My earliest memories of my mum’s mum, Ida Marie Wilkie, were of being terrified of the woman! She seemed to be so strict and old-school - a stickler for manners, neat appearance and posture. She would bark orders at us in her Australian accent and had zero patience for sloppiness. (I did not fare well).
As I got older though she seemed to soften, or maybe I realised that her strictness was just high standards which I came to appreciate. I used to love staying over with her on my own and relished our one-on-one times. She would make me ‘bready butts’ for breakfast which I now know to be fairy bread, that nutritious combination of white bread, butter and caster sugar. How ironic that she was always very quick to comment on any weight gain in the family!
In my student years (I studied in Edinburgh where she lived) I would often turn up for Sunday lunch, hungover to buggery and no doubt reeking of stale booze. She wouldn’t bat an eyelid but would serve me extra roasties and then bundle me into ‘bunky-doo’ for an afternoon nap and tuck me in with a crocheted blanket. My sisters and cousins and myself were all gifted a homemade ‘hangover blankey’ by granny, although I doubt this was her intended function for them!
Her own story was atypical. One of five girls and one boy, she was born in a suburb of Sydney, Australia called Wahroonga, in 1912. Her father was from Yorkshire and had emigrated to Australia as a wool trader, where he became very successful. He was very forward thinking and thought nothing of sending his two elder daughters on a round the world trip with their mother. I love that my granny took a gap year in the 1930s! Predictably, and something all parents must dread, she met her future husband on the other side of the world and settled in Scotland. I loved her stories of growing up in Australia and making the transition to living in Scotland. Early on in her married life, she’d thrown a dinner party and served up a passion fruit pavlova for dessert, thinking this was the height of sophistication. Unfortunately, her Scottish guests were unfamiliar with the fruit and thought there were dead flies in their meringue!
Sadly, Granny was widowed in her forties and never remarried. I think this contributed to her forthright stoicism and occasional insensitivity. She more often than not said exactly what she was thinking (inappropriately loudly) with no regard for feelings! Having said that, she loved meeting people and was very sociable. She knew how to work a room and took great interest in others, especially young people. She marvelled at the developments in technology and was very modern in her outlook.
It was so wonderful to celebrate her 100th birthday on November 21st, 2012, surrounded by her many friends and of course, loving family, with a good few Aussies who made the trip specially. Beautifully coiffed and manicured as always, she loved every minute and, ever the royalist, was over the moon with her birthday card from the queen. My sister gave a speech and at the end asked granny what her secret to a long and happy life was. Granny's reply was wonderful, "Daaaaaaahling, you just need to put one foot in front of the other and keep going."
Her passing, just a few months later, was peaceful and felt very much as if she was in control to the end. She was an incredible woman who I will never forget. She was whisky and pearls, knitting and cards, Christmas pud, straight backs, best foot forward, a world traveller and a fashionista who never, ever wore beige. We used to cheekily ask her age when we were little and she would reply with a twinkle in her eye in that antipodean twang, “Daaaaaaaaaaaahling, I’m as old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth.” She was a true legend who I feel so privileged to have loved.