When you think about it, old Dame Beddi cannot always have been Dame Beddi. At one point she must have been known as little Miss Beddi, graduating to becoming Mistress Beddi before she entered her prime as Madam Beddi. But I know nobody who called her as anything other than Dame Beddi.
In her old age, she had a cottage on the rustic southern outskirts of Saskerdil and it was there where I came across her when I was still a child myself. She had the knack of making the place homely and welcoming, so that even a street child like myself could relax and feel wanted.
But who had she been? What had she done?
There is a great burden laid upon those of us who attempt to chronicle our times. Whenever a Lady is introduced it is assumed that she will, in spite of current appearances, have had a complicated and adventurous career. At the very least she will have been mistress to a senior political figure and a much sought after crime lord, (ideally simultaneously) whilst at the same time running a major financial concern, overthrowing the state with her private army and writing a much acclaimed novel or two.
To be complete she must also have produced two delightful children, have kept her youthful figure and have regularly embarrassed her daughter by being mistaken for a slightly older sister.
Woe is me, unworthy teller of tales that I am; because it seems that Dame Beddi managed to tick remarkably few of these almost compulsory achievements off her list as she went through life.
Why then tell the story of one who failed so abjectly to live up to the standards now expected within the genre?
Firstly I am a poet and refuse point blank to pander to the rules laid down by others. Were I less of a gentleman I would make an obscene gesture in their direction. Fortunately for me I realise that you, dear reader, are too genteel to recognise the gesture even if I made it.
Secondly, and frankly most importantly, as a child I loved the old Dame as only a small child can love somebody who loves them with that unconditional love a mother will pour out on her offspring, no matter how undeserving they are.
Thirdly, I’m a writer and a piece of paper that remains blank at the end of the day is a sad reproach.
But back to Beddi, what did she achieve? Well she married well. By that I mean she married a decent hardworking man who was obviously devoted to her.
Then her children, what about them? Well she had six, which seems to indicate that her husband at least didn’t grow tired of her. I know most of her offspring, but sight if not by name, and will always raise my hat when I meet them. Most of them earn more than me, but the same could be said of a particularly dedicated dunnikin-diver. One does not need to be especially wise or virtuous to earn more than a poet. Still in her old age Beddi was proud of her children, and rightly so. She’d raised them to be decent people and they went on to marry and have children of their own which she doted on. For a time I was part of the litter of grandchildren and others who would play in her cottage. This generation I know better and still they treat me as family. They did everything their grandmother could have hoped for, and went a step further providing her with great-grandchildren to brighten her last years.
And finally she died. I will not say ‘passed away’ or fob you off with euphemisms. One morning she just never woke up. One of the great-grandchildren brought news to me at the barge, and Shena and I joined the mourners. Indeed I was one who helped carry her coffin. So cherished was she that rather than just take her to the corpse boat, it was decided to bury her at the bottom of the garden she loved. If you go that way now you’ll see the stone slab we placed on her grave. If it took six to carry her coffin it took a dozen of us to carry the slab.
On the slab they merely carved the words, ‘Beddi, daughter, sister, bride, mother, grandmother and so much more.’
So I apologise for this somewhat dull tale. There are no great deeds, no heroic feats; unless of course you include raising the next generation to be decent people? After all it’s something that folk the world reckons to be far wiser, wealthier and more successful than Dame Beddi have struggled with.
But what of Beddi? None of her descendants particularly wanted her cottage but they weren’t going to let it go to rack and ruin either. And whilst it was supposed to be locked up, you struggle to keep small children out of anywhere.
So I heard rumours, and one hushed day made my way to the cottage. I let myself in and just sat silently in the small kitchen-parlour. Three small children were playing happily with a kitten. As I watched I was sure I could hear a kettle whistling and I would swear I caught the smell of bread fresh from the oven.
One day the right person will take up residence and Dame Beddi will hand over to them. Until that day her descendants will watch over the cottage as the Dame once watched over them.