As a very young boy, Mrs Kipper was the name I gave to my maternal grandmother, Florence May. I do not remember its origins but whereas my grandfather was a kaleidoscope of reassuring smells, Brylcreem, Three Nuns tobacco and probably alcohol, Florence May emitted an earthier odour. I would have taken my mother’s propaganda as gospel; they were permanently at war.
Born in 1896, Florence was five years younger than Fred who she married in 1921. Everyone who loved her called her Florence so I never heard her called anything other than May. I remember her as a small plump old lady with a deeply lined face, a blue hat permanently anchored to her head and slightly bandy legs which gave her an unstable sideways waddle rather than a walk; she trod a very uncertain path. At my first memories she would have been under sixty.
Florence never received a good press in the family. Always labelled as mean and ill-tempered, now I wonder if somehow cause and effect became inverted. She died in 1968 and my sister remembers that in her last days she lay on her death bed refusing to open her eyes to the family, determined to continue her uncertain path quite alone, to the end.
Three things I remember about her; she was partial to a bottle of Mackeson stout which Fred would bring home fresh from the pub every evening, she spoke with a broad Hampshire accent and she could never remember people’s names – everyone was referred to as ‘old wotsizname’, such that if more than one such person occurred in a sentence, all meaning was lost.
And this is the saddest part; Florence May was once a very pretty young girl with a kind face and a bright future. Assuming she is eighteen or under, this picture pre-dates the Great War. What ever followed, it seems certain that those closest to her could have been kinder.