Saturday, 31 January 2009

On Ugly Blankets

Living in Britain has taught me that when the sun shines you make hay; this is to say that I have learned to take full advantage of sunny days. Unlike in Italy where we have one weather-forecast in about April / May which says something like: "Sunny outlook till October. See you again in about five or six months for the autumn forecast", here even the merest hint of warmth and sunshine is met with ludicrous levels of enthusiasm.
Out comes the paddling pool for the kids, off come their clothes; toys and hats and sun cream (SPF 50 because the sun is fierce at 53° N) and blankets all find their way onto the lawn. You always have to have a blanket out so that the kids can take it, put some soft fruit or yoghurt in it (often both) then crumple it up and stuff it into a bush or a corner of the garden where the contents can ferment away.

On Sunday my in-laws came round for an obligatory barbecue. After the meal I sat with my 70 year old father-in-law in the shade drinking a couple of beers when he spotted the crumpled up blanket. The blanket, I should add, is the horrid synthetic fleecy thing shown in the picture above: beige with brown rhinos on one side, and brown with beige rhinos on the other side. I've wanted to throw it away many times, but for some reason hadn't.

"My goodness, that blanket has done the rounds" announced my father-in-law.

"Tell me" I replied.

"We bought the blanket in '67 when we moved to Africa. We got off one of the last passenger liners that went from Southampton to Cape Town and boarded the slowest train in the world to Zambia. It took five days to get to Lusaka and it went through South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and up to Zambia. The train was so slow that local people in Botswana could at times walk besides the train and sell things. It was a poverty stricken area and these people were selling all sorts of stuff. We bought two blankets, a toy gun for David and a wooden carving of a dug-out canoe with a bird on the front. I don't know where the other things are. I think David has got the canoe. The toy gun has long gone. I remember David dropped it out of the window, so I had to jump out, get the toy and then run back and hop onto the moving train. The locals cheered me on as I caught up with it."

"And the blanket?"

"Oh, that came with us to Zambia. It has covered all the kids at one time or another. David at first, then John, and when Paula was born it passed to her. It was even Badger's blanket for a while.
After a few years in Lusaka we moved to Kitwe. We sent all our stuff ahead but took a few things with us, including the blanket. Packing it all into a Fiat 500, all five of us then drove north. On the way we acquired a small deer and a chicken. And then we got into a swarm of insects which caked the windscreen so much that I couldn't see out. Because we wanted to save water we used Coca Cola to wash the insects away from the windscreen. It works a treat."

I was tempted to let him go off on tangents typical of someone who has a life's worth of stories to tell, letting him recount his African memoirs, but I wanted to know about the blanket

"You obviously brought it back to England..."

"Yes, when we came back from Africa the blanket came with us, we came back via Kenya, Pakistan and Lebanon. What a marvelous country Lebanon was; full of cedars..."

"And the blanket moved with you every time?"

"Yes, once back in England we lived with my sister for a bit, then moved into Whitehouse Lane, then Holmwood, then Lone Stack. You probably ended up with the blanket when we sold Lone Stack. How long have you been in this house now?"

I replied "Nine years" and mused that now the blanket was at the mercy of my kids. My 6 year old boy first, then my 3 year old daughter, too, stoically, if that can be said of a blanket, enduring further use and abuse. In what obviously has become a bit of a tradition, it even provided some comfort for our cat. I think the ugly blanket will continue to stay with us for a long time.

And to think I was going to throw it away.


  1. Which continent did it smell most like?

  2. Oh Franny, I have a blue blanket like that, I had it shipped in a one of five boxes I brought with me from Africa.

    I t worth it's weight in gold.