Aunts aren’t Gentlemen

Charli Mills tagged me as the source of the prompt she has given us this week:

February 4, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a nutty aunt. What makes her nutty? Is it the situation she’s in or a quirky habit? She can be anybody’s aunt. Maybe she’s really somebody’s uncle but wants to be an aunt. Maybe it’s the name of a cowpoke’s horse, a hockey team or a village pub. Follow where the prompt leads.

It was PG Woodhouse to whom I was referring in my conversation with Charli and if any of you have not yet enjoyed Woodhousian humour, well you are in for a treat. It might be a little dated but Bertie and Jeeves are as fine a pair of comic characters are you’ll ever find. They were brilliantly portrayed in my youth on TV by Iain Carmichael and Dennis Price and more recently by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.

bertie wooster

bertie wooster 2

Unusual for something to translate so well over more than one generation. Even more amazingly a piece of fan fiction ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’ by Sebastian Faulks is a truly spiffing read, wot? Worth a dabble, doncha know?

The title to this blog is one of Woodhouse’s great books and to give a little flavour of aunts as understood by Woodhouse he wrote (for example)

“It isn’t often that Aunt Dahlia lets her angry passions rise, but when she does, strong men climb trees and pull them up after them.”

And what of my experiences of nutty aunts? Well, as I said to fellow blogger, Irene Walters (check her out here, do) Aunts are a good counterpoint to parents, giving us, in the best way, a subversive experience of adulthood.

My aunts unlike troubles came not in battalions but in single spies, spread over time.

To start it was great aunts I recall, formidable women of large coats and hats of monumental confection and immovability. The Archaeologist and I were fascinated by hats. Why for instance did these dusty faced women, smelling oddly of wardrobes and toilets, take off their coats and shoes yet leave on their hats? Were they bald beneath? Did they fear their rigid and highly spun hair might make a bid to escape if released from the weight of the hat? Was something extraordinarily interesting kept underneath, a marmalade sandwich perhaps or one of those odd shaped rubber things mum had in her bedside table, hidden under a tangle of stockings, Pond’s Cold Cream and spare soap?

They perched too, did great aunts. They never sat back in any chair, unlike great uncles who contoured to each chair and used their stomachs to balance everyday equipment such as teacups and tobacco pouches. Great aunts did a lot of disapproving. They had a range of tutts that accompanied another aunt’s conversation, like mood music for their complaints. I’m sure I read that certain tribal languages amongst aboriginal peoples which comprise whistles and clicks were used during the war as unbreakable codes; the vocabulary of the Tutting Aunt could have been used with equal facility.

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My parent’s wedding in March 1952; everyone looks friendly but there are any number of potential aunts and great aunts in this crowd – just look at the hats.

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Oh yes, all smiling but these women become aunts – scary transformation. No wonder dad looks nervous and hollow-eyed (well apart from the recurring sand fly fever he brought back from Palestine)

Great Aunts were possessed of things like rheumatics and water works and a variety of bowel problems and ate in small pecks though they never left anything. And they all seemed to have ill fitting teeth that the swilled around inside their mouths as they spoke, ate or drank tea.

Great aunts were often generous, bestowers of chocolate treats and hard peppermints that blew your sinuses apart. They belched and farted but woe-betide any comment, or worse snigger; in such a case fingers, gnarled like hundred year old beech and forged from titanium would unerringly catch you close to or on the ear, leaving no mark but inflicting searing pain.

One great aunt, Rose, was a staunch high ranking officer in the Sally Army. Even my gran, her sister, behaved impeccably in Aunt Rose’s presence. We had tea once a year at her small cottage near the harbour in Whitstable and the Archaeologist and I were begged to behave for the two hours we were there. If we did then on the way home we were treated to a go on the diesel powered boats on the lake at Hampton just outside Herne Bay. I wish I remembered what the adults talked about but I do remember the mood – sombre, funereal. I suppose someone, somewhere had died and their lives must have been picked over critically with their chances of a swift pass by St Peter dissected, probably leading to the conclusion that they would be sent to the back of the queue.

Aunts, by comparison to Great Aunts were ace. I had two – well two I know about. There is a third out there somewhere but my uncle’s marriage to said aunt was so short and so unsavoury that she went back north somewhere and of her and her child I have no clue.

But of the two remaining,  they are – as they are both alive – entirely splendid. Nutty? Maybe.

