Oxford, February 2005
That Marcel Moment
Sod the dunking madeleine in the lime-flower tea. A gust of harpic and scratchy bronco brought it back to me.
A minute white-tiled lavatory – maybe six-foot three? Arctic cold, like all the house, despite a coke-fired boiler, panting, noisily.
“You only need one sheet.” Outside the door, my father, gloomily.
And then the bathroom, colder still I swear.
A geyser coy as a girl, trickled hot water mournfully, like tears.
In and out, we four girls, arguing. Quick as light. No-one wallowed there.
“Hot water isn’t cheap you know, it costs me dear.”
(Poor man. His natural northern closeness compounded by two wars, an uncle’s bankruptcy, a widowed mother, two sisters and four children on his hands.
Let alone his wife.
He never could refuse her any thing, not once in all his life.)
One day I bust the basin with my heel!
Sometimes we splashed our feet in it to save the bath.
Appalled, I saw my father kneel, and patch it up, with putty & with cloth.
Then I knew it wasn’t funny to go short, and worry, with so many to support.
So now I’m old and do the same. My grandsons make good sport:
“Don’t scuff the paintwork with your great boots”
– hyena-like they imitate my bawl.
“Mind my wall-paper! Sit on the sofa!”
Hilariously they howl.
No doubt their turn will come when they’re no longer louts; and careful thriftiness will irk their offspring.
The ghosts of ancestors will smile “I told you so.”
While echoes haunt the memories of time’s old roundabouts.