14 years ago, last Wednesday, my maternal grandmother died, Hilda Winifred Stevens (nee Gibbs). She was and still is, the person who has the most influence in my life. I am always rather surprised by how emotional I feel in late May and then it’s the 27th and I know why. It was compounded at the weekend with my mother asking if it was OK for the crematorium to have my details for the upkeep of the memorial stone. (My mother is ever into forward planning (!) and exceptionally well, but as they say, there is nothing like being prepared)
Born in Plymouth in the early 20th century, she grew up in the knowledge she could not own her own house, vote, work after marriage…..her mother won the argument with her father to allow Hilda to attend Devonport High School for Girls. But then lost the war, as he would not let her go to University to train to be a Doctor. Every the resourceful one, my grandmother got a job as the local GP’s nanny, worked in his surgery as his assistant and was (for once) always vague about what it was she really did. My eldest brother is a doctor. She nearly burst with pride, when he graduated.
She married an extraordinary man, a feminist way before his time, Thomas Charles Stevens who helped out at home with their three children and thought nothing of allowing my grandmother in later life to take the main stage as she rose through the ranks of the Townswomen’s Guild (‘when it was a proper women’s union, dear, nothing about jam making); although my Grandfather had a wonderful retirement as Secretary to the Retired Civil Service Sports Club, and would always send a postcard from London. I think my love of our capital city started from a very young age.
It’s got me thinking, my daughter shares a middle name with her great grandmother. What are the key things my grandmother taught me, that I will pass on?
- Cooking, if you love it, is wonderful, but it’s the sharing of the food you make and how it brings together friends, family, the people you love and the resulting debate and discussion are the real outcomes from putting things in a pot.
- There is never an excuse for rudeness. Never. Ever
- Remember you have as much right as the next person to be where you want to be (this was frequently applied to London hotels, where my grandmother would walk in as if she owned it, ask extremely politely for the bathroom, use it, thank the gentleman at the door and leave. She was not a woman keen on the public convenience…..)
- Always have a sherry at 11am. Well, not now, but sharing a drink with friends is one of life’s wonderful pleasures.
- Debate, my dear, is different from argument. never confuse the two.
- Give back. Society needs people to get involved, become one of life’s investors and givers; not a taker. The rewards are endless.
- Hats, lipstick, matching gloves – de rigeur. Or in 2015, whatever it is that gives you extra confidence, go for it, do it. But always be true to yourself.
- If a man says that your behaviour is not appropriate, or acceptable, he is probably not the man (or woman) for you.
- Partnership. The clue is in the definition – it’s about working together. My grandparents had one of the most equal marriages I have ever witnessed.
- Laughter and tears are very close cousins, embrace them both.
Hilda gave me the confidence to go after my dream. I followed that dream for 11 years, working for the BBC and learning so much. But it runs much deeper than that, I was so blessed to have such a wonderfully close relationship with her for so long. I know she’s still here. And to my daughter, Hilda is a name so packed full of goodness, hope, joy and love; you will, one day understand why it’s not Kylie.