2001-12-29 08.43.40

Tinsel Queen, my aunt (plus cuz and dog)

 Ann is by any definition an utter loon. Well meaning, impulsive, manic, ditsy, generous (and sometimes mean) in the same sentence, and with the most outrageous sense of humour. My mother was a lovely lady but she never really ‘got’ my aunt thinking her rather fly and if not fickle then prone to flights of fancy that were destined to end in tears, though they seldom if ever did. But despite being of different temperaments and outlooks, my mother was grateful to my aunt for her unswerving loyalty to first her husband, my mother’s revered brother and second her beautiful and equally barking daughters, my cousins. My aunt was also the most caring and dedicated sister in law in a time of need that anyone could have which my mother, in her somewhat churlish way admitted and for which I and the Archaeologist will be eternally grateful.

My father, unlike my mother, adored my aunt but never quite coped with her relentless teasing and flirting. He thought himself a man of the world but she bested him always, much to everyone, and secretly his, delight.

03- BOX - 017

Could you tell this was a 1960s wedding from the hair and dresses? The day I acquired my second aunt…

My other aunt, Gill, was much younger when she appeared in my life as my uncle’s girlfriend back in the mid sixties, all mini skirts and tight tops which frankly wasn’t easy to handle as a ten year old beginning to wonder at the different geometry between men and women. Was Gill nutty? No I don’t think so; she has the sort of warm generous disposition that makes you feel special (still does, come to that), and it will remain something of a family sadness when she and my uncle divorced that our families were separated until the last few years. Pleasingly  the gaps have now been closed and Gill still has time to prove me wrong on the nutty front.

And so to this week’s flash. Mary and her family have been going through a lot recently. Will a visit from Mary’s aunt prove to be a welcome relief? If you want to catch up with Mary’s story, have a click here.

Aunt you worried?

 ‘Aunt Gloria, can you really read tea leaves?’

‘Yes, Penny. Easy.’

The girl watched while she made a pot and poured four cups. Mary stared outside, lost in her own world. Paul, Penny’s dad smiled as he drank.

‘You will have a new boyfriend by May.’ Gloria smiled; Penny scowled. Gloria looked at Paul’s dregs. ‘You’ll lose something important. Probably the second time.’

Penny smiled, ‘Your wallet! Again.’

Gloria eased Mary’s cup from her. She frowned. ‘Mary, you must ignore her.’

‘Who?’ Penny looked anxious.

‘Sharon. Mary’s imaginary friend.’

Mary looked amazed while Paul sighed. ‘Please no. Not again.’

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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20 Responses to Aunts aren’t Gentlemen

  1. willowdot21 says:

    I loved Jeeves and Wooster 0n the radio! My Mum used to read the tea leaves in our house much to dad’s distain! I had an Aunty George who’s name was Anne, and an Aunty Betty from Oxford who always called all of us “my ducks” ….. She was always talking veryfast and was incapeable of sitting with her legs closed, showing off long bloomers. These were my Mums friends, she had brothers one of whom gave us wonderful Aunty Gladys , tiny wiry lady ! The other uncle was a biggamist so lest said. There were loads and loads of paternal aunts all small and round and dressed in black all from Manchester….
    Two of them are still alive and kicking at 97yrs and 99yrs.
    As to the clucking and ticing language try this for size reminds me of Aunty Betty love her!

    As for the codes it was the Navajo Indians, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVLtJxBqtSA
    also there was a great film on the subject! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windtalkers
    Bless all Aunts, I am one and young man I am a great Aunt! infact I am a great great Aunt! Best keep that quiet!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Charli Mills says:

    Your entire post was a treat! This paragraph needs repeating it’s so delicious:

    “Great aunts were often generous, bestowers of chocolate treats and hard peppermints that blew your sinuses apart. They belched and farted but woe-betide any comment, or worse snigger; in such a case fingers, gnarled like hundred year old beech and forged from titanium would unerringly catch you close to or on the ear, leaving no mark but inflicting searing pain.”

    You obviously have a passion for aunts! Loved Wooster & Jeeves on the Montana PBS station.

