Lunching recently with my friend Roger, our ‘smart chaps about town’ chat turned to our families, in the course of which Roger told me about his Great Aunt Win, 106 years old.
Great Aunt Win clearly has a number of admirable qualities as this vignette illustrates. Taken to the Ritz to celebrate a birthday, she was resolute in her desire to appear as hale and hearty as any young pup of 70 or more. She refused a helping hand to climb the steps into the tea room and, unfortunately, took a small tumble. This irritated her.
She swiftly stood, brushed herself down and carried on regardless.
Regardless, that is, of the bruising that followed her gravity-led descent and the consequent discomfort. She did not call for either an ambulance or a lawyer.
Great Aunt Win arrived on planet Earth when Edward VII, the perpetual fornicator, was King Emperor.
He was a robust man, magnificently larger than life in many ways (his girth did for him in the end though). The cascade effect of his excesses, following the reign of the prudish and narcissistic Hausfrau who preceded him on the throne, was to bring an exciting mix of parties and passion to high society. Correct form amongst the smart set seems to have been a fusion of highly styled manners, pretentious affectations overlaid with an earthy vulgarity comprising saucy postcards and joyful, albeit discrete, romps beneath the sheets for all. The Edwardians would certainly take issue with the canard that sex was invented in the 1960s.
Bertie, as his family called him, was wont to visit Churchill’s Mother Jenny, most days, for ‘tea’. It is now believed that Edward’s afternoons were the source of the syphilis which eventually killed Winston’s beloved Papa, Randolph. The definitive biography, or at least the most readable in my view, about this splendid man is ‘Bertie’ by Jane Ridley.
Four years following Edward’s death, the Great War launched a new era when Great Aunt Win was five years old.
The war changed everything in a brutally swift evolution and the Edwardian age ended along with the lives of many of the lads whom Great Aunt Win would have known as she grew up as the older brothers, cousins and fathers of her contemporaries.
Great Aunt Win’s strength of character was forged by being born and growing up in a hard century. She is not governed by a misplaced sense of entitlement or assumed superiority. Her driver is self-discipline and consideration for others. You cannot imagine Great Aunt Win dropping litter or queue-jumping.
Her standards are wholly proper: she refuses to drink tea from a mug and only uses a delicate fine china cup. Complete with saucer. She is fiercely independent, enjoys the love and respect of her family and, reading between the lines of Roger’s fond description of her, may not be crossed or thwarted. If she is, there will be hell to pay.
Roger’s Great Aunt Win, one senses, would never knowingly offend; has exquisite manners and holds no truck with the tarnish that is political rectitude or correctness as it is incorrectly described.
My strong impression is that this fine lady makes decisions and judgments using criteria crafted through centuries of experience passed down through generations. I can imagine her cup being set down rather firmly to make her point or deliver a rebuke were she to spot a departure from the considerate good manners she both expects and practices.
I wish there was a Great Aunt Win in my life; don’t you wish there was one in yours?