Monday, 12 May 2008
From Sleeping Beauty to Spinning Rose
Many years ago, you would be too young to remember, there was a beautiful old country mansion and in that mansion lived a couple. The couple, being very much in love, soon had a daughter and decided to hold a Christening Feast. Of course they wanted to invite all their family, but wouldn't you know it - they forgot Great Aunt Ann. But such is the grapevine of aunts that even e-mail is slow in comparison. Before long, Great Aunt Ann got to hear that she had not been invited and was not pleased. Alas! She did not phone and ask if she might be allowed to come or the couple could have made their apologies and invited her. They certainly had meant no offence to anyone.
Be that as it may, Great Aunt Ann was too busy riding her highest Dudgeon to phone or write (she would never have e-mailed for she considered it too new-fangled and somewhat suspicious). She determined to turn up with a gift of her own - a ladylike gift at that. Mademoiselles, do not shudder, the tale's not over yet!
The guests arrived at the mansion in all their glory to find the rooms all beautifully prepared with flowers on window sills (except Aunt Marguerite who was allergic - tho' to what she was not sure). There was a charming font in the Withdrawing Room - a fine Washbowl with rosewater in it, from which the Aunts and Uncles, not to mention Grandmothers and Grandfathers concluded that the baby was a girl. So she was, a tiny red-faced sleepy baby girl over whom all her relatives cooed and aahed, remarking that she was very sweet. So, the Christening went ahead and then the Aunts lined up with their gifts.
"I hope she'll always have a good pair of shoes," Aunt Phyllis said, having bought a tiny pair of knitted slippers for the little girl.
"May she never go without good food," Aunt Charlotte declared, being of a somewhat round disposition herself and having bought a silver bowl and a charming little cup for the baby to drink from.
And so it went on, with Aunt after Aunt declaring and giving with all their love. But halfway through all this, the doors to the Withdrawing Room were flung open and in huffed Great Aunt Ann. Her white hair like the puffs of steam from a steamboat, her glorious silk and lace dress like a whole boudoir in motion and her hat all silk and net and artificial flowers like a rounded window box called to arms.
Everybody gasped, hands flew to bosoms, Uncles drank their sherries down in one. Aunt Dahlia, being next to a chaise longue, put her hand to her brow and swooned delicately in a cloud of perfume. The parents of the baby suddenly realised they had forgotten to invite Great Aunt Ann and the mother rushed forward on a wave of apologies. But Great Aunt Ann had got up steam and brought her dudgeon with her. She gazed down her nose at the mother imperiously and let the mother apologise before smiling dangerously and saying in perfectly reasonable tones,
"My dear I quite understand, the rush of preparing for such a large crowd and so on and so on... I have brought the child a gift."
The mother quailed before Great Aunt Ann and nodded, gesturing to where the newly christened baby lay snoozing and pink in a waft of talcum and white cotton. All the aunts gathered around, in a defensive phalanx like a cohort of Roman Soldiers. They meant Great Aunt Ann to understand that they would protect the baby to the last drop of sherry and the last wisp of lace upon their hats. But Great Aunt Ann ignored them and stepping up to the baby she smiled a little like an alligator having spotted its lunch.
"I have bought her a spinning wheel so that she may grow nimble-fingered and learn concentration," Great Aunt Ann said clearly.
This done, everyone took a deep breath and sighed with relief causing a minor gust of air to push a window open silently. Great Aunt Ann then took a seat by the fireplace and watched as the rest of the giving and declaring went on.
Now the only time a disgruntled faery gave out a spinning wheel that I can recall, led to an awful lot of snoozing and some rather overgrown vegetation. But this was not what Great Aunt Ann had in mind - she was not a faery in any case. But it is notable that she spent an awful lot of time with the young Rose, as the baby had been christened, and taught her to spin with the wheel. Rose became quite fond of her Great-Great Aunt Ann and went on to university to do a degree in textiles. However, around that time, there were some highly scandalous burglaries, which for a time baffled the police. Being baffled tends to annoy the police and when Lady Snork-Hampton's entire jewellery box was pilfered including the Snork-Hampton Diamond necklace with the Rose of Rajpur diamond - the police tended to the view that this was personal.
The couple continued to have two other children and both times Great Aunt Ann was invited to the Christening Feasts. But you may imagine their surprise when in a dawn raid, not only was their daughter Rose, but also Great Aunt Ann arrested on burglary and dealing in stolen goods. It appears that Rose had become very concentrated and nimble-fingered - more than perhaps would be considered legal. Great Aunt Ann, who had always lived in style, appeared to be Rose's fence, selling on the goods abroad. The Snork-Hampton jewels were retrieved, but the Rose of Rajpur was never seen again along with the necklace on which it was set.
Rose and Great Aunt Ann soon escaped from prison and went to live on the island of Little Bosworth an old British colonial outpost that Britain had forgotten after a fire in the records office. It was once thought that a Mr Rider Haggard derived his famous story of 'She' from the pair of them, Great Aunt Ann being the inspiration for the title, She Who Must Be Obeyed. Tho' the island children used to call her something which translated to She who must be obeyed or you'll get your ears boxed. Rose, set up a textiles business with a computer and would sit at the computer wearing the most beautiful necklace with a large rosy diamond.