Hand in glove
Until I was fifteen, I had two Grannies. My paternal granny was always known as Granny Kim on account of her eponymous, over-stuffed cat which resembled a large tabby cushion and used to lie on the half-landing of her staircase in a sunspot meditating fatly. Granny had only one arm. The other was lost in The First World War. Amputated on account of gangrene, not mislaid. She was a nurse as so many of the women of her generation were. She never expected to marry after losing her limb. With the over-abundance of women to the dreadfully depleted stock of men when peace followed the tragically dubbed ‘war to end all wars’, she rather felt that her fate was dancing with other spinster women and dreaming of a never-to-be love. However in time, quite some time, she met my Grandfather who had had his vocal chords severed by the village doctor during an emergency traceotomy as a child and from then on could only speak in a whisper – as a point of interest he spoke nine languages fluently in his whisper. From time to time I remember to contemplate the thanks I owe the physician who, respecting his hippocratic oath, in that moment saved a young boy’s life and by doing so gave me the chance of birth. Granny Kim used to say that they were two cripples together. I imagine these days she might be shushed and cautioned against deflowering delicate sensibilities with her candid comment.
Granny Kim (who I have written about before) was irresistibly irreverent. She had seemingly no filter between what was in her head and what came out of her mouth. For example the busty girl tottering down the seafront in tightest of tight, scoopiest of scooped angora sweater must clearly have heard the shrilly uttered ‘VERY uplifted’ from the neat tweed clad old woman tottering toward her. And the French neighbour of my own new to motherhood mummy proudly showing off her own newborn to Granny was asked what she had called the child. ‘James’, replied Madame. ‘And James was a very small snail’ said Granny. It’s A A Milne, from ‘The Four Friends’ but the French lady, so my mother reports, was visibly and vividly offended and operated the etiquette of ‘on ne peut plus se voir’ which as Mel of France Says explains ever eloquently here means ‘you cannot be seen’ and literally makes the recipient invisible ever after. My mother wondered if she imagined Granny was calling her sprog a frog. She wasn’t. She was saying the first thing that popped into her head. I have the same tendency. I try to control it. I frequently fail.
So what is that preamble about. Well, with only one arm Granny had a drawer FULL of single gloves kindly donated by countless people over the years who had mislaid it’s pair. She found it ceaselessly amusing that people never stopped in their surge of waste-not-want-not good heartedness, to think that their gift was only useful if it happened to be the correct glove for Granny’s remaining hand. Therefore she had a quite magnificent collection of single gloves languishing in tissue paper which she had graciously accepted rather than burst anyone’s bubble of well meant intent.
Which brings me to Grenoble. Grenoble was, for many years the capital of glove-making in France. The giants of glove-making made fortunes and the most revered of all was a man named Xavier Jouvin. He has an entire quartier dedicated to his name – looking over the river it is lovely and there is a large statue of him in the middle of it’s main square. I have become very fascinated with Xav and found out that he is most revered for having created a form of mass-production of gloves. He fashioned a machine that could cut up to SIX pairs, six mind you, of identical gloves at one go. Breathtaking in 1838. When I leave Grenoble, it will be with a pair of hand-made Grenoblois gloves to remember my time by.
You might recall that I was previously living in a positively palatial apartment provided by the institute that my husband was doing a tranche of work for in the first 6 months of this year. Amongst other delights it had corinthian columns and as the time approached to leave it I seriously considered chaining myself to these pillars and refusing to leave. I had however, a last-minute change of heart and decided that I would leave quietly and with gratitude for the time we had spent there. Sugaring pills tends to provide incentive, I find. My candied pellet is this: the place we found, the small apartment that is less than a third of the size of the other, is contained in what the French call Un Hôtel Particulier which is in effect a grand residence built as the town house for someone of importance. Guess who? Well so far, I know it was one of the great glovemen but I am not able to finitely say which one. Of course I hope its M. Jouvin Xavier. I am currently researching more thoroughly but this oasis in the centre of Grenoble has given me the rare chance to live in a very special building that retains much of it’s original fabric. From the hand painted walls in the entrance hall to the beautiful tiling and ceilings it is wonderful. I have the luxury of a terrace and a garden and best of all I have a double curved staircase up to the front door which makes me feel that I should be wearing kid gloves and matching slippers with some sort of an empire line Lizzy Bennet dress and bonnet with thick silky ribbons neath my chinny chin chin, at all times. My quarters are exquisite, dare I say better than the last place and also retain a cornucopia of original features. If you would like, I will share the innards of this place I am occupying … I’m happy to but I never want to overtax with tedium..
PS: Granny Kim was fond of reciting this poem and peeling with laughter at it’s quite gasping ghastliness. I had never paid it much heed except to recite it idly and wince when having flashbacks to Granny Kim in her hammock. Until today, when incubating this post it popped into my head spontaneously and inevitably. I thought I should find out who IS responsible for this vacuous verse.
It was written by a woman called Frances Darwin Cornford. She was the grand-daughter of the immeasurably brilliant Charles Darwin. Ironically it seems that the father of evolutionary theory had a somewhat poorly evolved grandchild. As it turns out
G K Chesterton agreed with me. Read his wonderfully ascerbic response to this quite appalling effort, please do …
To A Lady Seen From A Train
Frances Darwin Cornford
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much
The Fat White Woman Speaks
G K Chesterton
Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?
And as a bonus because I swiped it for my title, The Smiths belt out ‘Hand in Glove’ in Glasgow on this date (September 25th) 1985 – it fits perfectly, as all good gloves should