The way things are going, Plashing Vole may as well become the Daily Telegraph obituary page (the best bit of that newspaper, by the way). Today, two days after my beloved grandmother died, my Aunt Margaret passed away of pancreatic cancer. She wasn't particularly old and we'd hoped she was beating this particularly vicious variant: only a few months ago she was well enough to fly out to Hong Kong for her son's wedding.
Margaret was my uncle Patrick's wife. Dumped into a large, boisterous, opinionated and mostly male family, she coped with us through a combination of gin and a very dry sense of humour. Egos were deflated and pomposity pricked with deft ease and wit. She brought common sense and a degree of proportion which were sometimes in short supply: she was a great ally to my grandmother.
Just as with my grandmother, my most prominent memory of Margaret is linked to gin. This time though, I was the consumer. I landed an interview at the university in the town in which she lived, so went over early in the morning planning to look round the place, meet her for a coffee, then go for the interview in the afternoon. She had a different plan. Her plan was to have a long and liquid lunch, and it was probably the first time I'd ever spent time alone with her. She plonked down two large gins and tonic, the first I'd ever tried, and they were soon followed by more clinking glasses until she realised that my interview was about to start. I was way beyond that kind of perception by this stage, which was enormously helpful. For once, I wasn't a nervous, shambling wreck (my Cambridge interview was a disaster: I forgot the plots of my favourite novels and walked into the doorpost on the way out) and had a really enjoyable time at the interview. The interviewer seemed to like me and offered me a place on the spot with a tariff of two E grades, and gave me a copy of my headmaster's reference ('Vole does not deserve a place at any university. He is a troublemaker and is entirely without merit'). All thanks to Margaret and her Bottomless Glasses of Gin.
I am, like Bertie Wooster, blessed with Aunts. They are all funny, fearsomely clever, practical and enormously likeable (and forbearing). Margaret was the first of her generation in the family to go and I shall miss her terribly. What I'd like now is a pause of several decades before I lose another.