Snapshot: Falling in love with my niece
In this photo, I am sitting in my sister's flat in Sydney, holding her first baby, at one day old. A year on, not only are we celebrating her first birthday, and 12 months of my across-the-globe move, but I am also punching the air for some serious personal development. I finally understand what it is to fall in love.
I love my family, unconditionally. I love my friends, so much that it hurts to be so far away, missing weddings and birthdays, Friday night hugs. I have liked a great many people, I have fancied, lusted after and obsessed over quite few – but I have never met someone, looked them up and down and decided to love them for ever – until Lola. I didn't think I had it in me.
I remember holding her on that first day and thinking how wonderfully bizarre it all was, how intriguing it was. I remember the excitement, the anxiety, and all the worry – the pain of our parents being in England. But I didn't feel very much towards the little nude guinea pig in my arms. I think that's why (along with my terrible emotional naivety!) it was such a shock when, a few weeks later, I realised, in a subtle, loyal and strong way that only an auntie can, I had fallen head over heels for this baby girl and she would be my most favourite person for ever.
Lola, my darling love, you have taught me something before your dad has even lit the candles on your first birthday cake. My heart is not a callous and selfish dead canary hanging upside down in my rib cage, after all. You have offered me nothing in return, no gain or commitment – I don't expect you even really understand who I am, but I don't care. Falling in love is far too wonderful.
Playlist: Love across the religious divide
Wild Colonial Boy (traditional)
"There was a wild colonial boy / Jack Duggan was his name / He was born and raised in Ireland in a place called Castlemaine / He was his father's only son, his mother's pride and joy"
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I was born in central Glasgow in 1950, the third child of a Scottish mixed marriage. That is to say it was a religious mixed marriage: my dad was Catholic of Irish descent, my mum Scottish Protestant. Marrying across the religious divide in Glasgow was no small matter for them or, indeed, my two older siblings and myself. The toxin of religious bigotry hung on in the west of Scotland for a long time.
Our extended family's religious and political mix made for interesting parties. For example, Auntie Alice, one of Dad's five sisters, was a missionary nun in Africa whereas Uncle James, one of Mum's two brothers, led an Orange Order flute band. Indeed, when I married in England in 1973, some relatives refused to attend our C of E Protestant service.
Dad was a tool-maker and a shop steward at a Rolls-Royce factory. We had no telephone or car. This meant that visiting friends was a bit of a gamble and often a one-way trip, as buses stopped running quite early in the housing estates of Glasgow. There was lots of smoking, drinking and singing, and more drinking, at these impromptu gatherings. Not much eating, however, much to the chagrin of an English friend of mine visiting one New Year, who, after day three, disappeared to go looking for food.
The tradition at parties was for everyone to sing at least one song. My dad's stock song was The Wild Colonial Boy. This was sung whatever side of the family entertained. The Sash also featured for balance on occasion.
My dad died, aged 58, in 1972 so he never enjoyed his longed-for retirement and we never shared adulthood. In spite of having to leave school at 14, he was one of the most intelligent people I have known, but he couldn't sing for toffee. Something he unfortunately passed on to me.
We love to eat: Aunt Gladys's marmalade
3lb (1.3kg) Seville oranges
1 sweet orange
7½ (4.3l) pints of water
8½lb (3.8kg) granulated sugar (four bags)
Cut fruit in half, squeeze out juice and discard pips. Roughly chop skins and liquidise with enough of the water to cover (usually six or seven whizzes, so about a pint a whizz). Stand overnight in a preserving pail. Boil for an hour. Gradually add one bag of sugar at a time, bringing the marmalade back to the boil each time. Stir well and boil for another hour. Test and bottle as usual. Makes 16-19lb of marmalade.
I am 89, my young sisters are 82 and 75 and we still all make this recipe. I think of my aunt every time I spread my morning toast – family history if not immortality.
Gladys was mainly a self-taught cook and a good one: fortunately for her she had been taught the rudiments of cooking at school, as my grandmother (a relic of the Raj) did not cook. I don't know the origin of the marmalade recipe but it is definitely pre-second world war. But Gladys's cooking skills were displayed best at the tea table. I have tried (unsuccessfully) to reproduce her fairy cakes. Not the over-lauded/loaded cupcake but a wonderfully soft, springy little sponge cake flavoured with vanilla, sultanas and a smidgen of her marmalade – best eaten hot from the oven. Her fruit bread, fairy cakes, maids of honour, coconut macaroons and – glory of glories – battenberg cake, were regular teatime delights.
She aspired to the ownership of a teashop in refined Chislehurst, Kent but, unfortunately, my uncle (don't get me wrong – he was the kindest of men) felt it would be an affront to his ability to provide for his family. Times change!
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