This last Christmas I was clearing out a room of my parent's house for my mates to kip in at the Legendary Purves New Year's Eve Party, when I found a rather mysteriously heavy old suitcase. When my mother and I cracked it open we found a long lost stash of family albums and photos that belonged to Granny Baba, my mother's mother's mother.
The picture above was probably taken in the 1940s, but I remember her looking more regal: something more like this next picture (even though this is a publicity photo taken in her Guernsey home in 1974, before I was born).
My lasting memory of her is of visiting a grandiose house in Guernsey as a small child and being greeted by a batty old lady ferociously wielding a poker, with my mother screaming "Quick! Children, run upstairs!". She was later brought back to a nursing home in rural Lincolnshire and died some time in the 1990s. Until I opened the suitcase, I knew very little about her: now I am absolutely fascinated.
Granny Baba was born in New Zealand, either as Lorraine Lynch or Lorraine Peacock depending who you ask: after her father died, her mother remarried and gave her baby daughter her new husband's name (or Lorraine took the name later on - she certainly never thought of it beyond her childhood). She left New Zealand with her mother to study a degree in Home Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where she appears to have studied Russian for a whole semester simply in order to seduce a Russian student.
After this she and her mother went on a cruise where she met and and married a man named Rex Maiden - but not for long. She left her very young daughter, having decided the ordeal of childbirth was far too gruesome to undergo a second time, and went off on what appears from her very well-stamped passport to be an extensive world tour. She wrote and performed very well-received popular piano music, small plays and newspaper articles in Australia. Whilst in Australia she met her second husband, a young sailor called Tim Timewell, divorcing Rex: a controversial move, given that it was 1929 and her child, my grandmother, was just 18 months old.
Her work in Australia was successful enough that when war broke out she was selected to sell war bonds with people like Marlene Dietrich to Americans when World War 2 broke out. She spoke to groups of woman from all over the USA and received a great deal of gushing fan mail as a result, all of which she kept.
By the time WW2 ended, Lorraine was living in London accompanying Jack Warner, a well-known entertainer, on piano, and writing songs for impresario Charles Cochran. By this time her second husband was a member of General Electric, involved in selling domestic appliances. She sent for her daughter to live with her in London, and eventually retired with her husband to Guernsey. She had high standards: she would only buy her clothes from boutiques in London, flew to England when she needed medical treatment, would spend each summer in the best rooms of favourite hotels and continued to travel the world right into old age.
However, the thing I was most interested to find out was that Lorraine was a writer. And, more than that: in her clippings, alongside a great many lifestyle pieces about flower arranging and dinner party menus and music and well-written but frankly boring lifestyle pieces aimed at housewives, there were pieces written by someone called "Edward Lorraine". It doesn't take a genious to work out whose nom de plume that was.
And what did she write about? She wrote about modern technology - here's the end of a feature piece she wrote about the emerging importance of designers in the years directly after WW2. It seems amazing to us now, in our age of obsession with the design of ordinary objects, that such a thing was not thought of whatsoever even as recently as the late 1940s.
My favourite part of this particular article is where she describes a prototype of the modern black cab.
The cab has a new type of indicator, housed on the roof, which shows at a distance whether the cab is for hire or not, and it is well illuminated for night driving. The interior seems more spacious than the old type... the driver's seat moved forward so that he sits alongside rather than behind the engine. Tip-up seats have been replaced by a cushioned seat running the full width of the body... Sliding doors give easy exit and entrance without causing inconvenience to passers-by on crowded pavements.
So there we have it - an extremely modern woman caught in a bygone age. My favourite part of this discovery is that women were writing design and technology journalism pieces right back in the 1940s - albeit with a nom de plume. I have always known that journalism runs in my family - Purveses are notorious writers - but I'm rather proud to discover that both sides of my family have had a bash at it.
And with that, I leave you with one last picture of my excellent great granny: Lorraine Lynch, or Peacock, or Maiden, or Timewell, or even Edward Lorraine - but to me, Granny Baba.