great aunt tilda, a funny old malt*
by Raine Geoghegan
me great aunt tilda, now there was a character, a funny old malt. she was me dad’s aunt on the lane side of the family. she always wore men’s clothes, dark coloured trousers, shirts, waistcoats, a black stadi with a gold ‘at pin on the side and a little purple feather. she smoked a swiggler, her fingers yellowed from nicotine. she carried a carpet bag wherever she went, inside a flask of strong black tea with a little drop of panni in it. she’d refuse anyone else’s tea, sayin’, ‘yer never know what they put in it.’ she spoke in a deep voice. when she got in a temper it grew deeper, us gels would be frit to death.
every friday night she’d go the brown bear, ‘ave a few drinks with the family, often getting skimmished and if granny amy was there she’d end up fightin’ and cursin.’ the men would ‘ave to pull ‘er off me granny, they just couldn’t get on, those two. before she went ‘ome, she’d shout out. ‘i’ve’ad enough of this place, I’m goin’ ‘ome to get a sooti.’ she’d walk all the way ‘ome, over seven miles. she never would get on a bus, didn’t matter ‘ow far she ‘ad to go.
when she turned sixty, she packed up ‘er covels and went to the care ‘ome in shepperton, phil common it was called. we all thought it strange but she said that she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. she still went calling and did ‘er little bit of shoppin’ but that was ‘er ‘ome until she died, I think it was some eighteen years later. she’d never married, said she was ‘appy without an ‘usband. sometimes, she told jokes and rokkered a lot in romani, ‘rokker more romanes’, she’d say.
if someone was ill or grievin’, she’d say, ‘I’ll burn a bit’ve salt for ‘em.’ If someone got in a car or did something adventurous, she’d say ‘if yer goes and kills yerself, don’t come
back and blame me.’ me dad always spoke of ‘er but he used to make us laugh
when he said, ‘our tilda’s a funny old
malt, always’s ‘as been, always’s will be.’
* * * * *
*Glossary: Stadi – trilby hat, panni – brandy, swiggler – pipe, calling – buying and selling clothes, rokkered – spoke, skimmished, tipsy/drunk. malt – woman, sootti – a good sleep
"great aunt tilda, a funny old malt" was previously published on the Ofi Press online literary journal in 2018, as well as in the author's pamphlet, they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog by Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2019.
Raine Geoghegan, MA is a poet and prose writer of Romany, Irish and Welsh descent living in the Malvern Hills, UK. She is a Pushcart Prize, Forward Prize and Best of the Net 2018 nominee. Her work has been published internationally in print and online with: Poetry Ireland Review; Under the Radar; The Travellers’ Times and many more. Her first pamphlet, Apple Water: Povel Panni was launched in December 2018 and previewed at Ledbury Poetry Festival in July 2018. Her latest pamphlet, they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog is out now with Hedgehog Press.