I’ve led an eventful, ever changing life, largely revolving around family, but I’d like to start by telling you about something I did, completely out of character.
I had a Big Adventure.
I took a month-long job working abroad for a King!
It was a great honour to cook for the King of Romania, a war hero and confidante to his cousin Queen Elizabeth II.
He was a true gentleman and it was very exciting to be briefly part of a special Royal Family in 1987. I spent a month looking after Princess Margaret, the King’s frail mother-in-law but spent most of my time in the kitchen cooking meals and sometimes eating with this extraordinary family. I was fascinated to learn many years later that this “frail” woman had argued with the Pope!
King Michael gave me two cookery books when I left inscribed with a message saying how much he loved my apple pies!
This wonderful adventure started with an anonymous newspaper advert, it led me to work with the Romanian royal family who were exiled in Switzerland. I’ll tell you more about this exciting chapter in my life later.
Mam’s family was very important to her and we spent a lot of time visiting her sisters. My favourite was Aunt Jesse, one of life’s real characters.
Aunt Jesse, Hat Wearing Teacup Reader
We absolutely loved going to visit Aunt Jesse. She lived just up the street from us. A straight-backed woman, she always wore a little felt hat, even indoors, and was an amazing character who used to “read” teacups and hands.
People would visit and pay her. She always had to be careful with money, so I suppose this was a way of earning a bit extra, but really she just remembered all the snippets of news she’d been told. She was very clever.
Aunt Jesse was very thrifty, I think she had to be, I think they were hard up, her husband was injured in the war. She was very well known and very well liked in the area. She was clever in what she did.
When I married James, we had this pretty little rug in front of a real fire and a cinder flew out one night burning a hole in the rug. We had to have a new rug and I happened to tell Aunt Lily this.
I didn’t say anything about buying a new one, but she asked if we had insurance. A few days later while reading my teacup she said: “You’ve got a lovely carpet coming, I don’t know if it’s a little one. It’s a really nice one.” She went on like that, all the information was there for her, so no surprise there!
Another time she said I’d soon have a beautiful dress but as Mam pointed out, I was getting married! She never missed a chance; she was quite funny!
She used to turn off her fridge every night when she went to bed to save electricity. There wasn’t much in the fridge so that didn’t matter.
Every Saturday my Dad would drop me off at the Bishops Hotel, which was quite swish, to go dancing. You’d hand your coat to the girl in the cloakroom and then walk down to the dance hall.
Mum made me the most lovely dancing dress. It was a deep, deep, middle blue colour with tiny stars and frills on the bottom and across the shoulders. I loved that dress.
It was during a barn dance in the hall that I met James and he asked me to dance.
We walked into the floor and that was it.
We started dancing but instead of moving onto the next partner, as part of the dance, we moved to the middle of the floor and stayed there.
We both knew straight away that we were right for each other, I had a little flitter in my tummy. We talked for a bit and snuggled in a bit, but nothing happened. We were very correct in those days.
I went home and probably bored everyone to tears talking about him. James lived a few villages away and we started going out.
My sister Mary recalls James’s visits. “I was about 12 when James started to come to the house and Elizabeth would have been 17 and of course they wanted to spend time on their own. I remember them giving me some money to go and get some sweets. James was a lovely guy, he really was.”
James was working as a trainee journalist on the Advertiser and I used to go out on jobs with him sometimes. We travelled by bus and he would often finish the story in the bus station waiting room and phone it through. I would go home and get into trouble for taking the last bus home.
One of my favourite memories is baking for the cake stall during a weekend church exhibition of priests robes.
Normally after a church fair you’re worn out usually on a Saturday afternoon, you think phew and just throw a few things in the dishwasher and that’s it, it’s all over. But this was a weekend event, we had to get cracking and get baking again for the Sunday morning, we sold a massive amount of food that weekend.
You are exhausted but it’s such an achievement and you’ve all worked together and it’s brilliant. I love an occasion where a lot of you work together, you might not bake the cakes in church, you really have to make them at home, but you come into church and you’re getting cakes out of a tin and putting them on a plate and you’re chattering and it’s a lovely atmosphere. It’s just so nice, everybody’s been busy for a week, maybe there are a few show offs but so what? That’s not the worst thing really.
You just love to be with everyone pulling together to make it such a delightful occasion. Preparing for the cake stall was lovely because we’d had the meetings and the build-up. It was all really very nice, I liked that.
Every family has a mass of unorganised stories, half remembered events and jumbled photographs with nameless faces in them.
When I first spoke to Liz it wasn’t my intention to just tidy up those things. More, this was about my mother remembering and recording her story. My only concern was whether mum would open up to a ‘complete stranger’. I shouldn’t have been worried.
The first ‘getting to know you’ session was short and sweet and I joined that. It was no more than a very lighted hearted chat to discuss the idea, how it would work and gauge the chemistry. Everything clicked.
After that Mam threw herself into it and looked forward to every session, which she did without me. The rest of the family got involved separately; gathering photos, creating timelines and trying (not very successfully!) to do a family tree, but also discussing and arranging some practical things. I’m one of four siblings and we live apart.
We spoke with each other and Mam more than normal. It was all really good fun and we got out of it far more than I ever imagined. Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster. I laughed and cried in equal measure, and learned more about mam and new stories from her past.
This has become an event that our family will always treasure. The end product is fantastic; the icing on the cake after all that collaborative effort. The most important memories all beautifully packaged up and preserved.
I don’t know how she has done it but Liz has captured ‘Mam’s voice’ in these pages. The only regret we have is that it is over. Mam has loved the calls and Liz has become a real and trusted friend. I recommend this service to anyone, without any reservation at all. Every family should do it!
Thank you Liz. And thank you Mam,"