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The decade that style forgot. That’s what they call the Seventies. Funny sort of phrase. It almost makes you feel sorry for them, can imagine the poor old Seventies desperate to be loved and for Style to remember them and pay a visit. And there they sit, like an unmarried auntie in a nursing home, only wanting a bit of love and attention. Mind you I have an unmarried auntie in a nursing home and nobody is going to get away with not paying her enough attention, me included. Still, I sometimes wonder if it might not be better to say that they’re the decades that forgot style. 

     I was surprised, when I was clearing Mum’s home after she passed away (and I’ve still not quite come to terms with that and in my experience it isn’t true that practical tasks are helpful) to discover just how much of my stuff she’d kept in the home – my own childhood home, though she’d made it clear that while I would be welcome to live in it when she’d gone, it was entirely up to me, and she would be quite happy whatever decision I made. Sadly, but with a sense of relief too, I realised it just wouldn’t be practical. Anyway, I was surprised that she’d kept quite so many things – and so many of my things. Oh, she wasn’t a hoarder, and hadn’t made one of those shrines to the living, and when it was plain that my moving out was a more permanent matter she said she hoped I wouldn’t mind if she converted my old bedroom into a craft room. But upstairs, kept neatly and not at all mouldering or musty, there was still quite a collection of my old things. It struck me she’d been selective; an outfit here, a book there, a poster on the wall and a music box on the chest of drawers that had seen better days but was still polished. I wound it up, and though it was a bit tinny and sluggish by now, it still played Fly me to the Moon as a little plastic ballerina twirled round. “But Mum, why those!” I exclaimed, looking at the orange hot pants. I may be mistaken, but that is one item of clothing I would be hard pushed to imagine ever coming back in fashion. When I was 13, though, I absolutely had to had them. Oh, she tried to dissuade me, but I led her to believe (and I believed) that my whole life would be ruined forever if I didn’t have those orange hot pants for the school disco. Perhaps she consoled herself with the thought that at least, unlike my classmate and “unsuitable friend” (not that Mum ever called her that, and not that I was that hugely fond of her anyway!) Velma I had not asked for a sequined boon tube. If she had wanted to be unkind, she could have said that at least Velma had boobs. I was somewhat late in development in that region, but you couldn’t have called my figure boyish. I wasn’t exactly fat, but I was chunky, and chunky doesn’t exactly go with orange hot pants. If, indeed, anything does. That said, I got off fairly lightly, or at least with regard to the hot pants. Velma was somewhat unkindly referred to as tinsel tits and I had to admit I found it rather amusing!

     I got off lightly with the hot pants, yes. But I didn’t get off lightly with the brooch. Grandma had pinned it to the cross-straps of my hot pants (I was, I recalled, wearing a vivid yellow blouse underneath). I should make it plain that both my Mum and my Gran had their children fairly late in life, and Gran was, essentially, an Edwardian. She remembered her brother marching off to the trenches. He was one of the lucky ones and survived and came home, but had nightmares for decades. Gran and I had been very close when I was a little girl. She taught me how to play cards and to this day I could go on Mastermind with Coronation Street or General Hospital as my specialised subject. We were still close, but after I’d moved on to High School, things had subtly changed and there was no point to denying it. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to stop being what folk called “an old fashioned little girl” but it had happened anyway. “I want you to wear this, Amanda,” she said. She never called me Mandy. “It’s the brooch I wore when I went to MY first dance.”

     “It’s not a dance, Gran, it’s a disco,” I protested, pointlessly. I wasn’t necessarily against the idea of the brooch. Though they were old-fashioned and I was in the process of stopping being old-fashioned, Gran had some very nice brooches. I was particularly fond of the one with the little Scottie dog and the one with the enamel daffodil, which might go rather well with my yellow blouse. If I’d stopped to think for a minute, I’d have realised that she couldn’t have meant either of them. The Scottie dog had been a present from Grandpa and she had bought the daffodil when she was on holiday in Wales only five years ago. So neither of them could have been the one she wore to her first dance. What she produced looked more like an exhibit from a rather macabre nature table (I rather missed the nature table we’d had at junior school, but that wasn’t the point) than an item of jewellery. “It’s a lucky rabbit’s paw,” she said, proudly. I vaguely recalled having heard of such things. I even, even more vaguely, recalled a joke about it not being lucky for the rabbit. I had no problem with good luck charms. A brooch shaped like a four-leaved clover (or even a shamrock, we had Irish blood, after all!) or a cute little black cat would have been fine. Apart from having a clasp at the back, and a tiny rim of what probably wasn’t even silver attached to the rabbit’s paw, this didn’t even look like an item of jewellery. I squirmed at the thought of touching it, as I would when touching raw liver or hearing fingers screech on a blackboard. “I’m still not at all sure about those shorts,” Gran fretted, “Why you couldn’t have a nice dress, I don’t know. Still, fashion is fashion, I suppose.” I decided against pointing out that they were hot pants, not shorts. It would have been futile and I was too shell-shocked by the brooch. I know bearing in mind what happened to Great Uncle Maurice that might seem tasteless, but that was how I felt. 

