10 years ago today I lost my Mum. Actually, no, that’s not true, I never ‘lost’ her. It was never like, ‘Whoops, where’d she go?’ She died. Don’t know the exact time but some sense drew me to her room in the early hours of that morning with an impending sense of the inevitable and I somehow knew I’d find her dead. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a dead body, I saw my father in the hospital, but it was the first time I ‘found’ one. It’s hard to write about it and sometimes the events of those days rewind in my head endlessly. Even when I don’t want them to.
Ten years is a long time. And there’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about my Mum. She was smart and witty and kind and quirky and she loved me. She wasn’t just my Mum, she was my friend too. Sometimes I realise just what an influence she had on me, how she shaped much of the way I respond to things.
For example, flowers. I remember clearly as a small child standing on the path in my second childhood home and my Mum showing me a yellow antirrhinum. Bunny rabbit she called it. She pressed open the petals to my amazed wonder as I clearly saw a rabbit’s mouth and teeth. I have them in my garden now , antirrhinums, several varieties of colour, but the yellow ones always get me. Sweet peas. The fragrance. Mum loved them. I grow them every year. For her. I realised that I love flowers because of my Mum. Maybe I would have anyway? But it would have taken longer. Every anniversary, festival, any excuse, really, I buy some flowers for the home and dedicate them to my Mum. I always hope that maybe, somewhere, wherever she may be, she can see them.
London. My Mum was born in Bromley. It was geographically Kent then back in 1926 but I think it would be seen as London now. And she moved into the city when she was very young. In a street called Budge Row which no longer exists but it was a stone’s throw from Cannon Street station. Mum knew the streets of London like the back of her hand, it was her playground. She and her brother, Bobby, often played in St. Paul's Churchyard. My sister moved to London to live back in the eighties and has never left. Something in the blood maybe? And I love going to the city. There are so many places there where I feel close to my Mum. She once said in her last years that she wondered if she’d ever see London again. My sister would have driven her but she didn’t feel up to the journey. So she didn't. And I still feel sad for her.
And food! My Mum was an amazing cook. She won prizes for her sponges. The birthday cakes she decorated for all of us! I remember for my Dad's 50th she did a cricket pitch cake.And I remember an ET cake.... Her shortcrust pasty was shorter than any you've ever tasted. Paul Hollywood would have had repetitive strain injury from shaking her hand if she'd ever been on Bake Off! And Masterchef! It was mid way through a series when she died and although I'd never watched the show up to that point I started. It was bit like the Stieg Larsson, she couldn't see to the end so I had to do it for her. Dumb thing is I still watch the show! For her. I have her set of saucepans. I didn't inherit her cooking skills I hasten to add, but using them, knowing the numerous times that she had, the Xmas dinners she'd cooked etc, some days it makes me smile to hold the handles she held, others it makes me weep for the missingness of her.
Cats. Mum was something of cat magnet. Maybe if she'd been the same with dogs I'd have been a dog person but I think I'm a cat person because of her. The first cat I remember was Whisky who left home when my sister was born. Whisk didn't like the competition for attention and went a few doors down where she lived the life of Riley with two old ladies who spoiled her rotten. Then there was Peter. My brother named him. Petey. He lived to be 21. My Mum wrote this poem for him when he was put to sleep. It still makes me cry.
'Dear little cat, we have shared these years with such a special love.
A joy on sunny days, always my comfort on the grey ones, my best friend.
Dear little cat, such undivided loyalty and funny, warm and sweet.
You are in every corner of our home and always will be.
I feel your silky head beneath my hand, your pleasure at my touch.
Dear little cat, sleep well, with no more pain.
Remember our happy days, dear little cat.
I love you so much.
Finally, and relevant to this blog, there was books and reading. How I wish I could share this bookish, bloggish journey with my Mum. She would have loved it and no matter how bad a blogger I am she would have been proud of me. She read to me every night when I was little. I can remember the books - Fudge the Fairy, The Enchanted Wood. She took me to the library before I could read and I remember Teddy Robinson books and begging her to read them to me with my child’s spontaneous, benign, inconsideration. So what if I had a squalling, baby sister who needed feeding! And we continued to share books throughout our lives. I remember finding the second of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy on her bedside with her bookmark in, unfinished. Somehow I felt the need to read it for her and I read the whole trilogy finding some comfort in the strength of Lisbeth Salander. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be the reader I am today without my Mum.
