Monday, 27 July 2009
The Must Have
My grandmother was a witch. Not a wicked witch with a black cat, a broomstick and a pointy hat, she was far, far too modern for that sort of thing. All her neighbours knew her as Maud, but her family knew she was a witch. She had a beautiful long-haired ginger cat called Smith a red beret and a sporty little car that could fly when she had a mind to make it.
One thing my grandma Maud loved to do was embroider. All kinds of magical patterns and pictures came to life in silk floss under her needle. When I was at school she embroidered a t-shirt for me to wear. She had stitched on a fierce lion rampant like one from an old knight's shield. For some reason I could not understand, no bully - and there were a few, would dream of touching me. Even though I was skinny and small. They took to calling me Lion and left me alone.
When I was first rejected in love, grandma Maud embroidered an unbroken heart on a bright sun on a coat for me and for some reason I did not feel as miserable as the broken-hearted often do. In fact I was soon a lot happier and people noted my sunny disposition. I loved grandma a great deal. I liked Smith whose fur was soft and who would lie on my stomach with his paws on my chest and his eyes closed with contentment. He would purr and I would feel it through my bones, making me giggle. Grandma would take me out in her sporty little car and once I was sworn to secrecy and taken for a drive over the soft green of the South Downs of Sussex and over Ashdown Forest with its deer and thickly grown trees. In her red beret and shock of white hair, her red coat and black stiletto shoes with their red soles, grandma meant the happy blaze of life. If she had not been a witch, she would still have been magical to me.
So you may imagine how strange it felt when I visited her one day and found her sad and sighing. On her kitchen table was the latest copy of Vogue magazine, for grandma loved fashion. The magazine was open at an advert that said, 'You must have a Map Cushion The newest Vogue in Embroidery'. On the opposite page was a photograph of a young beauty dressed in a fabulous dress of emerald green silk that set off her blaze of russet hair and her green eyes. It seemed that grandma Maud would love a Map Cushion but had to ration her money.
She had told me that she was a witch when I was just starting university and I was being all rational and clever. Or at least I was until she reminded me of the drives we had taken over the land and sea when I was younger. Then I blushed for shame and hugged her and asked her to forgive me, which she did because she loved me. So I did not understand why she could not just use her magic to get money.
"Because my dear, magic should always be used with care. I could use my magic to make myself a billionaire if I wished, but how I should explain that to the authorities when I am reasonably comfortably off and suddenly became a billionaire?
Also, I should have to confess to being a witch and as Pillory Snodgrass MP is trying to reinstate the Witchcraft act of the 18th century, it would be perfect for him. And I should not like to make anything perfect for Mr Snodgrass who is a horrid moralising little twerp, and you may tell him I said so!" she answered robustly and yet with the little twinkle in her eye so typical of her.
"I shall have to go without the Map Cushion that is all there is to it," she added.
"What exactly is a Map Cushion, grandma?" I asked, for I had never heard of such a thing.
Grandma Maud stared at me for a moment in disbelief before giving me a little chuckle and patting my hand. She realised that I loved her embroidery even if I knew nothing about its arcane mysteries or her magicks.
"A Map Cushion my dear is a magickal type of cushion. If you sew a map on to it, the real landscape will shift to create a new map. There is a terrible southern city called Grimstown and I was hoping to embroider a new map of it so that Grimstown would be only Grim in name, but beautiful in nature. Of course, a Map Cushion's magickal properties are only evident to the Magickal community. Those unaware of such things cannot use its magic, so they are safe for everyone to use. In the right hands you can embroider a new map of someone's personality too," she explained.
"Or in Mr Snodgrass' case stitch him a personality," I joked.
She laughed and winked at me and we laughed to think of Pillory Snodgrass the most mean-spirited, pinched soul in Parliament and Member of Parliament of Grimstown singing and dancing in the House of Commons.
Well, I thought, I shall have to do something about Grandma Maud's must have Map Cushion. I raided my bank account, I baked and sold cakes to raise money and sent off for the Map Cushion. It came in it's special Vogue wrapping and I wrapped it all in fine paper and took it around to Grandma's house. I had baked a chocolate mocha cake as well for we both loved chocolate.
"Grandma I have brought you a present - and a cake," I told her.
She looked puzzled and pointed out that it was not her birthday. I told her that it was for being the best grandma I had ever had. After all, how many people have a grandma who's a witch?
She laughed at that and put the kettle on for tea. We sat with our tea and cake and she asked me how university was. I told her how I was nervous that I might forget everything in the exam room and she smiled.
"If you've done all the work and read the books my dear, then the knowledge will settle into your head and you'll be fine. Don't panic, use the question to answer the question and don't write any words you are not sure of the meaning of. Leastways that's what my mother always used to tell me and I've done alright," she said.
After we had eaten our first piece of cake, Grandma put down her plate and took up the package. She sighed a soft word and the ribbon un-knotted itself like a snake, settling in a neat coil upon her lap. I had used a long ribbon, knowing she would do that. The paper unwrapped like a flower bud unfurling its petals revealing the rather plain Map Cushion within it's plastic envelope. Grandma gave a little cry of delight and looked up with a giggle.
"You are a very kind and dear boy and I love you," she said, adding, "Have another piece of cake."
"Madam, you are too kind, will you have another to keep me company?" I asked her with a smile.
She laughed and said she would, just to keep me company. Then she whistled a little tune and her sewing box came trotting across the room to her and leapt upon the sopha beside her. Smith, her elegant ginger cat looked suspiciously at the sewing box then shut his eyes slowly and purred. He reclined upon the arm of the armchair beside me and sniffed in disgust at the cake. It did not have anything a cat likes in it.
Grandma sat back on the sopha and threaded her needles with silk floss. She murmured a word, too low for me to hear and a map of Grimstown flung itself from the bookshelf and fluttered like an overgrown bizarre butterfly towards her. Unfolding itself it spread out on the sopha beside grandma and she studied it very carefully, her head tilted on one side like a bird before taking one threaded needle and beginning to sew. She did not lift her head from what she was doing, but talked to me as she sewed. I gave clear short answers, not wanting to distract her and the time passed until she sat up straight and cut the last bit of thread tying it off.
"There!" she said and ate her cake.
She seemed to have been sewing for about ten minutes, but it had been two hours. She got up then and made a fresh pot of tea. I had to leave, for I had revision to do so I kissed her and wished I could stay. She gave me a hug and said I was right to go and revise.
It was all over the news that evening and the papers the following day. A video had escaped onto Youtube too. Pillory Snodgrass doing a song and dance number in the House of Commons during a debate on Social Control. He had a big cheery smile and his whole personality had changed it appeared. I chuckled and thought of Grandma Maud immediately, but I was sworn to secrecy until she had died and said nothing. Instead I got much amusement from reading the speculation in the papers.
I had my exams that week and much to my surprise I passed them all. Grandma Maud had given me a little embroidered cushion of an owl. Not a Map Cushion, just and ordinary little soft toy owl with a shield upon which was an embroidered picture of an ancient Greek goddess with grey eyes.
The day after my last exam I visited her and she congratulated me on passing my exams. I did not question how she knew, after all she was a witch. As for Pillory Snodgrass, he became a much better man and a much better MP. He stopped being a moralising prig and became a champion of the poor and helpless in society. When he died they put up a statue outside Westminster.
When Grandma Maud died, I spent all that I had along with my family to give her a commemoration party and a sing along, which she much preferred. In her will, she left me her sporty little car, Smith and her red beret. Oh and a map cushion with a lovely map of Grimstown on one side and a very cheerful man on the other who looked a lot like a certain MP!