I don’t suppose my mother and father had bells at their wedding. You didn’t, at a registry office in the early 1970s. My mother didn’t wear white; she wore a cream pant suit with a brown satin blouse, an elaborate pussy bow at the collar. She didn’t carry flowers.
Our first telephone was blood red, with a curly wire and a plastic dial. It was positioned on a sideboard in the hall. My mother sat on the stairs, muttering ‘Ring, ring,’ under her breath. Eventually it did, and her own mother’s voice came crackling through the line. Unsurprising really, since she was the only other person we knew who had a phone, but the delight on Mum’s face was tangible.
There were only two other items that lived on that sideboard: a framed photograph from the wedding, their serious faces gazing out at the lives that lay ahead of them, and a bell-shaped bottle.
Bell’s whisky. A ceramic decanter, in colours of brown and cream, enhanced with gold. As a child I would pick it up, listen to the sloshing of the liquid within, and wait for a chime, a ring, that never came. I still considered it the height of sophistication, and the only alcohol I ever saw in the house apart from Mateus rose at Christmas, in bottles that were also saved and later used as candle holders.
Just because I didn’t see it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Just because there was always liquid in the bell doesn’t mean that it wasn’t often emptied, and refilled. Mum became a near-permanent fixture on the stairs, telephone in one hand, glass in the other. The phone her connection to the outside world, the whisky her way of going inside.
There will be bells at the funeral.