Mrs Kipper

As a very young boy, Mrs Kipper was the name I gave to my maternal grandmother, Florence May.  I do not remember its origins but whereas my grandfather was a kaleidoscope of reassuring smells, Brylcreem, Three Nuns tobacco and probably alcohol, Florence May emitted an earthier odour.  I would have taken my mother’s propaganda as gospel; they were permanently at war.

Born in 1896, Florence was five years younger than Fred who she married in 1921.  Everyone who loved her called her Florence so I never heard her called anything other than May.  I remember her as a small plump old lady with a deeply lined face, a blue hat permanently anchored to her head and slightly bandy legs which gave her an unstable sideways waddle rather than a walk; she trod a very uncertain path.  At my first memories she would have been under sixty.

Florence never received a good press in the family.  Always labelled as mean and ill-tempered, now I wonder if somehow cause and effect became inverted.  She died in 1968 and my sister remembers that in her last days she lay on her death bed refusing to open her eyes to the family, determined to continue her uncertain path quite alone, to the end.

Three things I remember about her; she was partial to a bottle of Mackeson stout which Fred would bring home fresh from the pub every evening, she spoke with a broad Hampshire accent and she could never remember people’s names – everyone was referred to as ‘old wotsizname’, such that if more than one such person occurred in a sentence, all meaning was lost.

And this is the saddest part; Florence May was once a very pretty young girl with a kind face and a bright future.  Assuming she is eighteen or under, this picture pre-dates the Great War.  What ever followed, it seems certain that those closest to her could have been kinder.


  1. ilargia64 · September 28, 2013

    But it is true! She looks very attractive and clever…I think she looks determined as well…

    • northumbrianlight · September 28, 2013

      Very perceptive – I think she was grimly determined, a gene that has passed down the generations – persistence is everything 🙂

      • ilargia64 · September 28, 2013

        🙂 Yes…I read about your license!!! 🙂

      • northumbrianlight · September 28, 2013

        🙂 Thank you 🙂

  2. Su Leslie · August 2, 2014

    What a beautiful young woman, and so sad that she isn’t remembered more fondly. I think sometimes the worst harm in family feuds is the way that children absorb the propaganda as truth and it affects their relationships with family members. I grew up with my mother’s antipathy towards an aunt, only to discover she was a lovely, funny and extremely kind woman when I met her as an adult.

    • northumbrianlight · August 3, 2014

      She is lovely isn’t she, quite different from the bandy-legged slightly stooped old lady I knew. I will never know how fair or unfair was the criticism of Florence May but those responsible for the harsh words could have been much more discreet. It is good that you got to know and like your aunt – my grandmother was gone long before I could ever really get to know her. Thanks for the interesting comments Su.

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