Lockdown: Aunties, buns and doggerel by Sandra Horn


What with lockdown and the weather, it’s been hard going these last weeks! On the plus side, I have been slowly mutating into my aunties, beloved bakers and knitters and stitchers, joys of my childhood. They were limited in their aspirations by time and circumstance, but content with their lots, so it seemed. I was the only girl born for many years, so was the happy recipient of beautiful clothes – smocked dresses, knitted cardigans… and oodles of pocket money for doing little errands for them. Now, with no need to be striving to be ‘someone’ outside the house, I’ve been learning the contentment of housewifery. I don’t mean dusting or hoovering,by the way, nothing so drastic, just making. Supplies of cheese straws (recipe courtesy of Auntie Sheila) go out to a friend in a nursing home. We are growing fat on home-made scones and biscuits and buns.

  Then there’s the knitting. I make things for Knit for Peace and CRIBS. I’m not a natural and often have to start again a couple of times before it’s right, but it is pleasing when something useful emerges.


Being confined by the virus makes me think in particular of Auntie Jean. Family legend had it that Jean ‘didn’t go out.’ Not that she was agoraphobic, but her world encompassed her house, husband, three boys, beautiful garden, and the family house just over the road from the twitten they lived in. Everybody, then, lived within walking distance of that house and hardly a day went by when we didn’t meet there. It didn’t have a bathroom for years, so bathnight was at Jean’s. There would be a strung-out procession of folk with towels crossing the road and coming back looking dampish. Jean, always with a twinkle in her eye and a liking for mischief, had what would be called a ‘dirty chuckle’, often heard. Once, she came into the house clutching a letter and looking utterly devastated. Everyone clustered round asking what the matter was, and finally, in a broken voice, she said, ‘They’ve put the rent up.’ ‘Don’t worry, we’ll help,’ said the others, ‘How much is it?’ ‘A shilling a week,’ said, Jean, as her turned-down mouth changed to a grin. We’d all been had again.

She couldn’t keep a secret to save her life, so if there was something in the wind that was being kept from the children for some reason, the answer was to ask Auntie Jean. She would writhe a bit and say she wasn’t supposed to tell – but she always gave in.


So, is that it? Am I as contented? Not entirely. The auntification has only been partly successful. The hours still stretch away and one must fill them somehow and not just with homecrafts – there are only so many buns to be consumed and only so much knitting to be sweated over. There is some sense of satisfaction, but they don’t fill the fizzing, demanding bit of the brain, whichever bit it is. So I have signed up to another Live Canon poetry course called Writing Science. So far, Maths, Physics, Sci-fi, Geology, Chemistry and Medicine tutorials have been more than enough to meet the demand – especially Chemistry and the periodic table. I panicked and could only manage a regressive bit of doggerel:


The naming of elements

 Immaterium: has it been found? Is it of use? Who cares?

Hyperbolium: looks bigger than it is – it’s prone to put on airs.

Fabricatium: its properties are simply unbelievable

Antimatterium: is brain-taxingly inconceivable!

Unobtanium and mythium are the subjects of irate

Exchanges between scientists. Bloxham and Smithson state

That they are non-identical, a rancorous debate

With Parsonage and Wilkins-Spore, supported by the late

Arch-alchemist of Walsingham that well-known addlepate

Who posited, based on the colour of the flame with which they burned

That they were the same thing, but both ideas were spurned

When mass spectrometry was used on samples of the pair

And found that there was nothing but the thinnest of thin air.


I’ll get me coat – or maybe get back to the kitchen.


Umberto Tosi said…
Delightful and mouthwatering post, Sandra! I've never been much of a baker but cooking is my avocation - a creative activity that allows me to produce results far faster than writing -- and good stuff to eat. Stay well and happy and keep those scones, biscuits and buns coming!
Jan Needle said…
Lovely nap, Sandra. I'm using voice activated because of my eyesight disaster, and the second word should have been that, not met, not now, not now, not nap( hooray, at last!). I was also lucky with my auntie is, because my mum was the worlds worst letter mr literal letter( oh I'll do it by hand: KNITTER damn you software.) To save her pride, auntie Betty sometimes used to let her knit some part or other of my latest jumper, which led to many humiliations. For me, that is. I once had a Christmas jersey with one sleeve twice as long as the other. Sisters, eh.( and I had to tell mom– or mum, in English comment Danny wants more, which should read comma Damn you once more) software.

Bloody hell, I'm exhausted! please send bonds( buns), and lots of 'em!
Ruth Leigh said…
Sandra, this is an absolute joy of a post! Like a plum pudding which yields not one but many silver sixpences. Love your aunties, love the anecdotes, LOVE the fact that you have somehow managed to weave a humorous ode out of chemical elements. Brilliant!
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks so much, Sandra. Real people! Wonderful.
Reb MacRath said…
Wonderful post, Sandra. It got me thinking of all the aunts and uncles I knew in my childhood--but only one of whom has stayed with me, in mind. Aunt Mary. I remember a beautiful white-haired woman who astonished us all in our visits--because she'd out only a small tray of candies and/or cookies. And the other refreshments would be things we never got at home...or could bring ourselves to eat: chopped celery, carrots, cucumbers, etc. We came to see less and less of her, partly because of that but also because she never gossiped or would stand to hear a bad word about anyone else.

Nevertheless, I remembered her and would think of her flawless complexion and the scandalous tales of how she would still drive across the country--in her early eighties--as a single woman.

Well, I can't turn into aunty, of course. But I've never stopped thinking about her or trying to emulate her healthy and positive life.
What a lovely post! Aren't Aunties special? I love the idea of combining poetry with chemistry. I'm hopeless at both, would two negatives make a positive in that case?
Sandra Horn said…
Thank you so much, kind people! Jan, I do hope there is something to be done about your eyes - ? A virtual hug and buns to you!
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Sandra, sorry I'm late!
Comfort in food, family, and craft. I think you have a winning formula. :D

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