MRS BLOOD'S POND
Confucianism has the virtue of consistency. One of its tenets is ancestor-worship, and in my fanciful way I imagine that the rows of white-haired family historians (who are to be seen at every Local History Centre) are really worshippers at their ancestral shrine. They wish to uncover the bones of their forbears, to collect them, wrap them in linen and carry them around for always. But for some of us, those remains are forever covered with blood, with scraps of sinew, and with narcotic traces.
My family was marked by murder, chicanery and emotional violence, all bound together by lucre. My paternal grandfather had a hundred-pound note sewn into the lining of his jacket, which he used to display to those women he wished to impress. One of them seemed well-heeled, and so he pushed his wife downstairs in order to get a newer and richer one. When he fell on hard times, he resorted to breeding Alsatian dogs, and I well remember him bawling to prospective clients: “keep coming forard! He not hut yer! But if his sho’ders goo dahn, run like boggery!” Only I could control the dogs (perhaps through some magic) , and so I was brought in on sale days to show how biddable they were. I was a tiny girl then, and was the only one not to be flecked with blood and dog spittle. My grandfather called me “Jinny”, gruesomely enough after a daughter who had died: “My Jinny can control owt from beyond the grave”.
On the maternal side were rogues of a different order. They would play cards with a savage seriousness, and after cheating each other, would throw the pack of cards on the fire-back every Saturday night. They were all roaring drunk, and my great-grandfather would hoick the hire-purchase mangle out into the yard: “Ah’ll hev nowt in this house as is on tick!” Then every Sunday morning, he would meekly drag it in again. One of the sons (my grandfather) became a customs officer in Shanghai, and was dismissed for smuggling and smoking opium. He became a chauffeur to Uncle Willy, the owner of Bunny Hall. Grandad was sacked for trying to drive the Daimler up a flight of steps to Uncle Willy’s club: “it’s no good going in thear, Chummy, they’re closed on Mondays!” In the end, he became an odd-job man at the Ilkley Moor Hotel, and burned it down by smoking in bed. He was rescued from the roof, loudly complaining that “there’s all these flames and no matches to light my fag”.
Two cousins killed each other in a fight about money. What chance did the women have in such a clan?They were meek and bullied. They hid when they could. There was only one strong female, a mountainous Aunt, who had a ferocious tremor and a stick with a sharp point which she would dig into her enemies. And here I come to the most surreal event of my childhood. This Aunt had a rich friend, Mrs Ada Blood. Mrs Blood had bought Aunt a large pond for her garden. I was staying at Auntie’s house one day, and ventured out into the garden. There was snow on the ground, and Mrs Blood’s pond was covered with ice. I stepped out onto it, wondering if the fish were frozen too; and the ice gave way and water filled my boots. I expected the water to be cold: but it was warm, and in the sunset, it looked red. I was convinced that my boots were filled with blood, and that the footsteps I made back into the house and across the Turkish carpet were bloody ones. I never found out that they were not so: and no-one said otherwise.
In consequence of all this, an ironic detachment has always been my fall-back position. I do not wish to meld with my kin. Family blood and sinew are, for me, a sign of severance rather than desire. So rattle your bones, old chaps and crones: and listen to my footsteps, running away from you as fast as I can.