Dandy Gilver's mother started her off with a good smack in the chops by naming her Dandelion. Mr and Mr Leston were great devotees of the Arts and Crafts movement, so popular in the late Victorian age, and it seemed like a good idea, I suppose, to call their daughter after one of England's most neglected wildflowers. I think, in contrast, that if you want someone in your family to have a funny name you should change your own.
After the christening, Dandy's mother receded and Nanny Palmer came to the fore, as was usual in the upper classes at the turn of the 19th century. It's Nanny Palmer whose voice is still in Dandy's head and whose spirit hovers.
Dandy got a better deal than Opal Jones, the heroine of my new stand-alone AS SHE LEFT IT (8th June). When the book opens Opal is coming back to her childhood home after her mother's death. Here's what she finds:
The curtains were shut, like always, and the bed, like always, was heaped up
with pillows and cushions, piled high with quilts and blankets, a nest.
Magazines and a toilet roll, some clothes, some bottles of course, an ashtray
and a big soup tin without its label for emptying the ashtray into and, where
the blankets were pushed back and the pillows and cushions were flattened,
a round hole, tiny. Big enough to hold her mother? Must have been.
She hadn’t died there; she’d gone to the hospital; admissions, acute medical
– or that bit of acute medical that’s basically the drying-out ward – then HD
then ICU and there she had died. But it had started here. One night, or one
morning more likely, she had climbed in and never climbed out again.
My two heroines have very different lives and grew up into very different women. Dandy is brisk and capable and it would take a lot to sink her. Opal is tough on the outside but wary of going to places that will open her wounds. One the other hand, Opal can feel things; Dandy believes that feelings are not quite respectable and avoids them. Hm, maybe they're more similar than I realised, after all.
I got a whole lot lucker than either Dandy or Opal when it came to mums. My mother, Jean McPherson, brought up four girls, knitted all their jerseys, cooked two hot meals a day from scratch and taught them a love of books. What more could you ask for? Okay, themed launch-party cakes:
cut with the McPherson family musical cake-slice. UK Mother's Day has been and gone but every day is a good day to say "Thanks, Mum."