Surprisingly I managed to reload the “Solemn Curfew” collection without a hitch despite being a bit distracted at the moment. My dearly loved god mother passed away recently and left me her books, all 4000 of them. I defy anyone to behave in a normal and rational fashion when faced with that many books. And these aren’t paper backs, they are a life time of careful and considered collecting. They arrive next Thursdays – there maybe demands for walls to be demolished to make room.
However, back to the obscenity of the title. This is another story about my grandmother. Whatever else could be said of her, and there is much which could be said, she was never boring.
To Mother it was an idea of genius, but my ten year old self was filled with consternation. And, glancing up at my father and seeing the expression of horror on his face and the droop of the cigarette permanently glued to his lip, I guessed I was not alone.
“She’ll enjoy it,” Mother stated firmly, “And yes, you do both have to come! It’s going to be our birthday present to her.”
Gifts for my grandmother were a source of anxiety for my mother. The wish to delight a mother-in-law who although difficult, tactless, obstinate and opinionated, was also generous and loving, taxed her imagination and worried her.
I had already worked out Gran’s needs were few and her tastes ran towards the sentimental and the tacky, but to my mother, convent educated with exquisite taste and beautiful manners, Gran was a mystery.
I watched her try and balance her own need for refinement against Gran’s delight in china poodles, crocheted toilet roll covers and pictures of children with huge sad eyes accompanied by a dog of equally melancholic attitude.
This year Mother was triumphant, she had come up with the perfect solution; we would take Gran to see a film. Not just any old film, but an all singing, all dancing block buster of sugary sentiment and sweet mawkishness which must appeal to the owner of all those doggy ornaments.
Father protested and I sulked, but Mother was not listening, the night was going to be the perfect treat for one unpredictable old lady and like it or not, we were going to be there to see her enjoyment and Mother’s victory.
Young as I was, I could smell the whiff of danger even as we left the house.
My worst fears were confirmed when we got to Gran’s house and she was sitting primly in her chair wearing her duty outfit, the one reserved for attending such functions as funerals and visits to her solicitor. Her best black coat was buttoned to the neck, her hands were gloved and she was wearing her “going out” lipstick, a shade of red just past pillar box.
Seated beside me in the back of Father’s car, her “good” hand bag firmly clamped to her knees she fixed the back of Mother’s head with a basilisk stare.
“I have not been to a picture house since 1939,” she announced in arctic tones.
“Good God,” Mother ejaculated, startled into giving Gran an opening, “Why not?”
“I had no desire to see war news,” she replied, “Nor the sort of silly film they thought proper for us ignorant people.”
I watched mother stiffen. Gran was uneducated, forced to leave school at the age eleven to work in the Nottingham lace mills, but she was not ignorant, far from it, but claiming to be so was one of her greatest weapons in the game of being difficult.
“That was a long time ago,” Mother said, brightly, “You’ll find it’s all very different now and I’m sure you’ll like this film. It’s in colour you know.”
All this revelation got was a sniff.
“You must have heard of it,” Mother continued, by now assailed with doubts.
“I have,” Gran admitted, “Lilly was speaking about it. She’s seen it five times.”
I chanced a sideways look at her face and caught a hint of anticipation on her face. She was intrigued; her best friend and closest rival Mrs Rhodes had seen the film and while I would have bet my sixpence pocket money Gran hadn’t allowed her to gossip about it as much as she would have liked, sufficient information had been imparted to convince Gran she might be missing something.
Perhaps this hadn’t been such a very bad idea after all.
I knew I was going to hate the film when the opening shot ranged over some field and a lady began to sing. There were a load of nuns as well and I found myself feeling very sorry for Mother if she’d had to listen to singing like that all day in the convent.
By the time a lot of very silly children began to add to the noise I had finished my chocolates and was aware of just how uncomfortable my seat was. I did a great deal of wriggling and sighing and kicking the back of the seat in front to see how long it would be before its owner turned around.
Gran was between me and Mother, so I got away with all this. Finally the boredom and the darkness made my eyes grow heavy and I slipped into sleep.
I woke up when Gran shook me.
“Stand up,” she snapped.
I stumbled to my feet and realised the national anthem was playing and everyone was beginning to leave the cinema. The cool night air woke me up and I began to take notice of the adults.
“What did you think?” Mother asked father with a bright smile.
He just looked at her like a man who had been in pain for the last hour or so.
“Well I thought it was good,” she said with false gaiety, “The scenery was lovely. Did you enjoy it, Millie?”
“I did not,” Gran replied firmly, “It was the most disgusting exhibition I ever saw.”
Even Father seemed stunned by this pronouncement and I bitterly regretted going to sleep. What had I missed?
“Allowing a young girl like that to marry a man old enough to be her father,” Gran continued, “Disgraceful behaviour. Utter filth! I’m surprised they were allowed to make a film about it.”
Mother’s jaw dropped.
“And I’m ashamed of you, Alice, allowing your child to see it! It was obscene. I am only glad the lamb slept through the worst of it.”
With this she swept me passed the posters of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, covering my eyes to protect my innocence.
Bev Allen © 2015-2017
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