    Aunt Gloria has a talent, that Paul just recognized. But poor Mary…can she ignore Sharon? As Mary’s World Turns on Geoff’s Twisted Keyboard.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Norah says:

    What a fun post! I agree about the brilliance of the paragraph quoted by Charli. Such excellent description! I also enjoyed your treat of the diesel powered boats as recompense for two hours of impeccable behaviour. Well done to both of you! Sometimes you can surprise yourself with what you can do if there’s a reward in the end.
    Mary’s story is fascinating. How wonderful to read the tea cups so accurately. I wonder what Sharon will be trying on! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Annecdotist says:

    Ah, hats, what happened to them? And not just for nutty aunts!
    Great post, I love the old wedding photos, which for dispersed family would often be the main occasion we’d come across these characters, further exacerbating their strangeness.
    Alas, poor Mary, she must be in a right pickle if even the nutty aunt is concerned for her sanity. I thought you were going to be a bit gentler on her? But, of course, that would spoil our fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Yep she needs break but that’ll only give her time to think. It’s a shame we have lost those hats; I found my dad’s city bowler in its box the other day; my head is for too big (in many ways) for it sadly. It comes with my grandfather’s topper and great great grandma’s mourning bonnet. Such reminders.

      Like

  5. Sherri says:

    Haha…I think we had the same aunts Geoff! Just love this post and the pics too, so evocative of eras long gone by, yet so fresh in our memories. How to tell of a nutty aunt in a mere 99 words? Love the flash, amazes me how you keep going with the prompts like this and your story…and as for Wooster & Jeeves…fantastic. For some strange reason, this line always sticks in my mind, when Wooster was forced to described what a newt was – “You know, little lizardy things that swim about in ponds”. Don’t why, it just makes me laugh…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: Aunts Like Mixed Nuts « Carrot Ranch Communications

  7. Another great trip down memory lane, Geoff.

    I loved this bit of your post because it took me back to Sunday tea at my auntie Beryl’s bungalow

    “I wish I remembered what the adults talked about but I do remember the mood – sombre, funereal. I suppose someone, somewhere had died and their lives must have been picked over critically with their chances of a swift pass by St Peter dissected, probably leading to the conclusion that they would be sent to the back of the queue.”

    Oh we had to be quiet and nobody really talked much other than an occasional whisper. I remember the tea cosy being put over the tea pot once Auntie Beryl had swilled hot water around the teapot and tipped it out before adding two scoops of loose tea and then adding the boiling water. She had toilet roll covers in the same design as the tea cosy.
    All her plates and china were flowery and it was always ham salad followed by her home made sherry trifle. However “us children weren’t allowed any of the sherry parts” she would say to my mother as she served it up in delicate bowls covered in buttercups, daisies, and thistles!

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Aghhh! Tea cosy lore; I’d forgotten the bloody palaver to make tea, all tat crap about warming the pot, one for the pot, the strainer that didn’t and those fucking doillies

      Like

    • TanGental says:

      Now you’re taking me down memory lane with cosies and doillies; I hate effing doillies. And salads, yuck. Heinz salad cream all over it, smelling a bit like the tea cosy. Sandwich spread that looked like vomit. And the biscuits: squashed fly, remember them? Happy days. My gran fed me sherry when I was seven. Not sure to this day why but I volubly and copiously sick as a result. I remember the swimming head most; most unpleasant.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, you can still buy the biscuits with what looks like squashed flies in them. I also remember the cucumber sandwiches, nothing else but cucumber between two slices of bread, and a real treat was when the pink salmon came out of a tin and was put into sandwiches.
    Ideal or Carnation milk on your fruit salad? And when their was no milk, it sometimes ended up in your tea as well – yuk!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Neapolitan ice cream; ice cream wafers; fruit salad chews four for a penny and sherbet dips with liquorice sticks. Sweet cigarette cards – I never did get Thunderbird Four, the only one I was missing… You are so bad for me Hugh Roberts.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Just wonderful writing Geoff. You really should write a memoir. This post I believe rivals Richard Church and Roald Dahl’s telling of their lives and I hold them up as among the best. The language and imagery in this really is about your best. Anyway I will cease at this point for fear of sounding gushy. We had Bertie and Jeeves out here too. I can remember my father laughing out loud at episodes but I was possibly a little young to really appreciate it and of course the books arrived from James Thin in Edinburgh and my Dad devoured them. He would have loved the internet and the ability to purchase from overseas so easily.
    Will Sharon bring compassion with her which Mary will ignore?

    Liked by 1 person

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