I’m a great watcher of cookery programmes on TV and have begun to notice how some of my favourites – Nigel Slater, Mary Berry and Nigella Lawson – often make references to their mothers, occasionally their fathers, like Nigel’s father’s Christmas trifle with the slabs of swiss roll in the base. There’s something about food that brings memories to the fore and makes folk nostalgic.
I know it happens too with smells. I never smell lilac now but I’m back in an aunt’s house in Surrey; she’d put a vase of purple lilac into the bedroom for me.
Then, when my turks cap lilies flowered for the first time, their soapy smell made me think of my Granny’s house and I asked Aunt Jessie if they’d been in her mother’s garden; she said they were though I couldn’t picture them there, only smell them.
Every time we arrived at Granny’s, she’d have mince and potatoes ready for us, all 6 of us. I rarely eat meat now but this is one dish I occasionally crave. I can’t remember now though if she put oatmeal in to thicken it or if I got that from somebody else. Keep an eye on it, as it’ll stick if left unstirred and you might need to add more liquid.
I remember Aunt Jeanie in her kitchen, making girdle scones and we’d be eating them as fast as they were coming off the girdle, clarted with butter and her home-made jam. It was Aunt Anna who showed me how to make perfect rice though mine has never been as perfect as hers was: every grain separate.
Lexie was well before my time but my mother said she made potato scones every afternoon with the left-over potatoes. There was no wicked waste in her kitchen.
I can still see Chirsty Hamish using her baking board to make wonderful scones and oatcakes, not using scales but handfuls of the dry ingredients and just knowing when her mixture was right. She was also the one who taught me to hang out washing properly. I thought she was joking but she sent me back outside to rearrange the clothes I’d hung up for her in a haphazard fashion. I was to hang similar items together so that it’d be less work when they were taken back in and organised for ironing or being put away. She’d been trained herself by a wifie in Milngavie when she was in service there. I do try to follow her strictures but often feel I’m letting her down. When we were out for a walk, she’d point out long sections of low overgrown walls or lift up bracken with her stick cause she’d noticed a culvert and say that she often thought of the old people who’d done this work. Sometimes I’d groan inwardly but now I look myself, and I think of them too.
My mother only had one beauty tip: first thing every morning, splash your eyes with cold water. I do this religiously, the colder the water the better and get very annoyed if I’m staying somewhere with a toatie bathroom basin or a central tap which gets in the way. I laughed and laughed when I read that Kate Moss does this – though she adds ice cubes to a basin of cold water and lowers her face into it – after a night on the batter. She and my mother would have nothing else in common.
Maybe I’ve come over all yearning because of last week’s island funeral when one of the very few left of the older generation was buried in the traditional manner. It was a beautiful sunny day with snow-covered mountains in the distance and the black-clad mourners moving instinctively into their places. I looked round after the interment and saw so many familiar names on the surrounding stones. I must go back and visit them all and try to remember their words of wisdom and all the fun we once had.
“Come out of time awhile to the sunsweet places / where there are no sad shadows, no time-tears, / only the songs, the dear remembered faces.” Alastair Reid