My aunt Betty could be a bitch. She was a master at the backhanded compliment, or occasionally simply rude and abusive. In particular, her bitchy side came across if my mother (her sister) or my grandparents bought anything new. It could be an item of clothing, or a piece of furniture. Her middle name wasn't 'Jealous', but it should have been.
Betty hated people 'getting ahead' if she wasn't. Her rage at Mum's new car in 1979 was spectacular. Mum's previous car had lasted since 1963 and at that point I took it over and kept it in the family. Mum had been putting money aside for years to buy a new car and was so proud to be able to show it to her sister; she thought Betty would be pleased for her. Betty, of course, was anything but and accused Mum of stealing money from their recently-dead mother's estate to buy the car. Betty's car at that time was early 70s and huge, a big old V8 that gobbled up the miles and the petrol in equal quantities. Until Mum bought her new little hatchback, Betty was fond of jibing in a very superior manner at Mum's '63 Beetle, joking nastily about the size of the engine and little Herbie's hill-climbing abilities, and how much better her big Falcon was.
When I bought my first horse at 16, a heavyset but stunning white grey galloway, Betty was quick to sneer that she was going to buy her daughter "a horse of greater quality". (It turned out to be an undistinguished bay and in all the photos she sent I never once saw it going properly on the bit.)
In the 1980s interest rates went skywards which was crap if you had a mortgage (Mum didn't) and great if you were trying to save. Mum's term deposits were doing well enough for her to spend a couple of grand on a new lounge suite and dining setting in 1985. By that time, Betty had been dead nearly four years; her raging bitterness had morphed into an aggressive cancer which saw her in the ground only six weeks from diagnosis. Mum and I were not invited to the funeral.
I thought at the time Betty would have put a hole in the ceiling if she'd seen the lounge suite and new table and chairs. She was probably watching from above (or below!) gibbering with rage.
This week, nearly thirty years later, I have replaced the dining setting with an early 1960s setting which better suits this mid-century house. I bought the table and chairs from two different eBay sellers but thankfully the wood colour is a good match. I have the 1980s one for sale on eBay and Gumtree and nobody seems to want it (bugger).
G and I moved it in yesterday and stood back admiring it. The table is teak and by Parker; it extends to 215 cm. The chairs are also teak, and the seats and spade-shaped backs are teal vinyl and in great condition; still padded after all these years. As I set them under the table for the first time Betty came to mind. She'd find fault with it or sneer that I bought a 'second-hand' dining suite.
We invited the Whingies to dinner. I told them we had bought some new furniture but wouldn't say what so I would have them intrigued. Mr Whingy, who came earlier in the afternoon to fix a couple of power points for us and install groovy new lights in the hallway, admired the table and said his mother had had one very similar. He loved the quality of the wood.
Whingy herself, however, was rather dismissive. "Oh, what was wrong with the old one?"
"It was out of place in this room," I answered. "This new one is very similar to the original one Mum bought in 1959. It suits the room better."
I was struck (not for the first time) at how very like aunt Betty Whingy is. I didn't need to wonder what Betty would say - Whingy said it! Like Betty, she never seems to be happy if someone ELSE gets something new - but you hear all about it in bold cap type if Whingy does.
Whingy, predictably, hated the chairs. "Oh, they're not as padded as your other chairs. They're very hard on my bottom. What's wrong with the other chairs? Why get rid of them?"
"I found the other chairs hard on my back, as they were very straight-backed. These chairs have a nice curved back," I responded politely, thinking, get some meat on your scrawny arse, you cow, and you won't find the chairs uncomfortable. "And I love the colour of these ones."
"I like the other setting." Whingy pointedly went and sat on the sofa while I dished out dinner, only returning to the 'hard' chairs to eat. I kept filling her wine glass. I find that helps. She's never as sour after a couple of wines.
Two hours later her grumpiness had faded to a grudging cheeriness but I was still marvelling at how like aunt Betty she is. I 'spoke to Mum' as I was cooking pudding - that is, I talked quietly out loud as I believe Mum still hangs around - and shared my thoughts on Betty and Whingy. Mum never really warmed to Whingy and thought she was rather like Betty, but I'd never seen the Bettiness so much in action as last night.
Anyway, I like my new dining setting. It's comfortable. It's beautifully designed and elegant. It makes the room look bigger and makes Mum's early-70s glass fronted teak display cabinet look like it belongs in the room too. I am not a fan of the display cabinet, but now I think I can live with it and it perhaps isn't as hideous as I think it is.
And here are the groovy new lights in the hallway. Whingy didn't find much fault with them; but by then she'd had a few. So I'll never know what Aunt Betty may have thought of them!