Madame Charlatan. Telling Misfortunes under a fog of musk and a cloud of fag-ash…….
My Granny Charlatan was as mad as a box of frogs. She was also fiercely independent and a deadeye with a 12 bore. Grandad Charlatan’s smallholding was her fortress and since his death she defended it like a demon, whether that be from man or beast. Her intent would never be to kill or even permanently injure, but if she could deter visitors by peppering an arse with buckshot, that was a good day in her books.
My Mother never married and Granny Charlatan let us live in a caravan in the corner of an unused field. When I was 21 my Mother kicked me out and took off with our home. As I watched the caravan bounce down the lane on its semi-inflated wheels, my Granny kissed me on the cheek with her food-encrusted face and said I could live in the cottage with her. It only had one bedroom, so we made a cosy corner in the scullery. Occasionally I had to share it with a sick chicken, but it gave me some privacy and it was my home till I met my late husband.
I have my Granny to thank for my cooking skills. She was never a fancy cook, but she could rustle up a tripe sandwich before you could say ‘peckish’. And having grown up with rationing, she was quite the dab hand at making cakes with whatever was available. You sometimes had to pluck a feather out, but there was always a cake on Saturdays for when we’d finished with the chores. With an abundance of fowl flapping about the place, there seemed to be a never-ending supply of duck or goose fat to use. Granny Charlatan wouldn’t buy anything if she thought she could use bird fat to do the job; cooking, greasing bicycle chains, sealing leaky pipes, skin moisturiser. The woman was nothing if not resourceful.
Always in a flannelette nightie and wellington boots, whatever the weather, indoors or out, clothing was of the ‘make do and mend’ variety. She did like to crochet, but poor eyesight and impatience conspired against the dextrous needlework required. I kept some of my Granny’s creations, though the shawls resemble cobwebs and the blankets are about as practical as a chainlink fence. None of them much good for keeping me warm, but the local Scouts have used a couple for netting on their goalposts.
My Granny’s dying breath was taken as she plucked a brace of pheasants one sunny winter morning. I found her slumped over a bucket of feathers, smile on her face, bowl of guts by her side. She couldn’t have wished for a better way to go. We often reminisce about it. My talent as a Misfortune-Teller and my connections with the spirit world offer us the chance to ‘cross the divide’ and take a trip down memory lane. She asks after my Mother (who isn’t too well at the moment) and my Granny wonders how she ever gave birth to such a wayward child. I think they’re not so unalike.
I’d already met my husband and moved out when my Granny died, and it was left to me to put the smallholding up for sale and hope that someone wanted a delapidated cottage with a couple of acres of randomly adopted wildlife. And they did. But then they turned it into a Crazy Golf Course. There’s now a miniature windmill on the very spot where my Granny popped her clogs.
Granny Charlatan certainly left her mark on the world. Mostly on the backsides of local kids who came to scrumpy apples on her land. And on the behind of the odd frightened wild bunny, who didn’t know its destiny lay in a roasting tin. Even now, if I hear a car backfire, I think of my Granny, taking aim at some poor unsuspecting rambler who’s missed their path marker and is now staring down the barrel of a 12 bore.
Putting the Shame back into Shaman