The watery winter morning light shone in through the kitchen window. The draught from the warped window frame, badly in need of a paint and maintenance, causing the half net curtain to flutter each time a gust of wind struck the building. In her mid-seventies Ina was never really warm unless she switched on the central heating , and left it on. Having sobbed when she’d read the quarterly bill the previous winter the radiators now sat gathering dust like quiet monuments in every room. It was her hands and feet that were the problem, always cold, sometimes numb and tingling.
Now that her daughter Katherine had passed away Ina mainly lived in her kitchen or her bedroom, seldom entering most of the rest of the living space of the three bedroomed flat, taking her small two bar electric heater with her to whichever room she was in at the time. Half an hour , half an hour only, was all she would normally allow herself the luxury of the fire. Just long enough, she kidded herself, to take the edge off the cold in the room. Some nights, under the heavy weight of the blankets and her outdoor jackets draped across the bed the room was so cold that Ina, chest rasping, would see her breath in the darkness and huddle tighter under the covers, too frozen to sleep.
The doorbell rang. “ Hiya Ina love, its only me” . Her friend Mag, a cheery distraction to the news on the wireless. “In ye come hen. A wee cuppa tea?” “ Oh aye, please I’m gasping.”
“So” said Ina “ what’s your news today?” Shaking her head slowly Mag responded “ I was roond at oor Brian’s hoose yesterday for Sunday dinner and he was going his dinger, ye know like he does, about politics. He’s heavily intae aw that independence cairry oan and it disnae take much tae get him started. Yesterday it was the Royal Family, of all things. A right braw lassie that Kate, really lovely cheekbones. Did ye see that nice dress she had on in that programme the ither week? It was beautiful. Anyway, we’re eating dinner and it comes on the telly in the living room that Buckingham Palace is really needing a bit of work done to it, and it’s going to take a lot of money tae fix it.”
“Aye hen, I saw that in the paper. It was in the Express. They were saying something about bringing it up tae the proper standard for our new young Royals. It’s needing rewired and new plumbing, that kind of stuff, and there’s me cannae even get the Cooncil tae come and look at that damp patch on the ceiling in the bathroom (Laughing). Anyway it’s the Queen’s residence, and she deserves it, the money she brings in. It’s a well-known fact, and she’s got a lot to put up with.”
“Aye, that’s what I said tae, but Brian, well he’s on the high horse, and he’s no’ having it. A disgrace he calls it. Three hundred and sixty-nine million pounds of oor money it’ll cost, he says. Oor money? I telt him to away and no’ be daft. How is it oor money? It’s the county’s money, and she is the Queen of the country, so it’s her money anyway. He’s easy wound up. Why get yourself excited about something like that?
Then he started reeling off random figures. I wrote them doon here (taking out a small piece of paper). He says, and I am sure he must be wrong about this, the Queen is estimated tae be worth at least five hundred and ten million pounds or three hundred odd million pounds, depending on who ye ask, in her own right. Apparently Charlie has about two hundred million, Fergie’s ex-man is worth seventy-five million, Edward, forty-five million, and Anne, thirty million, and that’s before you include all the palaces and the crown jewels and all of that stuff. That surely cannae be right, can it? I think he’s just making it up tae be spiteful. He also says that the Queen gets over forty million pounds of, as he says, ‘oor’ money every year for expenses, to pay her staff and for state functions, and that kind of thing. Mind you that wouldn’t be a cheap thing that.”
“I think he’s a blethering skite Mag. If he thinks the Queen’s spending his money just tell him he’ll need tae do some more overtime. That’ll get him going. (chuckles). You are shivering there. Are you cold? I can put the fire on for ten minutes and heat the place up if you like? “