Of brylcreem and a Triumph roadster

Julian Barnes in The New Yorker:

THE PAST CONDITIONAL
What Mother would have wanted.

Barnesohlbaum I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him. That’s what I say when the question is put. I once asked my brother, who has taught philosophy at Oxford, Geneva, and the Sorbonne, what he thought of such a statement, without revealing that it was my own. He replied with a single word: “Soppy.”

The person to begin with is my maternal grandmother, Nellie Louisa Scoltock, née Machin, who was a schoolteacher in Shropshire until she married my grandfather Bert Scoltock. Not Bertram, not Albert, just Bert: so christened, so called, so buried. He was a headmaster with a certain mechanical dash to him: a motorcycle-and-sidecar man, then the owner of a Lanchester, then, in retirement, the driver of a rather pompously sportif Triumph Roadster, with a three-person bench seat in front and two bucket seats when the top was down. By the time I knew my grandparents, they had retired and come south to be near their daughter. My grandmother went to the Women’s Institute: she pickled and bottled; she plucked and roasted the chickens and geese my grandfather raised. She was petite, outwardly unopinionated, with the thickened knuckles of old age; she needed soap to get her wedding ring off. Their wardrobe was full of home-knitted cardigans, Grandpa’s tending to feature more masculine cable-stitch. They were of that generation advised by dentists to have all their teeth out in one go. This was a normal rite of passage then: from being rickety-gnashered to fully porcelained in one leap, to all that buccal sliding and clacking, to social embarrassment and the foaming glass on the bedside table.

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