DJ Taylor: Mrs Gillespie is a very disgruntled gran

 

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Mrs Gillespie walked down the aisle with her husband Keith some time in the early 1960s – long enough ago, at any rate, for her friends to be able to say, with no irony whatsoever, that she had "married beneath herself".

In strict demographic terms this was true, for Mr Gillespie was a property developer who had worked his way up from the building trade's brick-strewn lower rung, while his wife was the daughter of the former Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire. Despite these social divisions the marriage prospered, and when Mr Gillespie died in his early seventies – having made a mint out of the Lawson property boom – he left the mother of his three strapping sons an estate valued at very nearly two million pounds.

Ten years later, her offspring all married and gone away, "comfortably off" even by the standards of her cronies at the bridge club, Mrs Gillespie is a very unhappy woman. Why is this? The problem, alas, is the children. It is not that they don't love and esteem her. It is not that they don't come regularly to see her, or send her affectionate cards on the anniversary of Mr Gillespie's passing. It is merely that when the two lines of family tradition came together, the building site won out. None of them, for example, could be persuaded to attend a university. The business ventures they are engaged upon tend to involve freezer showrooms and hot-tub franchises. Mrs Gillespie wouldn't dream of criticising the "very nice girls" they married, or the lurid ostentation of their homes. It is just that…

The worst of it is the grandchildren. There are seven of them now. The boys have names like Ryan and Brandon. One of the girls was christened (Mrs Gillespie insisted on the christening) Luanne. Their grandmother loves them dearly, but she does wish that they had been called Peter, Harry and Catherine and sent to schools that would teach them not to say "you know" three times in every sentence.

It is not overstating the case to say that the junior Gillespies' defiance of their heritage is the great tragedy of their mother's life. Certainly, on the Christmas Day some years ago when her youngest son instructed his daughter, on leaving the house, to "say goodbye to your Nan", it is a fact that she went up to her bedroom and there, beneath the photographs of her husband and the Lord Lieutenant at his gate, quietly wept.

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