Bless Your Little Cotton Socks: Beyond the Quirky Sayings of My Eccentric Scottish Mum

Bless Your Little Cotton Socks: Beyond the Quirky Sayings of My Eccentric Scottish Mum

by Diane Radford

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ISBN-13: 9781524652579
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 01/12/2017
Pages: 184
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.42(d)

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Bless Your Little Cotton Socks

Beyond the Quirky Sayings of My Eccentric Scottish Mum


By Diane Radford

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2017 Diane Radford
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5246-5257-9



CHAPTER 1

Part One

Hunter Crescent

Margery and Sidney's first home in Troon (and mine, too) was a brick ranch house that stood beside the lane connecting Hunter Crescent to Dundonald Road. A tall brick wall divided our back garden from the lane, but a large wooden gate allowed entry. Pass through, and you would see to the right a vegetable patch containing rhubarb and gooseberries. The leaves of the rhubarb unfurled to provide cover, an exciting, if grubby, hiding place when I was still small enough. Sometimes I'd eat the gooseberries right off the bushes, not minding their tartness and prickly skin.

Rimming the expanse of lawn, on the left, was the luxuriant copper beech hedge that separated our property from the neighbors' to the rear. In the center of the grass was a low sand pit, the walls about eight inches high. My next-door neighbor William and I would make sand castles and play fort, sometimes bringing out soldiers from our respective toy boxes. The other edge of the garden abutted the burn, from which water voles would wander into the garden. It was the best burn for sticklebacks and frogspawn. The windowsill in the kitchen was home to a legion of sentry-like jam jars, containing frogs in various phases of metamorphosis.

On the crescent side of the house, a low wall divided the rose beds from the sidewalk. It was on that low wall that I would stand, looking towards Wilson Avenue, when Auntie Joan came to visit, attentive for the throaty roar of her white MG BGT. She called her sports car "Baby Love." When it was replaced, she named her new car "Baby Love Two." Mum filled the front garden with rose bushes — her favorites were pink, red, and white — and then complained about having to prune them. She was forever toiling in the garden; her feet shod in wellies, spade in hand, turning over the musty, thick soil for planting. The driveway to the detached single car garage was to the left of the house. When I was about nine, my parents decided they needed more space and converted the attic into two bedrooms and a bathroom. The staircase was an open design in teak, so open I was terrified of falling through.

Our neighbors along the crescent included the Whytocks, the Holmeses, the Walkers, the Cooks, the Thompsons, and the Frews, close friends of Dad and Mum since their days in Milngavie, near Glasgow, where Mum and Mary Frew were teachers together. The Frews lived next to the horses' field, where the Martins from Dunchattan House, one of the grand old estates still in existence, often kept their horses. Alastair Frew kept a large aviary in the rear of his property, which I thought was the epitome of exotic.

Walking in the other direction along the crescent, away from the Frew's home, one would encounter the long driveway lined by lush greenery and rhododendrons that leads to the site of Fullarton House. The mansion house was demolished in the early 1960s, however the stables were preserved.

The house on Hunter Crescent was my first home, and my memories of it are especially rich.


But Mistinguett is Dead

My mother had great legs. She was especially proud of her trim ankles — dancer's ankles. Her ankles led to well-shaped calves and perfectly-formed knees.

Six years old, tucked into a corner of the room wallpapered with painted anaglypta to the front of the house on Hunter Crescent, I observed my mother's ritual of putting on her stockings as she dressed for a dinner dance.

Placing one foot on the seat of the low nursing chair, she stretched the stocking, bunched up in two hands, over her toes, its toe over her toes, and brought the delicate, shimmery 15-dernier sheen upwards, smoothing it as she went, arching her foot — an action that accentuated her calves. When it reached her thigh, she snapped the top of it to her garter belt. This was the early 1960s, before pantyhose.

Glancing over at me, she placed a hand on the gap of porcelain thigh between the top of her stocking and the leg of her underpants. "Do you know what your Auntie Joan calls this?" Not a real Auntie, Joan was one of my godmothers, and the most glamorous creature in my world. The christening photos show her holding me on her lap, urging me to look at the camera. Her hair is elegantly coiffed, the charm bracelet around her wrist holding my attention. I'm not looking at the camera; I'm fixated on her, mesmerized. I shook my head no to my mother's question.

