One step into my mum’s kitchen and she offers me a glass of wine,
“Or are you still teetotal?” my mum asks.
“A juice for me will be fine, thanks.”
‘Teetotal’ is such an unfashionable word somehow. Hearing it immediately takes me back to being a little girl and spending time in the company of my beloved Welsh grandmother. She was brought up during the early 1900s in a small coal mining town in the valleys of South Wales, where the Welsh chapel stood at the heart of the community and ‘taking the pledge’ was part of chapel culture.
I adored my grandmother. She was a fantastic story-teller, relishing the dramatic and forever humourous. To be honest, a strong, lyrical Welsh accent goes some way to enrich delivery when it comes to performance. She would tell me how she and her (eight?) brothers and sisters would sit at the feet of her father, captivated by the stories he’d read from the Welsh bible and how “diar (gosh), but he was a good man”. I used to love hearing her read in Welsh. What an awesome, dazzling language. I couldn’t understand a word of it.
So my grandmother didn’t drink. Or if she did, she was the type who’d have a sherry at Christmas and act the fool – accidentally on purpose and for the benefit of making us children laugh. She had a sister (one of four, I think) called Olwen who without possessing any of my grandmother’s artifice was just as comical. At my parent’s wedding, Olwen who had never touched a drop of alcohol in her life, was apparently quite bewitched by the deliciousness of the ‘special lemonade’ that was merrily dished out at the reception and proceeded to get fantastically pissed. Nobody had the heart to tell her the lemonade was booze. Olwen was a simple creature. After spending most of her adult life in service to a school mistress spinster called Miss Butler, she eventually found love and (once Miss Butler had passed away), married a Welsh Chapel minister called Ivor, much to the surprise of everyone it would seem. The Olwen I knew was elderly and frail and talked a confusing mix of Welsh and English. She taught me to crochet. She had the gift to find the good in any thing and any one but most of all, the nine year old me loved her because she was my grandmother’s older sister, and that was as good a reason as any.
“Yes,” I say to my mum. “I’m still teetotal. Who’d have thought it?!”
It’s quite a blast, truth be told.