The soundwaves were rusty with salt air and age, and the accent thick but unmistakeable....it was a Channel, seeking her voice, and rather desperately so...
Saint Aidan’s Home for the Elderly Impoverished, Shetland Island, Scotland
Dear Wee Freddie,
Dear Boy, I hope you don’t mind my calling you “wee Freddie” for it’s what I’ve called you these 38 years – even though you are now as fine a figure of a man as I’ve ever known. Aye!
Dear Laddie, please forgive your loving (but firm!) auld nanny for only now making contact with you. The post is slow in these remote parts and the price of a stamp has gone up terrifically, to something well beyond what I can afford more than once a year.
I know my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I simply had no recollection of your getting married – in my mind’s eye, you’re still a wee laddie ! – so what was my surprise to see you with your own wee babe on the telly on Saturday! No-one else here knew who you were – but I recognised you at once! That’s my wee Freddie, said I – he hasn’t changed since I told him there was no more porridge for him, and he burst into tears, when you were a bairn of but two years old!
And what a surprise for me to learn that your bride was a bonnie Scots lass! And one whose roots lie not so far from these isles. Aye, laddie, it seems her grandparents were humble fisher-folk in these very parts! Some of the older folk here remember them hauling in their cod-catch, big-handed folk they were, able to pull in a full net with their bare hands, even as wee ones, their teeth arming them against the cold, salty wind, whether it came from the north or the east – lucky thing their teeth could turn any way to face that cruel wind.
I remember your telling me, Wee One, that you could have any girl in the whole world as your bride, any lassie at all, as long as she wasn’t Danish. And to think, that of all the billions of funny foreign people in this world – you chose a Scots lassie! Aye, lad, you know where to find comfort in a cold, cruel world; you haven’t forgotten how I used to hold your hand and press you to my bosom when you wept at not seeing your Mor and Papa for days on end. Elspeth MacGillicuddy isn’t one to brag – but there’s nothing like a good Scotswoman’s bosom when a man weeps at life’s harshness!
Well, wee Freddie, I was the star of the day, that Saturday 21st January, once folk here believed that I knew you. “I know him, all right, I changed his nappies from the day he was born, there’s no-one who knows him like his old Nanny MacGillicuddy!” said I. Then I told them all the naughty things you used to do – like the time you played Tarzan in the Great Hall at Fredensborg, and without a stitch of clothing on! “Och” said I. “Let the Wee One have his fun now, for sure when he’s a grown-up lad there’ll be no more of it! He’ll be years and years in the Navy, like our Prince Charles, or fighting a war, like our Prince Andrew. Many a time I told you the value of hard work, wee Fred. The devil makes mischief for idle hands, said I. Idle, my wee Freddie will never be, sure as my name’s Elspeth MacGillicuddy!
Well do I remember also the day you stole your Mormor Ingrid’s tulip bulbs and stuffed them in the exhaust pipe of her Bentley! Your blue eyes sparkled at your clever trick! She had to be driven to her engagement in Cook Jacobsen’s Volkswagen. What fun, trying a new car – you went along too, just for the fun of it, but you seemed a bit unhappy that the car didn’t go fast enough. “Is this really a car, or just a toy thing? It’s slower than an escargot,” you wailed.
Of course, you would never have guessed, naughty laddie, that Mormor’s Bentley would never run again. But anyway, you learned a very important lesson from your little prank : it taught your family that they must have a whole fleet of cars, in case one broke down, a lesson I think you never forgot. One car is not enough. Even two – you need close to a dozen cars to be sure you get to your Important Events on time. And don't try to do too many Engamements at once - it mights tire those cars down!
Well, as I recall, your family bought three Mercedes to replace that auld Bentley, and of course, it was an occasion for a party. Your dear Mor the Queen does so love to dress up! There she was in her floor-length frock, her jewels and her furs, and your Papa provided three bottles of the best French champagne, one to christen each car with. The lovely spring weather added to the joy. It was the day of your birthday, Freddie my boy, and the Foreign Minister and the whole Diplomatic Corps had prepared a big reception in your honour; you were so looking forward to it, even though you promised me that you wouldn’t touch the demon alcohol that I afeared would be flowing there!
But you put your foot down, showing the manly resolve that has surely only grown with the years. “I’ll never miss a Christening, Nanny,” you said. “And Mor and Papa know how I love cars, so even if I can’t drive, I’ve been named their sponsor! You wouldn’t believe that I’d miss such an occasion, Hankie, would you?” You stood there, your eyes wet with tears of pride, as you were named sponsor of the cars, and glad was I that you missed that foreign thingamejig with the demon liquor. I knew than that my lad would always put his duty before any fun and games!Forgive my old mind wandering back to happier times, Wee One. I return to last Saturday. “But is it a real royal family?” folk here said. “Where’s the Queen? Or Prince Charles, or Philip, or Anne? Why aren’t they there?” Much trouble I had to explain to them, Wee One, that your family was more established than ours! That you count among your ancestors Gorm the Old! “Gorm ‘oo?” said one. “Plenty of old folk round these parts, but no Gorm that we know! Is it old Norm you mean, the crofter on the other side o’ th’isle?”
