Shirley and I are busy organising a family party. In part we are celebrating the 80th birthday of her sister. This brought to mind a short piece I wrote some time ago, which remains relevant.
TAKING OLD LADIES TO THE TOILET
I’m very fond of my sisters-in-law. They are the best: honest, hard-working and kind. My wife is of the same stock and, by all accounts, so was their mother, Ada.
My wife’s family is of the extended kind in which the generations get all mixed up and aunts are treated like sisters and nephews like cousins. Shirley and I date from the post-War boom. Her sisters were born before the War, during which their father served in Italy, which explains the gap. So now they are aged 70 and 74: two nice, staid, fun-loving elderly ladies.
A friend owns a cottage in Whitby. It’s a mediaeval port on an estuary, with a ruined abbey and a charming “old town” where I buy second-hand books and hand-made chocolates. It’s also the place where Dracula landed when he came to England. Our friend is a kind guy and lets us have his cottage pretty much when we want it, as we explained to Shirley’s sisters.
“Oooh!” Can we come?” they asked.
So off we go to Whitby for the weekend: me and my three Babes – like geriatric Charlie’s Angels. Truthfully I don’t mind. It gives me pleasure to give them pleasure and there’s plenty of space at the cottage. We all go in my car and arrive in the evening and eat a fish and chip supper from one of the town’s astonishing range of chip shops. And the following mild, overcast morning we amble round the narrow streets of the old town, where I buy a couple of books and we pick up some chocolates and – I think – my Babes buy me a Christmas present (I’ll have to wait and see).
We stop for coffee; but then the weather changes and, as we emerged from the café, the temperature has dropped and a cold rain is lashing down. There’s no avoiding this. We buy a couple of large umbrellas and, for a couple of hours, trudge from charity-shop to charity-shop on the lookout for cheap buys, with intervals for a desperate hunt for a toilet (elderly bladders being what they are). Finally we get some eats at a café themed on Sherlock Holmes: a place full of rickety tables, Victorian furniture, and shelves groaning with dusty encyclopaedias.
Apparently this is my life: taking nice elderly ladies round charity shops and toilets in the gloom and cold rain of early winter. Is it fun? Does it make me happy? The answer to both questions seems to be yes. As I say, I love my sisters-in-law; and there’s something innocent and joyful in their modest pleasures – and it’s infectious.