Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Coven

'Every Monday and Thursday I listen for the phone long after I know it won't ring. And even if it did I would not hear it. But those were the days you called me, before my hearing went. I think of you every day.'
A German man called Meinhart sends me this message in a whatsapp. These are not Meinhart's feelings, they are my Grandmother's; Mutti.
We've been pen pals since I was four. She always lived abroad, adventurous and clever like a witch. When I was very small her letters would rhyme and she would decorate them with stickers. Over the years they changed shape and form but always came with a small gold sticker on the back with her address printed on it, a tiny palm tree etched on the side.
A few years ago her sight started to go and the font on my letters became bigger and bigger until every page had about seven words on it and was as thick as a phone book. Her writing which had always been so distinctive became scratchy and hard to decipher.
We'd always spoken on the phone from time to time. Usually when I was drunk late at night and decided that whatever friend I was with simply HAD to speak to my Mutti. And she'd always laugh, sit up in bed and be terribly witty in her beautifully modulated (think Judi Dench) voice.
And then more recently her hearing started to go.
'How are you Mutti darling?'
'SO fucking old!'
'But you're immortal, yes? We agreed.'
'Ha! Maybe. I think you're a premature reincarnation of me.'
My calls became louder and louder until I would be screaming down the phone and she still couldn't hear. She would become distressed.
And so now a German man called Meinhart, a physiotherapist who goes round twice a month and gives her a massage (because frankly when you get to 99 years of age a massage is a divine right), sits next to her on the sofa and bellows my emails in to her left ear. She then dictates a response which he sends to me. It always amuses me to think of polite reserved Meinhart typing “Dearest Darling” to me on his phone.
Because of the timing the messages often come when I'm in the middle of a busy service at work. I'll see his name come up always assume it's him writing to me with news of her health and then I'll see the first sentence;
“My darling. I doubt I'll see you in the flesh again but I have so many happy memories...”
I stroll in to the toilets, sit in a cubicle and cry. I send a rushed message back “Don't say that. I'm always with you. I love you.” I blow my nose, put on my glasses which are a great disguise, walk in to the restaurant and pretend that I am a grown up and everything is within my control.

The women in my family are all without exception fabulous. And each one as different and unique as a snowflake.
My mum is small and foreign and if you cut her down the centre you'd see the rings of an oak with the word 'mother' written over and over again in ever decreasing circles. She is strong and stubborn and will feed anyone that gets within a twenty yard radius of her. My cousin Hester has memories of being a child and coming round to our house.
'It would always smell of something delicious cooking and your mum would be in the kitchen, impossibly glamorous and sexy, like a tiny Sophia Loren, in very high heels.'
My mum is cups of tea and the smell of Chanel. Cigarette smoke and a raised eyebrow that could instil terror in child and adult alike. She's an accent that won't go despite sixty years in this country. We all imitate her badly. She says 'Darlink' instead of 'Darling'. She has stared down cancer twice and never took as much as a paracetamol after the mastectomy. She can move fridge freezers twice her size and she heals like its some kind of mild super power. She has green fingers and everything within her purview flourishes, including her children and grandchildren.
She is kind but without sentimentality and I have never known her to suffer with depression though there were times she had good cause. She is my mother.
My sister has mum's fierceness, her protective instincts. I sometimes fear that she'll happen to someone who has unwittingly upset one of her kids, or me, or mum, or anyone she has unexpectedly taken a liking to. She can be prickly on the outside but she is soft hearted and though she has literally the least patience of anyone I've ever known, she is wildly empathic. Her sense of humour borders on the vicious and when she really laughs she stops breathing. If you try to hug her you might get punched but she'd almost certainly buy you a piece of cake afterwards. She is not a people person though she hides it very well. I have seen her sarcasm silence the boldest of opponents and I have seen her inconsolable at the death of a hamster. She is my sister.
And she gave me two incredible nieces (two glorious nephews too but this blog is called The Coven for a reason).
There's the first born who at twenty five is by far the more emotionally mature of the two of us. She watches Buffy with me when the real world becomes a bit overwhelming, she has me saved in her phone as The Dude and whenever I'm feeling insubstantial she tells me I'm the prize.
'You're the prize dude. Prize comma The.'
She is the shyest in the family and quietly the funniest. I remember things she's said weeks later and burst out laughing. We have in jokes that no one else in the world would understand but can leave us helpless. She is solid and rational in a way that I have never been and she keeps me sane. She has endless patience, she's practical, she's kind, generous, loyal and she can plot a revenge with the dead eyed calm of a psychopath. She is the least selfish person I know. She's strikingly beautiful. She is my niece.
The second born is more like me. More like me than I am actually. Her heart seems to be on the outside of her body. She'll cry because she's tired or a bit cold or because, well, she doesn't know why, she's just a bit emotional right now. She's romantic and utterly lead by her heart. She loves to be in love and she is happiest at home, curled up with a book or in the arms of the person she has chosen to love. Like first born she is strikingly beautiful, though they don't look anything alike. She likes a nap and will happily take to her bed at any time for a few hours. She's really good for relationship advice because at twenty three she has had significantly more long term relationships than me. Beneath that soft slightly ethereal appearance she understands some things about life. She is my niece.

I have them all on a group text on my phone entitled 'The Coven.'
Since I lost weight I find it hard to buy clothes. I still pick up stuff that's two or three sizes too big. Or I'll get something that fits but have no idea what I look like in it. I stand in the cubicle and take a picture of myself in some concoction and send it with “Coven Assemble”.
Within minutes they are all giving their opinion;
'I like it.'
'Do they have another colour?'
'What size is that?'
And twenty minutes later when my mum has finally single digit replied;
'Yes darlink very nice xx'
I recently bought my first proper handbag which caused about 60 texts of mirth.
'Nice teal colour.'
'How much was it?'
'Sixty quid!'
'Haha! Oh Thea, you rank amateur.'
'whatzzhe oh bloody,,,stupid ting'
'Aw leave nan alone she's trying'

These women are the fabric of my life. My lighthouse, the thing that keeps me tethered and makes me loved and loveable. They fit around me perfectly, sometimes an audience to my performance and sometimes the fortress that keeps out the world.

She is my grandmother. She is my mother. She is my sister. She is my niece. She is my niece. They are my coven.