A shilling a day
for Mollie Clay, on the occasion of her eightieth birthday
This is the story of Mollie Clay
who could do anything for a shilling a day.
In the time of King George (the Fifth, that is)
and just three years after the Armistice
in a quiet suburb of London they say
that Edith Mary Royds Clay
began her journey under the sun
on November 8th, 1921.
Now perhaps she was early, I don’t know who’s
but the name that she got was the midwife’s
a baby called Edith? That was clearly a folly
and so ever after they just called her Mollie,
and they took her back to her first abode
and she lived in the house in Colebrooke Road.
grandfather was skilled in low finance
and a forthright promoter of temperance,
so he showed to his family there was a way
to do everything on a shilling a day.
A shilling a day, oh a shilling a day,
and no gin and tonic to soothe things away!
A shilling to heat you, a shilling to dress,
and a shilling to feed you on mince and cress.
Mince and cress, mince and cress,
can a body survive on anything less?
It makes you wonder, in spite of it all
how she ever grew up to become so tall?
and Elizabeth somehow survived
and in Colebrooke, then Carlton, the family
When the second World War was under way
she went to Royal Holloway.
She had studied French, and she studied History
and then comes the part that remains a mystery:
with a stroke of logic she couldn’t resist
she became a physiotherapist.
only time Mollie made people wince—
and she turned people’s bodies ever since.
And that’s not all, from the photos we’ve got,
it’s clear she was turning heads quite a lot.
Mollie held court at the church of St John
while vicars have come and gone (and gone
With the pray-ers she prayed, with the choirs
Ian, Mike Pauley, and the dashing
and she led them—all the way up to the altar,
for every one came, and none of them tarried
but went off as quick as they could and got
(with the single exception of young
who was clearly immune to her match-making
But in time Mollie tired of playing Blind Date
and thought, life must have more to put on
and here we must say, and not be equivocal,
that Mollie’s geography had been…well, quite
and I hope that I’m not impolite in revealing
that she’d travelled extensively—all over Ealing.
She’d lived all her life in just three different
and hadn’t exactly worn out her suitcases;
though it isn’t something to be shamed about
Mollie thought that the world really ended
it was something with which you might just
day her horizons began to increase:
she discovered that there was a place they
and the bars were all very well stocked with
Thus Mollie found out there was life beyond
Well for years it went on, just as nice as you like,
that Mollie would trot off to
and they’d soak up the sun, and look at the ruins
and do all the usual Greek sort of doin’s,
and then one day, by accident no doubt,
someone’s old atlas left lying around
and made a discovery so, well, exquisite—
that there were other places that people could
The world was quite big, it went on well past
and Mollie began to come over all trembly
to find that the globe was so round and so wide
and so much of it out there still unMollified…
and so with characteristic application
she set off on her mission of Mollification.
She went out to
She went to the
She went to
She went right round
(though her terms of insurance were in need of
for she couldn’t get cover for white water rafting,
which is quite tame for someone, I think I should
who learned scuba diving while drawing her
but Mollie was quite unperturbed by it all
and rode off on a donkey somewhere in
so she went to a place that is very specific
and followed where
of all the strange Galapagos creatures
and she found in all this a kind of solution—
that life’s not getting older, it’s more evolution.
And without any fuss she’d be sure to get
if a job needed doing and Mollie could do it:
if flowers needed arranging, or coffee be poured,
or if somebody’s needs could not be ignored;
when the crypt was invaded by mothers and kids
she fed them with pizzas (and watched what
and when not out diving, or swapping a hip,
she took on the Monday Fellowship.
onto Countdown, with Richard and Carol
(who were dressed in their normal alarming
and she won, of course, though she took it quite
(and her jokes were much better than Richard
She took care of her friends, when they went away
she’d make sure their belongings stayed where
they should stay.
So Hamid looked after Mollie’s pet
and Mollie looked after his launderette.
So whether it was gardening or riding her bike
or taking another excursion with Mike
or getting a beautiful sweater to fit
by proving again that she’s quite a great knit,
or eating with friends, or to write, or to sing,
or pointing her camera at anything
she knew about trouble, and how life can destroy,
but Mollie Clay knew how to enjoy
she got back after church for a swift G&T).
And although her tastes were more opera
Good Golly Miss Mollie, she could sure rock
yet I suspect that that the Mollie we touched
is the Mollie that nobody saw very much,
who practised (though she’d say Never enough)
to be poor in spirit and rich in love.
Mollie knew what it meant to live
because Mollie knew what it meant to give.
and that is the story of Mollie Clay
who could do anything for a shilling a day.
at Molly's birthday party at her house on November 10th 2001, and on
November 27th, 2007 at the thanksgiving for her life