Grandmothers play a major role in Lady G and Me. After all, Godgifu was the grandmother of the last queen of Anglo-Saxon England and her grandsons played a major though negative role in William’s victory.
I never knew either of my grandfathers which might explain their absence. Or the fact that retired men tended to die off leaving their wives to rule the family. I always had the feeling my world was matriarchal. The Irish grandfather died long before I was born. There isn’t even a picture of him. The English one I did meet when I was very little. I watched England win the world cup with him which dates that memory. .... but my memories of him are of a distant, austere presence in the spooky London house they lived in, an impression which isn’t offset by his photographs.
Oddly enough I have records of their voices, which means more to me than their photographs or lack of them. Mr. Guilar was interviewed by a local paper as a witness to a plane crash in Laytown in July 1942. In passing, I learn that he had been doing labouring work that day (he was 70), helping a “life long” friend (who was 77) put up his traveling show. In the different paper clippings I have there is some understandable confusion as Mr. Guilar Senior was William, and he calls his eldest son Joseph, who then turns up in several other papers as “William Guilar’ who ‘heroically” dragged the crew from the burning plane. These heroics Number Two. There’s nothing special in what he says, except for one thing. The plane was “middling high”.
Grandfather White, for reasons un remembered by his daughters, took part in a dialect archive recording. I first heard him on a crackling 78, telling stories in broad Sussex and reading “A Three Part Song” by Mussa’ Rudyard Kipling. Today I have him on a cd and haven't cleaned the file. It wouldn't sound right without the hiss and pop. It gets a walk on part in the prologue to Lady G.
But he tells his story about the local fire brigade, in the days when they had to send a runner out to find everyone and then get the horse from the pub, which links the two testimonies. When the plane crashed in Bettystown its petrol tanks exploded "and the plane and the caravans at the show were reduced to ashes despite the efforts of the L.S.F who played a hose on the blaze."
But then he says ”law a mussy me, he were right middling upset…”
The word brings the two men together. I like that word. Middling. I want to bring it back. My dad’s reply to “how are you?” was either “still pulling the devil by the tail” or “mixed to middling, like belly bacon”. It sits neatly between high and low, tall and short, good and bad. Somewhere in the middle, which isn’t a bad place to be if you know what you’re doing. Extremism is fashionable, and it's easy to strike an attitude, but there's something solid about "middling"; reliable, like the seventy year old man who turns out to help you set up your travelling show because he's your friend and has been for long time.