On April 21st 1926, with the best doctors in attendance, a baby girl was born in the Mayfair townhouse of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The birth of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was announced that day on a silent Pathe newsreel, predicting that she would one day be Queen.
Five days earlier, without any medical attention, Beryl Mary Perry was born in an outside lavatory in a terraced house in Cardiff, due to my grandmother mistaking birth pains for constipation. My grandmother had married very quietly in a register office, in order to keep her job as seamstress, since married women were not supposed to keep working. When she was pregnant with her first child she had been obliged to leave and the family lost her miserable income. Two weeks after my mother’s birth, my grandfather, a Cardiff docker, was out in the General Strike.
My infant mother went down with pneumonia. Money was found for a doctor’s visit but he announced there was nothing to be done. My great grandmother stepped in and kept the baby alive by feeding her sips of brandy. Or at least she claimed that’s what did the trick. It established the practice. The last drink my mother took was a whisky and ginger.
I wish I still the photo of my mother in her Cardiff days, eight years old in a flounced satin flapper’s dress (my great aunt’s, cut down), and thick woollen socks and boots, looking ready to take on all comers.
In the Depression, the Cardiff docks went belly-up and the my grandfather, with a host of other dockers, moved east in search of other work, so the family finished up relocating in Luton, first in one of several tenements built around a cobbled yard with a shared pump, and then to the glorious luxury of a new council house.
My mother passed the entrance exam to the Girl’s High School, but the fees were unaffordable, so she went instead to the technical school to learn short-hand and typing.
Joined the Communist Party, participated in Ban the Bomb marches, got sacked for calling her boss a male chauvinist pig, became champion scone maker for our restaurant tea-shop when we moved to Wales, fought a never-ending war with our garden that was far too big to manage, nursed my father for 15 years following his stroke, came with us to Georgia, Paris, Florence, Venice, loved Dylan Thomas, read Shakespeare, defied doctors, attended her grand-daughter’s graduation in Durham, insisted on ironing knickers, coped with epilepsy, heart failure, kidney problems and arthritis.
She outlived the Queen, though to be fair she didn’t have to endure the final torture of a visit from Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Died January 6th 2023, at home, with us, as we’d promised. Go Mum.