A Violin and French Fancies

Taking a quick break from writing something that is coming much more easily than it did pre Christmas but is still a little tough going and requires things that are more fun and enjoyable in between. Amazing what you can do with great films and Cadbury’s heroes in the background. I love to write but I definitely have a preference in what that consists of.
So I was just thinking about the possibility of giving up smoking this year. Couldn’t really think about it until said writing is finished but it’s on the horizon. It’s so expensive and imagine where I can go on that money. And whilst thinking about this, something popped into my head.
When I met a friend before Christmas they commented that I was holding my cigarette in such a way that it was like I was walking down a Parisian street. I didn’t think of it in that moment but a moment ago I was reminded and my lovely little gran smiled at me in my head. My gran who I have written about before and used to smoke her cigarette like she was outside a 1930’s Parisian cafe. She was the person that set me off down that road. The smoking not the sparkly lights of Paris.
On the surface a little old lady but beneath that a classy girl with a lifetime of history, experiences, secrets that said she was made from something special.
She married down as she told me often. Always made me chuckle even when I was a kid. How do you marry down? Well apparently by being swayed from her suitor with a car to her true love who didn’t own a bean. She always used to laugh and say ”I should have gone for the man with the car.”
I never knew that grandad. He died long before I entered the world. And my gran spent the rest of her life alone, never marrying again, living in later life with her cat Libby. My mum said that she always had an air of a more privileged up bringing and to me she never lost her well to do roots. I mean she never made a cup of tea without a full tea set and  French Fancies on a china plate. She managed on her pension all of which went on the finer things in biscuit and cake form but her ciggies were subsidised by another colourful character in a second hand Jag who was my uncle. Never a dad but he became more so in one weekend when he took me and K to Windsor and bought me sparkly new little white trainers. I felt like the bees knees.
I feel like I’m weaving through this story but even that feels right. My gran could tell a story that went on for days.
She also played the violin right through until old age and said that when she was young she used to play with her sister on the piano with special recitals for her family at Christmas. I had visions of what that looked like which I’m sure looked nothing like the reality. But in my mind it looked very idyllic and glamorous. She encouraged me to learn the violin. Yeah not really my instrument. Sounded like Libby’s claws on a chalkboard although actually Libby’s claws were more usually used to Inflict pain on my very annoying and naughty little bro. He’s a little hero these days.
I hated playing the violin. I wanted to play the drums but there was already a kid in class who played them and they said I couldn’t as well. Need to let that one go. What a crock.
And I hated that I had a second hand violin that didn’t have a bow. So not only was I crap at playing but every week I embarrassingly had to walk to school with my violin case and my bow separately in a long box that my mum made out of cardboard. The bow that she had got separately didn’t fit in my violin case.  Sound like a proper spoilt madam. My mum worked her socks off trying to make life the best it could for us but you know what it’s like when you are that age, you just don’t see it as clearly or appreciate it quite so much especially when it had a negative effect on your life.
Every week the other kids would laugh at me. Weirdo…

Of course it upset me. No one wants to be the weird kid. Dreamed forever about being the most popular girl in my school, that JB would fall in love with me and that I would find out that in fact I’d been given to the wrong family and when I was found by my real parents they would give me a whole makeover of hairdresser cut hair and girly outfits and a violin with a bow that fit in the bloody case.
Not that I ever let anyone know they upset me. I learned very young to toughen up and hide my soft and loving. So cry at the bottom of my bed but never let them see you weak.
And in not letting them see it I became stronger. I knew where I sat in the heirarchy of little girls and their long silky hair and pretty dresses. No where. But I always knew that I had more about me. And I would find my moment to shine towards the end of my time there.
And later in the safety of becoming an adult let myself again be that soft and loving girl which frankly is my best bit.
Maybe that is the magical story of how my heart grew so big. I saved it up so long that it grew. Could be a kids story in that?!

So back to the violin… my gran always used to tell me that one day I would master that bloody thing and be amazing! It feels like at this point all my suffering at the hands of little kids laughing at my bow in the box should end with me saying that I became one of the greatest violin players of all time. Unfortunately that never happened. I always remained a crap despite my efforts at murdering beautiful pieces of music while playing in the school orchestra. I’ve always been amazed at how the same instrument can sound so gloriously heart wrenchingly beautiful in one persons hands or horrifically murderous in anothers. But I loved that me and my gran shared that even if I didn’t let her hear me play. She didn’t need to know how crap at it I was,  although she would never have shown her disappointment. But she would have loved that my girl used to play songs for us on the piano at Christmas when she was little. That second hand piano that was the best piece of furniture in the flat. Who would have thought that a kids keyboard would eventually have us scraping around trying to find the money for a piano that somehow needed to fit in the flat. I always laughed that it was like living in pride and prejudice. I’d get home from work and while cooking she would be playing something beautiful. Completely sidetracked by lovely memories of my girl when she was little.  She is always my go to source of happy when I have to dig a little deeper to get something done.
Anyways eventually my gran moved from the flat in Errol Street that we all so loved and is still so unchanged to this day. She moved to a warden controlled place in Dulwich. She quite loved it there. Well mainly. She liked to protest but she charmed all those in the vicinity and they all knew and liked her there.  It was a little bit of her I think with Dulwich park opposite where she used to go and feed the squirrels with especially bought kitkats.
On the weekends that we stayed with her she used to drag me and K to church on the Sunday. We used to mess about all the way through mass. She would give us a look but never told us off. She would introduce us to everyone like we were royalty. She was so very proud.
On the way back from church she used to bump into lord and lady someone or other and chat with them like we were in some Victorian scene. She could turn it on and off at her pleasure. And as we would walk away and me and K would imitate with our fake posh voices and she would laugh and say
“ooohh you two, you are a scream”
Timeless, classic, classy and like many other beautiful characters of that time gone to the vaults of our memories.
But I can still hear her little voice when I used to knock saying “is that you m?”
What a less colourful world it is without them.
I always find it strange that my nan and my gran died on exactly the same day a year apart. It’s coming up in a few days so I guess why they are particularly in my mind. They didn’t see each other but they wrote to each other their whole lives. I always loved that they were friends. And my gran loved my mum like she was her own daughter. She didn’t care much for the idiot blond replacement She would say to me, obviously I’m very charming with her but she’s not a patch on your mum.
Yeah my gran had class and she recognised fur coat no knickers when she saw it and knew my mum was a cut above without all that superficial finery.
Anyways all that from a cigarette. Bad for my health, must give up, but what a beautiful memory. I will write about my Nan too at some point. She from a very different world and right till the end like a sprightly little lamb who was stronger than anyone I’ve ever known.
Aaahhh how I miss them. Grandparents are such a gift and mine provided so much love that was often missing elsewhere.
My dearest Gran and Nan. I still look up at the stars to find you. You are both treasured in my heart forever and I see you both so clearly in my mind as if I only saw you yesterday. To share your existence beyond my head feels exactly right. Because you were the world to me ❤️ And I feel more so than ever, in happily and enthusiastically coming into this new year, that you would be so proud of me in the way I was so proud of you two. You both totally rocked xxx

… and as I’m not quite ready to quit smoking, before I resume that piece of writing I will pop outside with this tune in my ears and pretend I am smoking my cigarette outside a 1930’s Parisian cafe.


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