     Despite feeling a bit disloyal to Gran, I had realised that the solution was easy. I would just remove the offending article. She would be none the wiser, and it wasn’t really like lying. Unfortunately that proved easier said than done. The clasp seemed to have got stuck, and try as I might, I couldn’t undo the brooch. At first, though I still felt uneasy just having a bit of preserved bunny attached to my outfit, I got away with it. The music was pleasingly loud and there was even a strobe light. Memory has added a glitter-ball, but thinking it over I don’t believe there was. Not in the school hall. But eyes adjusted to the strobes, and thoughts drifted to other things than the pulsing rhythms of the Bee Gees, and attention turned to that favourite occupation of teenage girls, being catty about others’ clothing. And their jewellery. Predictably, Hilary Walker was the first. She was one of those girls who managed to be popular with both her fellow-pupils and the staff, and who had taken her appointment as Form Captain graciously but as her due. She looked thirteen going on twenty, but without looking silly. Most of us had make-up on (Mum had given in and let me have a lipstick that nearly matched the hot pants and a dusting of powder and blue eye shadow – yes, it actually was fashionable at the time!). Some had gone over the top. Hilary was beautifully made up, and wearing a midnight blue dress with a dust of glitter that showed off her neat figure. “Mandy, just what on earth is that?” she asked, pointing at the brooch.

     “It’s a brooch,” I said, trying to affect a scornful, just what do you think it is tone, but not succeeding.

     “You could have fooled me.”

     “It’s supposed to be lucky.”

     “It’s gross!” She made one of those noises that is often written down as “Yeuch” or the like, but has to be heard, not read.

     Some instinct told me not to say it was Gran’s. They might start making fun of her, and though our relationship might not be as cosy as it once was, nobody was going to make fun of my Gran and get away with it. But the trouble was, I could have seen what they meant. I DID most heartily wish that I’d followed Mum’s advice and taken a cardigan. She had given in easily, probably deciding even if it was a bit chilly, I was young and strong and it wasn’t worth making an issue of it. I could hardly put my coat on. Hilary couldn’t resist calling over a couple of her cronies, and the knowledge spread round the room that Mandy had a bit of dead rabbit pinned to her hot pants straps and it was gross. Of course, there were teachers there, circulating, and doing their best to look inconspicuous and like “one of the girls”. I wanted them to intervene, and at the same time I didn’t. Finally, with a strength born of desperation, I managed to wrest the wretched thing off. Immediately I’d done it I wondered if I’d broken the clasp. I hadn’t, but there were tell-tale threads on my hot pants, and of course it was too late anyway. I put the brooch in one of the surprisingly deep pockets (just like Mum to get something practical even when she was getting something frivolous!) and gave a far too hectic and unconvincing display of enjoying myself.

     I don’t want to say it’s a given that when you think a day can’t get worse, it does, but that one certainly did. Dad had been supposed to pick me up, but I saw that Mrs Astor from next door was there. Our families had lived next door to each other since just before I was born, and I called Mr and Mrs Astor Uncle Johnny and Auntie Eve. “I’m afraid that I have some bad news for you, Mandy,” she said, quietly, “Your Gran has been taken ill. Your Mum and Dad are at the hospital with you, and you’re going to stay over at our place tonight.”

     In other circumstances I might have protested that I didn’t need babysitting, but I realised this was no time for silly arguments and making a nuisance of myself. I asked Auntie Eve if she knew how serious it was, and she said, as we drove away from the school, “You’re old enough for the truth, love. They think it’s a stroke. Do you know what that is?”

     “Yes,” I said, and wished I didn’t. My classmate Sandra’s Grandpa had had a stroke and – well, he didn’t recover.

     “I won’t say try not to worry because of course you’re worried – I know you and your Gran are close. But they got her to hospital within an hour, and that’s always a good thing. She’s in capable hands. Johnny thought we should have brought you home early from the disco, but I told him there would be no point to that.”

     Well, Gran’s life was in the balance for a week or more, but she did recover – not entirely, though. She came home, and she learnt to walk again, though she would always need a cane now, and she hadn’t before, and gradually she got her speech back, though it was always slurred and her mouth twisted to one side. Everyone said she was very lucky – recovery from a stroke was far rarer then than it is now. But I wonder if she really thought that herself. For the rest of her life she was frail and forgetful and though she rarely complained, she had a lost, resigned look. 

     I dipped into the deep pockets of my orange hot pants. The rabbit’s foot brooch was still there! And still in remarkably good condition. It dawned on me that it must be some kind of synthetic material and not a real rabbit’s foot. I wished I’d realised that at the time. I fingered it thoughtfully, not feeling at all repelled by it now – and saw that there was an envelope, a big A4 size one, underneath it in the chest of drawers. In Mum’s neat, slightly loopy handwriting (which still brought tears to my eyes) I read, “Old photos you might be interested in.”

     I knew at once that the top one was of Gran, though (apart from a couple of photographs of her taken at school) younger than I had seen her before. It wasn’t sepia-toned like some old photographs, but in a surprisingly clear black and white. She had been an attractive woman, even into old age and ailing, but I hadn’t quite realised just how beautiful she was. It wasn’t a conventional beauty – she had strong features and at first I thought her expression was a little stern, though I knew the longer exposure times meant it could be tiring to maintain a smile! But looking more closely I saw it wasn’t stern at all. Her smile was slight, but very sweet, with a touch of mischief in it, and her eyes (of course I couldn’t tell on the picture, but I knew they were navy blue) had a look that was dreamy and focussed at the same time. Her hair – it had been light brown when she was young – was in a neat chignon, with a couple of stray curls on either side, and she was wearing a dark coloured dress with a big lacy collar and a broad sash. The picture cut off before her feet, but somehow I knew she would be wearing dainty dancing shoes. And pinned to her dress, the only item of jewellery she was wearing apart from little studs in her ears, was the rabbit’s foot brooch, and it didn’t look gross at all. 

     I lingered for a while, then – and the clasp seemed to be fine, now, and I told myself that perhaps there had never been much wrong with it and only nervous teenage fingers had given that impression, but I wasn’t sure – I pinned the brooch to my coat. It looked right there!

December 04, 2019 08:41

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