Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Addis Ababa

My grandmother with her sons. My father on the right.

Blood will out, I thought, while watching Celebrity Pointless on Saturday evening and trying to remember which country Addis Ababa is the capital of, I am turning into my paternal grandmother. And incidentally, Pointless is a programme that, had it been around when my grandmother was alive, she would have loved.

We have many differences, my late paternal grandmother and I, but as Middle One endlessly corrected my attempts to answer the general knowledge questions, I felt a sudden affinity - this is what it was like for her having two know-it-all sons.

I will explain. My grandmother on my father's side was many things: a mammoth-bosomed, red-lipsticked, perfume-scented, befurred, oft purple-clad tower of a woman, who stood six feet tall in her stocking feet (or so she told me) and was so adored by menfolk everywhere that when disembarking from a cruise in Naples, the signors on the quayside called out: "Brigitte Bardot! Brigitte Bardot!" (or so she told me). But brain box she was not.

Actually I think she might have meant that they called out, "Sophia Loren! Sophia Loren!" because Brigitte Bardot was - and still is - blonde, while my grandmother was raven haired, especially then, which rather proves my earlier point. 

No matter, I wasn't going to correct her story because even Sophia Loren is a jolly big ask and my grandmother was the sort of woman to travel through life unfettered by such detail, or indeed any self-doubt at all, which must be great. I have not inherited that.

Case in point: she had in fact not been a model in her youth, as she frequently claimed, she had modelled hats - once - in a Birmingham department store. For free. But you can see how the confusion arose. I often say that you should never let the truth stand in the way of a good story (yes, yes, no need to speculate where I got that from). And she didn't.

But there was one thing, at least, that she was fond of repeating that was true, or had a ring of truth about it: that she had kindly given all her brains to her two clever sons, one who trained to be an architect and has since become a writer and the other, my father, who became a professor. So you can see she was generous.

And while she may not have been big in the brains department, she did have other undoubted talents, some of which I like to think I may have inherited. She could concoct a tasty meal without hide nor hair of a recipe (I am known to do this on occasion). 
She could knock out a damn good watercolour, even if they never were quite as genius as she thought they were (I can't do that). She had a flair for creating arty interiors on a shoestring budget (I like to think ditto when it comes to me, but then, who doesn't?) and she really was, as she often pointed out, a very classy dresser (it would be too immodest of me to comment at this point).

As a teenager I liked to wear bright colours (still do), which definitely met with my grandmother's approval. I recall her frequently eyeing me up and down in a quietly studious manner before enquiring where I had purchased such and such an item, and could I remember what size it went up to? Before then hotfooting it down to Dotty P's - or wherever - in the city centre the very next morning to get the same. 

Anyway, I digress from my point, which is this: I now sympathise with her in retrospect and in the clever sons department. It's tricky having at least two offspring (so far) who know more than I do already in quite a few areas, that is to say: physics, chemistry, adding up any two figures above ten and, indeed, capital cities.

So you will understand how delighted I was when I called out "but isn't Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia?" in answer to the Celebrity Pointless question, only to be told I was stupid and that Addis Ababa is in fact the capital of "somewhere in the middle east", when later I looked it up and found that it is the capital of Ethiopia. Ha ha!

You see I am not, after all, like my paternal grandmother in one very important respect: I have kept just a little bit of brains back for myself.

My grandmother, with me.



  1. I’d like you to know that I enjoy your blog so much that I am passing along the Liebster Award to you. This is an award passed from blogger to blogger and you are very deserving of it! There are certain criteria you must follow, as I have done on my blog when I received my award from a reader in America (Ned Hickson). Here’s the link to mine which explains how it works.

    Thank you!