"She calls it the giggle gap." She carried on, after a look at my puzzled face. "Because if a man gets there, he's laughing." She tossed her head back, chuckling at the thought, and wiggled into her skirt, completing the tiered array of waistlines, underpants, suspender belt, and skirt.

Such was my introduction to the giggle gap. A lot to take in at six.

My parents Margery and Sidney were a social couple. I recall that a sitter came over to mind me weekly while the parental unit gadded about town. Family albums provide the proof: snaps and formal photos taken at the dinner dances at the Marine Hotel in Troon, the Rotary Club events at the Suncourt Hotel, and the Teachers' dances. They are decked out, Mum with her hair recently set at Morgenthaler's on Portland Street, long white gloves, dangly earrings, a fur stole around her shoulders, sometimes a tiara. In the photos, she has her feet placed just so, with one satiny shoe partly behind the other, showing off her aforementioned trim ankles. Dad looks handsome in his tux and cummerbund, his shoulders broad and pulled back. Their hair glistens courtesy of Schwarzkopf and Brylcream. In some of the photos Mum balances a cigarette between her fingers, smoke drifting upwards.

When they returned home from these events, still in dancing mood, albeit a bit wobbly, they pushed the furniture to the periphery of the living room and glided over the parquet floor, Mum with a rose between her teeth. The budgie, or parakeet, cocked its head sideways from its elevated perch and bobbed as if timed with the music from the gramophone. In my pyjamas and holding Edward Bear, I peered from a darkened corner, entranced by the scene.


My mother's love of dancing flooded my memory on my fiftieth birthday as I sorted through the hall closet picking out winter coats for dry cleaning. I'd been rummaging through pockets, finding show tickets from the previous winter (what a good show that was), money, old tissues, cough drop wrappers, when there it was: my mother's jacket, the one she wore for golf, waiting for me on the next hanger. Salmon, some might call it peach, it is a lovely color, earthy, a bit like the red rocks of Sedona.

I can see her wearing it in my mind's eye, teeing up, taking her stance against the blustery wind. The manufacturer is Grenfell &153;, 67% terylene and — once upon a time — waterproof. Now if it rains when I wear it, my shoulders get wet, but I don't mind. She had another one in turquoise for gardening. I can see her in the garden, leaning proudly against a shovel, my dad beside her, sleeves rolled up, the dog Pepe at their feet looking up. It's the "We have conquered the garden" look. They smile at the camera, a team. The gardening jacket is long gone, its life expectancy much shorter than that worn for golf. I so loved the colors of her jackets that I had a custom road bike painted peach and turquoise to reproduce those hues.

As I took the earth-toned jacket off its hanger and held it close, I remembered the phone call I received every year on my birthday.

"Do you know what I was doing (however many it was) years ago today?"

"What were you doing," I replied, knowing the answer full well.

"I was having my C-section."

Then would come the story. I never tired of it — the recital about the pre-eclampsia, the fact that at forty-three she was an elderly primagravida, the month of bed rest, the low salt diet, the choice of dates for the surgery (the 14th or the 15th, sometimes she had to ask me in order to remember the correct date), the operation itself, my arrival at 3lbs 12 oz (my lightest weight ever), the month in the makeshift incubator, not being able to go home till I weighed 5lbs, special food sent over the Atlantic from Canada, her Ob palpating her ankles daily and saying, "Mrs. Radford, your ankles are not swollen; you have legs like Mistinguett," and her high-pitched reply, "But Mistinguett is dead!"

Mistinguett (pronounced Miss-tahn-get) was a great French singer and dancer, renowned for her enviably slim ankles. She was the original showgirl, resplendent in feathered headdresses, and her legs were legendary. In 1919, she insured them for 500,000 francs. She entertained at the famous nightclubs, Casino de Paris and the Moulin Rouge, and at one time, she was the highest paid entertainer in the world. The sculptor Rodin (of The Kiss and The Thinker) purportedly once said to Mistinguett, "If I had to personify the Muse of the Music Hall, I would give her your legs, Mistinguett."

So to say my mother had legs like Mistinguett was to say that she had the best legs in the world. Dr. DeSoldenhoff had extended a great compliment. The French entertainer had just passed away, at the grand age of eighty, the year prior to my being ripped untimely from the womb.

Not only was Mother miffed at the idea that she had the legs of a deceased person, but she was none too thrilled about being described as an "elderly primagravida." I can imagine the penetrating gaze she fixed on the Belgian obstetrician when he first used that term with her to describe a woman who was older than thirty-five at the time of her first pregnancy. In the retelling each year, my mother's voice would climb a few decibels, "Elderly? But I am in my prime," she would declare, Miss Jean Brodieesque. I'm sure his brow must have arched over his monacled right eye at this retort.

