Thursday, 28 October 2004

run rabbit run, for your life

Noteable characteristics of my mother's family include an unbreakable addiction to tea and a love of music. These were always demonstrated at family gatherings when Aunt Edith came to visit when we were kids.

Aunt E never travels alone. At it's most bloated, her entourage used to consist of:

  • her mother
  • three female friends - 'Aunts' Clarissa, Flora and Nina
  • Flora and Nina's husbands
  • the couple who fostered Flora as an evacuee during the war
  • three dogs

Team this with the resident branch of the family - Ma, Pa (who generally used to hide, gibbering, during the visit), my grandmother and grandfather, Ma's Uncle John (who had been in the Indian Army during the 1920's), my sister and myself, and our dog - and you had a ready-made three-ring circus.

During the morning of the visit, my mother and grandmother would frenziedly prepare provisions, slicing cucumber in to sandwiches, baking cakes and scones. The visitors would arrive between 2pm and 3pm in the afternoon and divide in to different platoons. One would head for the house, to sit and chat. One would find Ma, wherever she was on the farm, and join her in whatever job she was doing. And one party would take the dogs for a walk around the fields.

At around 5pm everyone would gather in the house for tea, sitting around a dining table that normally took six in comfort. The enormous plates of bread and butter, sandwiches and cake would be laid out and we would fill and refill three tea-pots about a million times.

After the meal was over, we would remove to the living room and the ladies would get out their knitting. They could knit for Britain - indeed, between 1939 and 1945 they probably had. Their fingers moved so fast that you couldn't keep track of them.

As the evening went on, we would persuade Aunt Edith to play the piano ... ("play some of the old songs ..." :-)). We'd run through all the oldies-but-goodies - "Run rabbit, run"; "In the stores"; "Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do" and then move on to hymns. It would go on for hours. And then, about ten o'clock, the tea would come round again, and afterwards, the party would gather up it's knitting and leave for another six months.

Looking back, I suppose it was a relic from a bygone age even then. Now, it conjours up Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian evenings around the 'instrument', with everyone taking a turn. But it was also a characteristic of a family who seemed to have music at the heart of everything and although I poke fun, I do regret it's passing.

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