Katharine Whitehorn

Katharine Whitehorn

Whitehorn, 89, began writing for The Observer in 1960 and still turns out a weekly column for the paper. Here’s a personal favourite from 2013, the year she was made a CBE for her services to journalism. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

How to be an aunt

Being the aunt, you can be outrageous, forbidding, fun, frivolous, or anything you please – that's the joy of not being the parent

We all know what mothers, fathers and grandparents are supposed to do, but being an aunt is more varied – or at least more negotiable. Bertie Wooster had his "good and deserving Aunt Dahlia", but also the dreaded Aunt Agatha who "crushes broken bottles with her teeth and conducts human sacrifice by the light of the full moon". He held that: "In this life it is not the aunts that matter but the courage you bring to them."

For some, all aunts are the bringer of good things. Witness the rhyme: "Eat up boys, you're at your auntie's, Eat up so ye canna bend, Co-operative store belongs to auntie – the more ye eat the more the dividend."

Agony aunts are so called, I suppose, because an aunt is just the right distance away – not a stranger, not your parent. When a family welcomes "the aunties" they can be almost any related females. I had one marvellous aunt who sided with us instead of the grown-ups, and drove round the Highlands with us standing up on the back seat of her Fiat with our heads sticking out. Another frivolous one set me up with my first camiknickers.

Those who recognise the possibilities – the half-in-half-out place an aunt occupies in a family – can even say to her what they would never say to a mother: "If you can't be a good example you can always be a horrible warning."

The Observer, Sunday 15 December 2013

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