They are the charming gardeners

Monday, 30 September 2013

My godmother adored Elvis Presley.  So much so that she went into labour in 1960, watching GI Blues in a cinema in Lavender Hill and refused to go to hospital until the absolute last minute. She bit a scarf to keep the shouts to a minimum.

She was a very particular lady, and bought her jam home in a taxi from Fortnum and Mason. She hid it at the back of the boiler, and fed her great brood of children the home-made stuff. I saw her once, licking her raspberry nectar with a pointed tongue from a heavy silver teaspoon in the empty kitchen. I remember her husking bark of a laugh and the waxy gardenia-scented imprint she left on my cheek.

She died far too young, in the cruel way that life sometimes just picks the best, most perfect flowers early. She had known she would die for a long time, and before she did, bought charms to add to my bracelet; one every year until I was eighteen. I was allowed to take them out every year on my birthday, for a few carefully-supervised moments.

I could never afford to get them properly soldered on a chain, and anyway I preferred a clashing armful of modern silver.

I found the velvet bag of them when I moved house earlier this year. It was an odd moment; I hadn't seen them for over two decades, yet they were as familiar to me as the shape of my hands.  I arranged each golden charm on the pale aqua surface of my dressing table.

It was a story both told and imagined; the tiny prancing horse was easy - I was mad about riding as a child.  The saucepan, secretly sneered at by my teenage self, had become the most potent symbol of my quotidien existence as a mother, wife and general greedy guts. The exotic Aladdin's lamp foreshadowed my many years in Arabia. A crumpled 1960s pound note that never quite fitted back into the golden disc, my rather slapdash approach to finance; a dog, for a child who adored cats and became a woman devoted slavishly to a Weimaraner; a book; a wellington boot. A lipstick, a hairbrush. A bull, a lion, a bell.

I hardly knew her, but I looked at the story told in gold and felt that she knew me.

She knew how to make a good joke, though. She died on August 16th 1977, the day we flew off the the West Indies to lead a rather different life. The day that Elvis died.


  1. This was just lovely, Elizabeth...I had an aunt, very similar, she knew me better than I knew me...she has been my mentor all my life...I did not know it until I turned into her, in my fifties...we are what we were then...N.xo

  2. very glad you are back

  3. Thank you. More, please ma'am, more.

  4. It's not true! You're back! I'm so glad and I'm sure I'm not alone.


  5. It is wonderful what can evoke good memories. Mine come from letters that I kept from my mother - we wrote to each other over 35 years - and re-reading them can allow the fantasy that she is still around.

  6. Love your writing. From a fellow "failed dog discipliner" hard to say that, even harder to write.


Please leave a comment if you can be remotely bothered - anything you have to say is valuable and I absolutely love hearing from you all. Elizabeth