Ninety-seven years ago, in Claughton Village on the Wirral Peninsula, a baby girl was born who grew up to be – among other things – my grandmother. Mary Magdalene Preston, née Mackin. My lovely Nan.
I’ve dedicated The Weaverfields Heir (coming 22nd June) to my Nan and Grandad, Mary and Tom Preston. Grandad was a builder, an occupation and business that features heavily in the novel. Nan was one of my inspirations to write.
I didn’t realise that at the time. Teenaged boys rarely do. But I know now.
She was a wonderful storyteller. She held me spellbound, effortlessly, with tales of big family childhood days involving all the siblings and cousins I knew as grown-ups, and of Saturdays and school holidays helping in the dockland café her family ran; of long hard hours when she entered “service” as a maid straight from school; and of how she’d worked her way up to the position of cook by the time she was twenty-five.
She used to grin and wink when she reached the bit where she got the job of Head Cook in a big hospital just as the Second World War started, which always suggested to me that there’d been a degree of blagging involved.
Because she was a blagger, and proud of it. She’d definitely kissed the Blarney Stone, which no doubt helped her move on from the hospital to a better job in a posh school after the war, and then helped her move up the ladder again a few years later to the position of Catering Manager in a big maritime manufacturing company on the banks of the River Mersey.
That was where she was when I came along. She stayed with that company for the rest of her working life, overseeing a scarily busy commercial kitchen that served hundreds of employees in the working men’s cavernous café, a smarter café for the office workers, the managers’ quiet restaurant, and the directors’ luxurious dining room.
When I say she was a blagger, I don’t mean she couldn’t do her job. I remember how not only her personal office but also that whole huge kitchen and all the restaurants were filled with her personality. She shaped the place, and there was no blagging involved in that.
What I mean is that in her early life, she never let anything prevent her from shooting for her dreams. She would assure the appropriate someone that a task was well within her capabilities, and then she’d make sure it was. Somehow. Always. She was like a swan, all smiling capability on the surface while she paddled like hell under the water. That was a big part of her storytelling skill, too.
Thank you, Nan. I still hear your stories in your lovely voice, all these years later, and I still smile. You’ve never left me. I love you. Happy Birthday.