Monday, December 14, 2009

What time is lunch? And tales of a wicked grandmother

Yesterday, PB had a delightful friend over to lunch. She had been a (much younger) friend of my grandmother's and we had lost touch for several years and are only just recently reunited. Now in her early 70s - although she could easily pass for ten years younger - I was so excited to see her and be reminded of my grandmother, who was wicked in the best possible sense (and sometimes in the worst).

Before I digress, my friend told me that she had had an etiquette panic sparked by me saying to come for lunch at '12.30 for 1pm'. The polite thing, of course, is to always arrive 10 minutes later than the specified time - but this built-in vagueness threw her off course. And did I mean that at 12.30 there would be champagne before lunch? So although she was coming to my tiny flat, she suddenly feared there would be a chic crowd downing Ruinart. The real question in her mind was - did that mean she needed to wear her pearls? In the end she compromised, arriving at 12.40pm and with pearl earrings on. Such are the beautiful manners of her generation.

All of which brought to mind my grandmother, Kate - my mother's mother - who I don't think was especially posh (upper middle, probably) but was always immaculately, beautifully dressed and had the crystal-clear diction of the war generation. (When, as one funnyman put it, they seemed to ration vowels as well as eggs: "Do come up to the hice for tea" etc.) Kate was 40 when she had my mother, so even when I was little she was really pretty old and not at all grandmotherly. I used to like staying with her because she would feed me cigarettes and whisky and tell me wild stories, such as the man who would insist on bringing a tiger to her nightclub ("until it went for a waiter and I really couldn't have it anymore"). She married three times and in between had an endless stream of lovers. She often recounted how she would tell her husband she was off to get some bread for breakfast, pop to see her lover for half an hour and then come home saying, "sorry darling, the queue at the baker's was just so long".

Funnily enough, although a stickler for manners, I doubt she had much sense of time and I can't imagine her worrying about ten minutes here or there. If she turned up to a party, that would be the right time to appear (actually, I seem to remember that 'arrive late, leave early' was her maxim) whereupon she would sit in the corner and wait to be feted. This worked until she was 80, her shapely legs still beautifully stockinged and in heels, glass of avocaat in one hand, cig in the other. "Put another record on, darling."

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