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Saturday 19 March 2016

One Hell Of A Woman

I remember a story my aunt told me once, though she wasn't actually my aunt by blood.

She used to live in London, way back when; her mother was a hairdresser, ran a very succesful hairdressing salon. Renee learned everything about cutting hair from her mum. She was a bloody good hairdresser, too.

Well. Once upon a time, a long time ago - Renee wasn't really old enough to do anything but sweep the floor while the rest of the hairdressers did the work. They were keeping the place going, and they were never shy of the glamour girls of the East End sashaying in and paying for the latest styles.

One day this guy walks in, and asks for Renee by name. He goes over, and there she is, holding the broom and looking up at him, this bloke in this razor-sharp suit with a jet-black head of hair and a concerned look on his face.

" 'Ere, Renee," he says. "I 'eard your mum is 'avin a bit of a time of it."

"She's ill, mister," she replies.

"You give that to 'er," he says, as he hands her an envelope. "Tell 'er we wish 'er well."

Then the guy picks up two of the girls who were having their hair done, and he leaves. Renee takes the envelope dutifully up to her mum, never once asking what was in it or who the guy was.

Turns out there was about a thousand pounds in that envelope, which in the fifties was a hell of a lot of money; and when Renee asked who the man was, her mum told him his name was Reggie.

Yes. Reggie Kray.

Renee has pretty much been a grandmother to me ever since I first met her. She's more family to me than a lot of people I share blood with (on one side - I've not had the pleasure of meeting most of the Lebanese side of my heritage, though I'd like to change that). She's been there, for years, throughout the hardest times of my life. I always knew I could count on her particular brand of wisdom, always knowing more than I thought she could about every little thing.

She's been very ill, recently. Very ill. Not the kind of ill one suspects they will get better from. Renee always knew how it would turn out - and I didn't know it at the time, but everything she did was to make it easier for my mother and I to cope with when push came to shove.

The world could do with an army of her, but we were only blessed with one; and I was lucky enough to be part of that life.

Genuinely not sure what we're going to do without you.

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