• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 03
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On long grey January days I like to cast my mind back to the winter afternoons of my childhood, more than sixty years ago in Edinburgh. One of my fondest memories is of sitting by the kitchen range next to Mum waiting for ‘Listen with Mother’ presenter Daphne Oxenford to say: ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.’ This was my favourite time of day because I had Mum to myself for fifteen precious minutes. When I see her now, in my mind’s eye, she is dressed as she was then; a grey skirt, white blouse, navy cardigan and at her neck a silver brooch with a stone at its centre which, I later learned, was a topaz. As we listened to the wireless together, the stone was caught by firelight and seemed to fill with swirling blue smoke. Its effect on me was mesmerising.

After witnessing this for the first time I asked my grandmother, who lived with us, how the smoke got into the stone. She smiled and looked mysterious, ‘The fairy folk trapped it there by magic and it can only be seen by those with a loving heart.’

‘Why is the smoke blue Grandma?’

‘Because blue is the colour of Scotland’s flag and it’s a lucky hue.’

Time passed; I grew to adulthood and on winter afternoons, often visited my mother. While we drank tea in the kitchen I would watch as the stone in her brooch was touched by firelight and became again a cloud of blue smoke. I knew that Grandma’s folk tales were mostly of her own invention but the transformation of the stone still intrigued me.

On the day of my mother’s funeral I took the brooch from the drawer by her bed and looked at it for the last time. The firelight caught the facets of the stone but the magic of the blue smoke had departed for ever.