I can tell you, those happy auld days in the palace seemed far away then, as I huddled with the other inmates here, trying to keep warm, watching on our sturdy Black and white set, mouths open, and not a tooth in sight!And even on our tiny black and white set, I could see that it was a beautiful ceremony. None of those fancy flowers or funny business that they have in the Cof E, let alone Rome! Those wee Scots bluebells in the homey pots were all these old eyes could see, and happy I am that you are keeping the lessons you learned at your old Nanny’s knees – thrift! That’s wee Freddie, said I. He wouldn’t spend ha’penny on anything not needed! I showed him how to darn clothes so that they’d last 30 years! No fancy togs for him! He wouldn’t stand for it.
And I ne’er heard you speak the whole time but I know you remembered my other lesson – do not mumble! Speak clearly and firmly – the Guid Lord gave you a voice – use it!My auld eyes knew your Mor and Papa at once, but I couldn’t find your Mormor – where was she, and how is she keeping? I am sure that we would have many memories and things to share, being of the same age and all; our lives are probably very much the same.
After it was all over and I’d dried these old eyes, Norm the Old came hobbling over and showed me the guest list. Well, I can’t afford any new specs, no, not even NHS ones, and the auld ones have to do; how I wish we could darn specs the way we darn clothes, to make them last for years! Of course, as I brought you up to do, you’d have sent my invitation by third-class post, and that and the remoteness of these parts must explain why I never did receive my invitation.
But I managed to make out, with Norm the Old’s help, that there was a knees-up in the evening and that you had been your usual firm self, very decided, that the staff must not attend.Dear Wee One, you haven’t forgotten what I taught you about the Guid Lord having a place for every one of us, and that we all must stay exactly there!
How well I remember, when you were born, that you Dear Parents invited me to the after-party. Well, those were different times, and as your father would say : “Autres temps, autres moeurs”. That was what they called the “Permissive Era” or the “Swinging Sixties”, and well rid of them, we are! I felt so out of place at the knees-up after your own baptism, with all those lovely-looking ladies in their jewels, and me in my old, well-darned cardie, my brogues and kilt. I remember your dear Papa, a true nobleman of the old school, in the spirit of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland, inviting me to dance the Schottische with him. Oh, he did whirl me around the dance floor! But still, it wasn’t right, a humble helper as I was proud and happy to be, dancing with a Prince! It’s one thing to change a prince’s nappies, but another thing to dance with one. I am so glad you have rid the palace of those “permissive” or “progressive” ideas and returned to the Auld Ways, Wee One.
So when folk here say you have forgotten me, I don’t believe a word they say, for forgotten my teachings you have not! Frugality, resolution, firmness with staff – all these are plain to see, as plain as the nose on my old face.Some wicked tongues here, Norm the Old especially, said you looked like you might enjoy a drop of whisky. “Not my Wee One!” said I. He promised me when he was just a laddie that he’d never touch the stuff and to this day, I am sure the Demon Alcohol has never dimmed your sweet blue eys.
Norm the Old also told me you had a nanny, a bonnie young lass called Missie, for your own wee one. Dear Freddie, are you sure such a young, spirited and beautiful girl will exert the right kind of influence on the lad? Forgive me, but I don’t understand why you would choose a buxom lass only out of the cradle herself, rather than call on your old Nanny MacGillicuddy for help in instilling principles and values in the bairn. What can she offer that I cannot, though my hands tremble with age? My hearing is not so bad that I wouldn’t hear the wee one’s crying, and rush to comfort him, as I did to you, when you cried, and cried, and cried as a lad. Your Papa commended me for my patience with all your crying – and patience is not a virtue of the young. So wee Freddie, if Missie disappoints, you now know where a firm hand, a comforting cardie and an absorbant bosom can still be found.
Wee Freddie, my own bonnie prince, once this reaches you (since it’s overseas – and it is - I don’t care what they say about this “Europe” business, I can only afford a fourth-class stamp) please do tell me about your lovely Scots wife and the bairn.I would be most humbly grateful for any word – and it would be the most exciting event at Saint Aidan’s since Norm the Old took a bonnie boat to the mainland for his hip replacement.
Your ever loving,
E. MacGillicuddy (“Hankie” or “Nanny”).