Ever since Mini-Me finished reading Lauren Child’s Ruby Redfort, a novel about a young girl who is an avid detective, she is often to be found in her bedroom, kneeling on the bed, nose pressed up against the window, watching the world go by. Our house is tall and narrow – neatly stacked over three floors – and, with her room being at the top of the house and overlooking the street, she is afforded a great view of unsuspecting passers-by and the ‘goings on’ outside.
She notes down her observations in her specially assigned ‘Detective Notebook’. Although she fiercely defends the privacy of the contents of the book, she is sometimes so outraged by what she has seen that she cannot help but share it with me.
“Mummy!” she exclaimed, brandishing her notebook in my face. “Look at this!”
I glanced at what she had written, trying to focus on the words contained in the glittery ink.
It was time.
It was the last day of the school Easter holidays and I was driving with Mini-Me and her friend, M, in the back of the car. They’d been swimming and, out of nowhere, M decided to explain to me something her mother told her the previous week. I struggled to stifle my laughter; her matter -of- fact attitude was endearing, and her apparent view that I needed a refresher course on the topic amused me. I caught sight of Mini-Me’s face in the rear view mirror and her already normally large eyes were like craters swallowing up the rest of her face. She desperately tried to avoid my gaze, but didn’t manage to, so I shot her an “it’s OK, sweetie” look and mouthed “I’ll explain later” .
It was time to tell Mini-Me about the birds and the bees; the nitty gritty; making babies; the facts of life..the euphemisms are endless. There’s no hiding it under fluffy vagueness – I had to talk about sex.
Roy Bevin was a man whom I never saw without a neck-tie, who refused to wear ‘Brown in Town’ and thus put on black shoes when he went ‘up’ to London. (Always ‘up’, even though he had to travel south to get there from his beautiful house in the Cotswolds). He adored his wife and was the epitome of a ‘gentleman’. I loved him very much – he and I were similar in many ways and he often jokingly called me “Blanche” after his late-mother, whom I never got to meet. She was quite bossy, apparently.
With such taste and high regard for manners, as my Grandfather, he liked me to behave like a young lady, teaching me, for example, how to get into a car in an elegant fashion, rather than like a too-long-limbed giraffe, as was my natural demeanour. Bottom on seat first, swing legs in and let the man shut the door. Easy.
He thought girls should behave like girls (though he did turn a blind eye to my Grandmother cutting their lawn on a ride-on mower) and I recall him sternly telling me one day, when I was about eleven, “Please, stop whistling, Elizabeth. You are not a tradesman!”