My granny loved to tell our fortunes, swirling the last of the tea leaves round in our cups, draining the dregs and then peering expectantly at a few tiny brown blobs of Darjeeling to see what they might reveal. She was a born romantic so at least one of them ensured we would be lucky in love and, as the years moved on, predicted, not surprisingly, that all the girls would marry someone tall dark and handsome.
Of course she knew all her grandchildren well and although the boys never bothered to consult her, the tea leaves could be relied upon to know that a birthday would indeed be special, that any problem she knew we were having would somehow melt away if we were patient. With a flourish and a smile she always finished by assuring us that health, wealth and happiness were forever in our grasp.
No computers or TV at that time of course, so simple pleasures. In our house plums or cherry stones were always counted on our plates, with the chant ‘tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man beggar man, thief.’ If the outcome looked as though it was not one we wanted we might secretly swallow one or two to be sure of getting the more desirable husband.
Cockles were a popular London treat, bought for Sunday tea. Each of us were given a pin to coax them from their shells and eat them on brown bread. The climax of the afternoon was to place them all in a bowl and guess how many there were. The lucky winner was handed a threepence piece by Grandpa and I think even then we learned that gaining a fortune (threepence was a fortune to a child in the ’40s) was largely question of luck.
In the ’50s it was a tradition to make a fortune teller, folding a square of paper into a shape that could be manipulated with one’s fingers. The maker was free to write a colour on each section, then the areas of enquiry such as love, luck, excitement, happiness and finally the conclusions. The more imaginative and creative we could make these conclusions the more fun it was.
I have never been keen on knowing what the future might holds with tarot cards and crystal balls, being afraid they might act like a self-fulfilling prophecy or distract me from just taking one day at a time.
Tarot cards however became an occasional pastime in our house when one of my sons got interested and quite good at readings.
In the ’70s I taught gypsies on a permanent site in South London and although several were to be admired for their prowess in animal husbandry, they earned their livings from tarmacing and collecting heavy metal (they didn’t mess about with fridges or cars) and none were fortune tellers.
Sometimes I went up to Appleby Horse Fair with them, once consulting a palm reader who also had a crystal ball. It all seemed more about empathy and intuition rather than knowing what the future might hold. However, to be fair, two things that she had predicted happened quite soon afterwards.
I have recently discovered that l have a set of really old fortune telling cards so I may lay them out and one day and read the instructions.
I guess we all seek to be happy and like the reassurance that it maybe within our reach, but surely happiness is also transient and often unexpected. I really don’t believe either that anyone foretelling or hinting about the more harrowing times in my life would have been helpful.
So I’ll leave fortune telling in the realms of fantasy and fun. But then I am still tempted to get myself a packet of Darjeeling tea leaves to cheer another day along. I’ll recall my Granny’s wrinkled face and may even be tempted to swirl the dregs and peer expectantly at those elusive blobs.