Dr. DeSoldenhoff's avuncular calm covered his underlying concern. Pre-eclampsia is a potentially life-threatening condition during gestation. Characterized by a rapid rise in blood pressure, it can progress to seizures, and ultimately death for both mother and baby. My mother was hospitalized immediately following the diagnosis and weighed daily. Her placenta began to fail. "You were losing weight in utero," she said of me. The good doctor who examined her daily checked for pitting edema of the ankles, seeing if his fingers dented her tissue. Cesarean section or induction of labor can be required to prevent a crisis of high blood pressure.

For 1957 I was a great save. The placenta had not failed completely; there had been no seizures; both mother and child survived. Dr. DeSoldenhoff was proud. The Chief of Obstetrics at Ayrshire Central Hospital in Irvine, he was a true innovator, even hypnotizing some of his patients for their surgery. Margery would tell me she remained awake for her C-section, which she said was done under local anesthesia. When I was a medical student who knew everything, I scoffed when she told me this . Everyone knew that you couldn't have a C-section under local. It was only when I later read a history of the obstetrics unit that I discovered that Dr. DeSoldenhoff did perform C-sections under local. My mother had been right all along. I should have known.

I received her last birthday phone call with the recitation of natal events on my forty-seventh birthday. My mum died two days before my forty-eighth. It was a good way to go. She was 91 and had outlived my father.

By then living in Westbank, the nursing home on Titchfield Road, Mum had asked the attendant for a cup of tea that morning. When the attendant returned a few minutes later, Mum had gone. Very quick. There may have been a moment of chest pain; she may have reached for her nitro; we'll never know. She died surrounded by her paintings, acrylic and watercolor landscapes. She took up painting in her seventies, "Everyone needs a hobby." I have the paintings now, her landscape of daffodils in a bedroom, her study of a wicker chair in the dining room, and her watercolors of poppies in the office. She had a distinctive style — broad brushstrokes and an almost primitive look. I love her paintings.

On that fiftieth birthday, I slipped my arms through the sleeves and put on the jacket. It felt comfortable, familiar. In my cocoon of Grenfell fabric (by appointment to her Majesty), it felt like a hug — my fiftieth birthday hug — from my mum.

In my mind I heard, "Happy Birthday my child. Do you know what I was doing fifty years ago today?" I thought back to her enviably slender ankles, ankles like Mistinguett's — the greatest dancer in the world — and smiled as my hands smoothed the fabric.


That Dog Cost Twenty Guineas

"He's a bit small, isn't he?" I asked. We were at Mary Frew's house looking at their poodle Cindy Loo suckling her litter. Her most diminutive offspring took up the rear, left to suck hind teat, while his stronger sibs lay in forward positions. They had clambered over one another, jostling for location, a lot of paws-in-the-face to gain supremacy.

"He's sweet, though," countered Mother. "What a face." She knelt down to pet mother and pups; Cindy Loo arched her head back to lick Mum's hand. "What a good mother you are," Mum cooed. "All your babies are so beautiful. You must be so proud of them." Cindy Loo's pom-pom tail thumped in her dog bed, as she ignored the food frenzy going on around her soft underbelly. Mother had the opinion that all babies were cute. She even loved baby wood storks, and wood storks are some of the ugliest birds on the planet, with faces only a mother wood stork could love.

Lucy, the snow-white Persian, sauntered in regally and pressed the length of her body against Mum's calves, curving her back. "And you're beautiful too, Lucy." She didn't want any household member to have her feelings hurt. I hadn't realized until then that Margery was a dog person. I had always assumed she was a cat person since Ming, our blind Siamese, ruled the roost at home. Ming stalked the birds in the back garden, hunting by sound and vibration. To give the birds ample warning of Ming's whereabouts, since Mum could not bear the thought of her actually catching one, she sported a bell; her jangling gave the avians ample time to take wing.

Over the next few weeks the littermates were sold and, after weaning, left for their new homes. Apart from one, that is. Only mister suck-at-the-back was left. And so it was that within a few months Pepe Loo Fandango Radford moved down the crescent from number one to number seventeen. Mary had been very persuasive. Mum negotiated a price. Dad was reticent at first, concerned about dog hair clinging to his best suits. However, he came to love him, too — Pepe didn't shed, and over time Pepe matured and grew into his role as an incredibly intelligent, easily trained toy poodle.

