.

Aunt Jean's flat is almost certain to be inhabited by Nigerian drug dealers. Mavis would not have approved!

Keep them coming Loo!