It wasn’t all roses though. I mean, I was a teenager once. And it wasn’t until I was seriously an adult that Mum and I came to understand each other better. I guess there comes a point in your life where the realisation that your parents were people before they were Mum and Dad hits you. When you begin to understand they had hopes and dreams, fears and foibles and were as flawed as the next person and didn’t always ‘get it’. I know I spent some years convinced that neither of my parents understood me in the slightest. My Mum was exceptionally self critical and beat her self up about her perceived bad parenting. But it’s not as if rearing kids comes with a book of instructions? I know that to a large degree my mum was an unfulfilled person. Her life was interrupted by a World War II bomb and I don’t believe she ever resumed it to her own satisfaction. But she was incredibly resilient and made the best of things her whole life through. There were things she dealt with but it serves no purpose to go into detail here. I know that in her last months there were things she said that made me incredibly sad. She said that she wished she’d done more with her life and my attempts to detail all the the things she had done I knew were futile as I experience the same feelings myself!!
When it came to her funeral I had a very strong sense that I wanted every to know how great my Mum was. And I didn’t want a cleric, albeit a well intentioned one, who didn’t know her to speak on our behalf. So against everything in my nature I decided I would speak at her funeral and I wanted so much to convey the lively, funny person she’d been. I wrote the following for her and it somehow seems fitting to revisit it again, this ten year anniversary of her passing. But I do need to put it into context a little! My Mum was no technophobe and had a freeview box almost before they were invented! She had a laptop and a mobile phone. And a lot of the motivation for these was because she had a crush on Simon Cowell! I know!! The song Hallelujah by Alexandra Burke had won the X Factor that year and Mum had wanted to hear all the different versions. We chose k d lang’s version as the closing song at her funeral.
Eulogy For My Mum
My Mum would be very surprised to see me standing up here today. She knows how much I dislike attention, standing up in front of people and doing a lot of talking…..
But I always told Mum I’d do anything for her, and so, Mum, I’m doing this for you today.
I know that everyone thinks their Mum is the best in the world and I know that everyone thinks their Mum is a Mum in a million. But my brother, sister and I don’t think that at all.
We KNOW it.
We KNOW it.
My Mum lived to be 83 years 2 months and 9 days and that’s a lot of life………
- From her childhood in London, her beloved London, the city that stayed in her heart all her life.
- Adolescence during the war, air raids and the blitz and the bomb that sent her from London to Southend.
- Marriage in post war Britain, ration books and utility furniture
- Bringing up children in the 50s and 60s.
- Travelling in the 70s, on her first trip she went to Canada, USA, Australia, and South Africa. Mauritius and Hawaii and she loved every second.
- The 80s bought retirement, the bowls club, Masonic and Probus lunches.
- The 90s brought widowhood but also grandchildren.
But my Mum was never one to live in the past. She lived in the moment; She was up to date with everything, a silver surfer, a buzzy old lady who had a witty quip for most situations.
- Like the time she failed her first driving test by going the wrong way down a one way street. “Didn’t you see the arrows?’ asked the examiner. “See the arrows?” said Mum,” I didn’t see the Indians.”
- Or the time she was discussing the implications of her impending hip surgery with the consultant. She wanted to know what she could or couldn’t do after the op. The consultant who thought he had just another little old lady quipped,” Well you won’t be able to play rugby.” Hmm,” said Mum,” Will I be able to play the piano?” “Oh yes,” said the surgeon. “Great, said Mum” Cause I never could before.”
- And I remember the time my niece and nephew were staying with me, Mum came over to spend some time with her grandchildren. My niece and I were popping to the shops and as we were leaving Mum yelled.”Can you get me a copy of `Heat’ magazine please? I think there’s an article about Robbie Williams.” My niece was quiet as we walked along the road and then she turned to me and said, Auntie Gill HOW old is Granny Peg?’ For it was never The Lady or The People’s Friend for my Mum. Oh no, it was Heat, Ok, Hello…….
But I don’t really need to tell you all these things, you know them, you know what a very special lady she was. And I’d like to thank you all for coming and helping us celebrate her life.
But there’s another person I would like to thank who isn’t here today. In fact he doesn’t even know of my Mum’s existence. But this man gave my Mum excitement, motivation, a focus, an anticipation and pleasure in all his activities, Mr.Simon Cowell. Thank you.
Simon, you looked for Pop Idols, you looked for American Idols. You looked to see if Britain had Talent. But, you know, you never looked in the right places. There was only ever one person who had the X Factor and that was my Mum.
Hallelujah Mum. We Love You.