Edna meets her friend Pearl most Tuesday afternoons for conversation fuelled by gin and orange squash. If you’ve had the good fortune to read Carys Bray‘s novel The Museum Of You, you will already know this. Edna Mackerel features prominently as young Clover Quinn’s next-door neighbour. She is known for her plain-speaking. Investigating a racket next-door to find Becky, Clover’s mother, on all fours and yelling in pain, Edna exhorted her to “SHUT HER GOB and OPEN HER LEGS!”, before delivering Clover on the kitchen floor (which afterwards she mopped). She also has a tendency to mix up her words. But while Edna and Pearl may be elderly, they both have all their ‘facilities’.
“… Every surface – windowsill, television stand, a small display cabinet and the mantelpiece – is decorated with them, all slightly different but essentially the same: whitewashed walls and thatched roofs with tiny flower-filled gardens wrapped by hedges. The houses have names like Rose Cottage, Thistle Cottage and Midnight Cottage. Clover used to line them up on the carpet when she was younger, deciding which she liked best, which she would live in if she were a centimetre tall. […] this particular collection mystifies Clover. Mrs Mackerel […] would hate living in the countryside – if anything from outdoors ever sneaks inside she takes off her slipper and fights it to the death. “But how does an apparently unsentimental woman accumulate so much kitsch? In her own – sometimes gloriously misspoken – words, Edna sheds some light on this in Roots And Wings, Carys Bray’s wry and tender story which broadcasts tomorrow on Radio 4. Edna also has plenty to say on bereavement, parenthood and the shortcomings of municipal refuse collection.
Susan Jameson did fine work before and has done a lot more since, but in my head she was fixed as ‘Jessie Seaton’ from When The Boat Comes In. As a teenager in the 70s, watching the series on our black-and-white TV, I had no inkling that one day I would get to work with her. So there was a layer of childish delight when she agreed to read Roots And Wings. Needless to say, she brings Edna to life on air completely, finding not only the humour and resilience but also a spirituality that I suspect Edna keeps hidden in her everyday dealings with the world.
While this is Edna’s story, do not underestimate her friend Pearl. She “caught more than a hundred shoplifters when she worked as a store detective!” And her “coffee walnut cake was the best in Merseyside!” Pearl has unorthodox views about funeral cover. And she used to have a saying taped to her fridge: “To our children we give two things, one is roots, the other wings.”
But to find out what Edna makes of that, you’ll have to tune in.
Roots And Wings by Carys Bray will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Friday 5 May 2017, and available for 30 days thereafter on BBC iPlayer.
photo credit: tubblesnap <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7317295@N04/14200298695″>Lilliput Lane</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>