Towards Better Democracy

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Nancy Munro, my aunt, was a funny woman. I don’t mean laughable. My father laughed at her but we did not. We found her strange. Possibly even slightly spooky. Though we never said so to each other.

I understand that she, in former times, was a ballet dancer, though I know that not for sure.

So there we were, my brothers and I, with my grandmother, my aunt and my father, all in the same house. At least until my father shipped his mother off to a nursing home. He drove his sister out of the house too, with his constant scorn of her.

All this time, my father never had a job. Made no attempt to find one, to my recollection. When there were no women left in the house, he would make vague excuses to us of how it wouldn’t be seemly for him, a single man, to have a woman in the house, as a caretaker for us.

A puzzle really. Why did not my aunt look after us and he get a job? I don’t know. She didn’t appear to like children much. Her most memorable activity in my memory was to buy us Sunday clothes and ship us off to church. Not that she went, At least, if she did, she did not go to the church she insisted we go to. Oh, and she would give us sixpence each. This was probably for the church plate, and not for sweeties, which is where it did go.

After she left the house, my father would send me to her workplace, to cadge money from her. She seemed kindly enough. She worked in the Blood Transfusion Unit of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. What she did there, I am not sure. She wasn’t a nurse, for I would remember her uniform. She probably kept the paperwork of the blood-bank. She would  show me the centrifuge, and explain to me how it worked. She would show me the blood phials and explain the blood types. She would show me the dried blood which looked like very fine sand. She would tell me about hemoglobin and all that.

Later, I don’t know why, I would visit her, sometimes in the company of my brothers, and sometimes not, at her home in Joppa on the Southeast side of the city. As far as I recall, she shared a house with some other women, similar in age and marital status to herself. Which is to say spinsters.

She had a man who would visit her while we were all still at Merchiston Avenue. He seemed to me, looking back, an impresario type. Coat, hat, scarf. Maybe she really had been a ballet dancer. She was thin, spindly. He didn’t last long, poor soul. Father drove him off. At least that is my impression.

I don’t suppose I should describe the fights between her and my father. But the urge is irresistible. It is comic, looking back after all these years, as it was to the three of us at the time. The fights were over my father helping himself to her cigarettes. My father was an inveterate pipe-smoker, so why he took her cigarettes eludes me. That combined with the fact that cigarettes made him cough dreadfully.

My father was a deplorable mocker. I say deplorable, because, nowadays, such behaviour would not be tolerated. He would reel with hearty laughter as he would regale us with his constant story of how she would, on discovering he had taken, oh, I don’t know, a cigarette or two, scream at him, “You fief, you fief.” And he would laugh heartily at the pleasure of the recollection.

When she died, I do recall we went to the funeral. Where we got the clothes from Heaven’s knows. I don’t recall my father coming with us. But, then he may have done.

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May 2020

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