worked tirelessly, sang beautifully, laughed loudly, danced magnificently, and loved us endlessly" was how her daughter acknowledged her in the death notices.
P... was 92. She had an aggressive form of cancer. The last time I spoke to her was at the beginning of the month. She was "cleaning up the mess" left by the council workers who had not cleared the weeds in the street to her satisfaction and wanted me to come in and help her move the television set. "Because that b.... daughter of mine shifted it to what she says is a better position but I know where I like it."
Yes, P.... was definitely a "character". At 92 she still wore very high heels. She would go to the shopping centre in bright (and I mean bright) yellow trousers and a skimpy top over which she would wear a large cardigan she had made for herself with my help. "Of course I know how to knit. They don't know how to write instructions." (A fair assessment.)
P.... "never (drank) anything but champagne". We first met over her words, "Did you make that? Good. If you know how to knit then you can tell me how to do something. No, I don't drink coffee or tea. Disgusting stuff." I saw inside her fridge later and yes, it was stocked with champagne.
I was invited to visit. Others who knew her told me it was a great honour. They had never been invited. "I don't care much for visitors. I shut the place up, turn on some music and dance and sing. When I get tired I sit down with a glass of champagne and knit. Knitting is clean and tidy and you are making something useful."
She cleaned houses as a profession rather than a job. Her house was absolutely immaculate. Her garden was equally immaculate. She did it all herself. Nobody else would even have dared to offer. Last summer she pruned a tree - climbing a ladder to do it. Her daughter went spare but P... just swore at her and went on working. I queried the wisdom of climbing ladders at the age of 91 and got told, "Now don't you start. I don't tell you what to do and get that look off your face. I'm not going to die yet."
When she found she had cancer she informed me bluntly. "And don't start feeling sorry for me. I can't abide sympathy. I just want you to read this and tell me what you think the fools are trying to say." She then brandished election material in front of me and let me know exactly what she thought of all the candidates.
A little while ago now her photograph appeared on a calendar. She was 90 and wore nothing apart from some carefully arranged "fur". "Why not? I've still got a good body...better than a lot of people." Her daughter was appalled of course. So were many other people. Secretly though I had to admire her. She managed to get away with so much.
Of course part of it was an act. She knew exactly what she was doing and the effect it had on others. She did not suffer fools gladly.
Underneath it all though I think she was lonely. She would order me to stop and talk to her if I passed when she was out gardening. She really did like me to take an interest in her garden and her knitting. I often felt irritated by her but I put up with it because, in her own way, I think she was fond of me. "You're a good girl. I don't like many people but I don't mind you at all." I think I will miss her.