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Happy Birthday!

Today is my gran's birthday. She would be 94 if she was still with us. I miss her. The 'wee wummin wi white curly hair in a tartan bunnet' was probably how most people thought of her. She used to keep her money in that fuzzy tartan bunnet, before that she'd keep it tucked into the side of her bra, as did her sisters. Always on the go, always doing something, "keep them going" was her mantra and it applied to everything from cups of hot stewed tea to the folk at the door looking for money, to the biddy beside her on the bus.

She'd say she would leave me her wedding ring which was sometimes a large amber stone set in silver, or a large, usually blue, mood ring set in whatever cheap metal those things come in. And her pancake recipe. I have none of those treasures, but what I do have is her creativity, her imagination, her love of story and sometimes her hysteria. My gran would barter fruit bun or pancakes for just about anything - a chicken, a ticket for the bus, sometimes a pair of curtains. Her fruit cake and her big fat pancakes were delicious and usually came about a ¼ inch deep in butter, but it wasn't necessarily the thing itself which made her bartering work. It was the sheer belief that it could be done. Those chickens weren't birds running around farm yards, they were supermarket birds, on the shelf, in the supermarket - and they were bartered for, no cash exchanged, no check out line to wait in. A straight exchange with the butcher. Done. Simple. And out the door. Keep them going.

She used to take me to the fish market in the Saltmarket in Glasgow. I was terrified and exhilarated and in awe all at once - those women with the breasts that came to rest below their bellies, thick hairs sticking out of chins, bright yellow plastic aprons and wellington boots; cackling and swearing and laughing like a bunch of fishwives. And they all knew her, because really she was one of them. She was a 'wegie fishwife, with her stories of a childhood of abuse and neglect - stories she never told us, but which broiled below the stories of her childhood we were told: sharing one can of condensed milk between 20 kids, running from the ticket man on the ferry across the Clyde, fighting with her sisters over the one pair of stockings the 5 of them shared.

My gran's garden was always full of flowers, even in winter with snow covered lawn there would be flowers. She'd buy those plastic flowering plants, uproot them from their plastic soil and plant them in her own garden. From a distance they looked real. The fences and garden walls were draped with plastic honeysuckle or bougainvillea or even Hawaiian leis. My granda was a great gardener and he worked with real plants and real flowers, but you'd always see the out of season daffodils or tulips first. And there'd be gnomes. There was magic around. Chaos and mess, and magic.

The most influential person in my life - for her strengths and her foibles, her cunning use of plastic thread, her pale blue eyes, her wit and her neuroses and those pancakes, I am so grateful. Happy Birthday Peggy Mitchell, I miss you.

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