I swear Mrs Duffy is my Nana re-incarnated. I saw her buried with mine own eyes, but she lives on, slightly diluted.
Nana was a seamstress in Liverpool for the Cunard line; she brought up two children on her own. She gave quarter to no man. She looked alarmingly like Bessie Braddock, but they all did in Hunt’s Cross.
Her children were super bright, so bright that even from a desperately poor background; they were plucked out of obscurity and sent soaring into the heights of middle class academia – the Liverpool Institute.
My Aunt, her daughter, became a senior civil servant, in charge of buying all the equipment for the RAF for the old War Office. It was her signature that went on multi-million pound contracts for the new fangled radar, missiles, and jet engines.
That claim to fame didn’t allow her to escape her duty, as sole daughter, of ‘looking after her Mother’ – she didn’t marry until her late 50s, and then only to a man she had cared for over many years, euphemistically known by my Nana as ‘Dave the lodger’. In those days you were not allowed to marry someone in your own civil service department, and definitely not a subordinate. So ‘Dave the lodger’ he became, her assistant at work, the object of my Nana’s derision and sarcasm at home, and very occasionally, on a stolen Sunday afternoon walk, the man she held hands with.
I have thought a lot about her over the past few weeks, for the regular articles detailing the money spent by civil servants on their Government issue credit cards in pursuit of ‘government business’ always bring to mind my Nana’s funeral.
It was a packed event, sleek Jaguars and Daimlers lined the little cemetery drive. Why so? She was but a humble seamstress and single Mother.
The answer is simple and perfectly illustrates the genes from which Mrs Duffy emerged.
In Nana’s eyes, my Aunt was a single woman; therefore she must come straight home from work. She might be 52 and head of her department at work, but that cut no ice with Nana.
If the head of Marconi’s sales division wished to meet with my Aunt out of office hours, a Director of Ferranti wanted a confidential word, or the Sales manager of Decca wanted to spread out his specification sheets in comfort, there was only one way in which to do so.
Journey up to Bishop’s Stortford of an evening, and succumb to my Nana’s house rules.
No expensive bottles of wine, he might sup Dandelion and Burdock if he was lucky. He would, oh he would, I promise you, eat every morsel of food put before him before he was allowed to speak, whatever the menu. Tripe and Onions was a favourite.
Once they were freed to speak, Nana accorded herself the privilege due to the head of the household, and would tear into his every statement before my Aunt was ever allowed to answer.
These denizens of the burgeoning avionic trade might be treated like kings when they went to Saudi Arabia, but in Bishop’s Stortford they were reduced to naughty schoolboys.
Thus it was that long after my Aunt had retired, they all trooped to that cemetery to pay homage to a grand old dame. ‘No more Tripe’ the (now Director) of Marconi said in his address, and they all nodded sadly.
The genes might have sadly diluted over the years, for if my Nana had been in Mrs Duffy’s position, she would have come roaring out of that house and stood at Gordon Brown’s side – and taken the opportunity to address the world’s press on his short comings.
Like Mrs Duffy, she would have thought nothing of addressing the Prime Minister; those Northern ladies are not impressed by fast cars and prestigious titles. They know right from wrong, and they knew their duty as matriarchs of their society.
Gordon Brown would have been a chastened man. Mrs Duffy didn’t do a bad job though, I’ll give her that.
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- May 2, 2010 at 11:08