Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Bedstemor and the Arabs

The story of the disappearance of four-year old Madeleine McCann in Portugal has dominated the front pages of newspapers for three months. Now, belatedly they have found traces of blood on the walls of her apartment bedroom.

Bedstemor (grandmother in Danish) has her own theory, however: they sold her to the Arabs.

By 'they', she means a half-Portuguese man, and by 'Arabs', she means the Bedouin types that she as a girl was cautioned to avoid as they stole young blond girls and kept them in a large tent-harem.

If she proves to be right, I will be humbled before her superior detective skills, if not, I will have to inform her that a number of blond-haired females now go willingly to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf for work of one sort or another, so less Westerner-snatching goes on these days.

Bedstemor has no balance. This means that she navigates her house with a sort of trolley in which she keeps a thermos of tea and Highland shortbread. In the kitchen she has a whole system that one deviates from at one's peril. Sitting on her chair she can simultaneously put on toast and wash up her bowl. Yesterday she taught me how to open a tin, throw away the top of the tin in the bin, empty the contents into a bowl, put it in the microwave, and punch in one and a half minutes. In that order. I foolishly tried to empty the creamed rice-pudding into the bowl before disposing of the tin and she started to flap slightly. I am now fully house trained and ready for marriage.

My grandmother was herself snatched by a handsome British Navy captain during the war in Copenhagen and brought back to England at the age of 19. We are told that as a child she played alongside Danish princes and princesses in the royal nursery, and her mother was a great beauty and well-known socialite, whose early death from a painful stomach cancer, sent her husband mad with grief and he ended his days gambling on the French Riviera. Bedstemor is ending her days in Hampshire playing Bridge and cared for by my mother. This weekend though, it was my mother who became ill and so one loving daughter looked after another dutiful daughter presided over by the grandest mother. It was an unnatural trio, as in many ways Bedstemor has never looked after her daughter, my mother, and my grandmother is not the cuddly sort. Mummy was brought up by a succession of nannies in European capitals and ate in the kitchen so as not to disturb the adults. These days my sisters eat quiety so as not to disturb their sleeping princesses.

The worst moments, when I had to contain my 'reactive' behaviour, were during phone calls from my concerned uncle, James. My mother's younger brother was not concerned about his sister but that his mother was being inconvenienced by his daughter's stay. My grandmother was persuaded to let mummy sleep in her house by my mother's French boyfriend jean who called from Nice, and insisted she should not be left alone in her new house which has yet to have a kitchen installed. It was inhaling wood preserver than poisoned my mother in the first place. Of course Bedstemor got it wrong on the phone to James and said loudly, "Victoria inhaled paint fumes". Mummy fumed in bed.

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