Before long, we found out Pepe had a delicate stomach, so delicate he could not have off-the-shelf dog food, so Margery provided customized meals. One day when I came home from school, she was in the kitchen, steam rising from the pan in front of her. The stench immediately hit me like a wall; my eyes stung. "What's that dreadful smell?"

"I'm boiling a beef heart for Pepe," she replied, in a matter-of-fact way, as if boiling a beef heart were an everyday occurrence.

I can tell you, there is nothing like the stink of a beef heart on the stove. Except perhaps that of a beef tongue boiling; that's a close second. Then, of course, there's haggis, the ultimate concoction of organ meat — heart, liver, and tongue — all boiled together, ground and squeezed into a sheep's stomach. Yummy.

How did she even think of cooking Pepe beef heart? Did the butcher on Portland Street suggest it one day when she was purchasing pork chops? I can imagine him wrapping the chops in white paper and her mentioning the finicky dog and his hard-to-please intestines. Then, "I've some beef hearts in the back, Mrs. Radford. He may like those," and parceling them up, too, wiping his hands on his white-but-bloodied butcher's apron as he beamed under his white trilby.

Sometimes Margery prepared mince — hamburger — in gravy. I don't remember our own dinners getting quite as much attention. Once I made the mistake of complaining about the Bird's Eye fish fingers for dinner and was promptly thrown out of the house, a fifty pence piece pressed into my hand, and told to go find my own dinner. After a walk around Troon I soon discovered 50p bought slim pickings. I appreciated fish fingers after that experience. And perhaps if a home-cooked meal meant beef heart, Bird's Eye wasn't so bad.

The first time Pepe had to go to the groomer, it prompted a family conference about the kind of cut he should have. As the antithesis of a show dog — being the runt of the litter and all — a Lion Cut seemed a bit grandiose. We didn't want our dog viewed as a social climber, either. We settled on a lamb cut — a little bouffant on his head, close-cropped on the body, thicker on the legs, with a pom-pom tail. He had tiny, delicate feet, and clipped nails. When the wind came off the Atlantic, though, that scant curly coat of his didn't keep him warm, and he'd return shivering from his walks on Troon promenade.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Bless Your Little Cotton Socks by Diane Radford. Copyright © 2017 Diane Radford. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction, ix,
Part One: Hunter Crescent, 1,
But Mistinguett is Dead, 3,
That Dog Cost Twenty Guineas, 8,
The Kittens Are in the Oven Under a Low Gas, 11,
We've Arrived, and to Prove it, We're Here, 13,
Have a Chitter-Bite, 15,
The Animal Must Roam Free, 18,
A Golden Treasury of Verse, 21,
Reading Love Letters, 25,
I'm Taking Some Brandy to the Guinea Pigs, 27,
There's a Grave Danger You'll Live, 29,
Part Two: Bentinck Drive, 33,
Worse Things Happen At Sea, 34,
Margery on Wheels, 38,
The General's Rooms, 42,
Wee Sleekit Cow'rin Tim'rous Beastie, 46,
Bond ... James Bond, 51,
Fireballs in my Eucharist, 54,
What Did Your Last Servant Die Of?, 58,
They're Knot, 60,
Give the Child Some Laudanum, 65,
An Irish Mess, 67,
The Open Championship, 69,
The Mother Formerly Known as Margery, 72,
A Pause for Silent Prayer, 75,
Dodds Coach Trip, 78,
The Things You See When You Don't Have Your Gun, 81,
Gin a Body, Meet a Body, 84,
Part Three: Wilson Avenue, 89,
The Skelington, 90,
Bonnets Over the Windmill, 93,
A Chance to Remember, 95,
Part Four: Marine View Court, 129,
Taxi-Parade, 130,
There Was a War On, 132,
Part Five: Sandilands, 137,
The Sleeping Warrior, 139,
Patter-Merchant, 140,
A Unit of Measurement, 143,
Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Peculiar, 145,
Part Six: Dallas Place, Princes Square, and Westbank, 149,
Elegant Sufficiency, 151,
Old Buggerlugs, 153,
Bless Your Little Cotton Socks, 159,
Epilogue: The Bench, 165,
Acknowledgements, 167,
About the Author, 169,
Endorsements, 171,

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