It’s mum’s birthday today. She would have been 83, a great age. She might have slowed down a bit by now, got a bit grouchy, a bit moany, not feel like going out very much but I doubt it.
It’s seven years since she died and I still miss her a lot of the time but I do feel like she’s not far away somehow and it’s good to wallow in memories when I get the chance – especially around this time of year. I put some orange gerberas and yellow sunflowers on her grave today and when I put my hand on the big Welsh slate gravestone, it was warm from the sun.
My brother and I get together and have some supper and wine in the pub/restaurant she used to like and just talk about how things used to be and remember the things that we liked or even the little things that you didn’t really make sense of at the time. There’s always laughter. There always was.
That’s one of the things I miss about mum not being here. We’d speak on the phone most days, I suppose, with only a gap of a day or two. When we did speak, even if one of us was out of sorts, we’d cheer each other up and within a few minutes we’d be laughing at or with each other.
If she was feeling rubbish, in pain with a bad back or overwhelmed with a heavy cold, she’d say vehemently: “No, don’t you come round today. I’m not seeing anyone. I don’t want any visitors. Just leave me alone. I’ve taken painkillers/cold remedy. I’ll be fine. Don’t fuss.”
And when I turned up at the door, she’d open it and groan and say “I TOLD you not to come.” But I’d put the kettle on and we’d sit and have a cuppa and a restorative chat. And I’d leave, happy I’d irritated her by checking her out against her will.
Mum was a remarkable woman but not for career or intellectual achievements; she had none of those. She left school at 14 and went to work in a shop in Cwmcarn, up the valley from Newport, married my bus driver dad and was a mother and housewife before she did a stint as a school dinner lady – cooking rather than patrolling the playground – and a little job at the local shop where she used to serve Charlie Watts and Jet Harris among other minor celebrities.
She was remarkable because of her personality and the mothering she gave us, I suppose.
A great cook, although not as intuitive as her own mother who cooked on a range and never weighed anything, producing her own iconic dishes her brother’s favourite Cow Pie (corned beef pie) and incredibly lush chocolate cakes that I can still smell now, fresh from the oven.
Dad was fifties man. He never encouraged her independence or driving skills. He gave in to her having a moped once, which she rode in an uncertain fashion round and round the apple tree in the garden wearing a domed white skidlid which looked hilarious. She never had the confidence to take it out on the road.
When dad died suddenly, she decided, quite properly, that she now had to learn to drive. It took three attempts (one was not really sensible with a fractured rib caused by an over-enthusiastic Dobermann Pinscher) but after that, she was away. The fact that her first car, a green Talbot Horizon with steering like last year’s porridge burst into flames when she was driving it and that didn’t put her off, was a credit to her. It took some persuasion to get her to leave her shopping in the car and watch it burn, though.
She got a Metro instead, and although she used to knock a bit off the front regularly when she misjudged the entrance to the drive and went boing on the gatepost. She learned to replace the piece securely so you’d never know.
Lane discipline wasn’t really her forte and she drove far too close to the middle of the road, resulting in the odd “brown trouser moment” for other drivers, named after an incident when she swerved violently to avoid an on-coming car driving properly on his own side of the road.
I was in the passenger seat with white knuckles and recovering my own composure remarked “I hope he was wearing brown trousers.”
She regularly locked herself out of the house, but always left a small landing window open so she could get the ladder out and clamber up, unlock the big window and climb through. She was still doing this in her early seventies, as a couple of neighbours reported to me “You’re going to have to stop your mother going up that ladder. It’s nerve-wracking watching her.”
Mumsie (I told her she’d probably end up looking like Richard O’Brien’s mumsie in the Crystal Maze) was a dab hand at decorating and there was generally a project in prospect at home but her methods were unique. She would never empty a room but only the specific area in which she was working, clearing up as she went so there was never a mess and the whole thing was liveable in. She also favoured Novamura wallpaper – a kind of vinyl, because if she didn’t like it in one particular place, she could just lift it off the wall and try it in another location. On one famous weekend, the wallpaper from the alcoves either side of the living room fireplace ended up on the bathroom walls.
Knitting had been a very big thing with mumsie. My brother and I used to plead with her to let us have cool “bought” cardigans instead of home-knits, ungrateful little gits that we were. But she was the same with my all-round brilliant handyman, carpenter/mechanic/wood-turner father “I know you can make one but it will take so much time, so why can’t we just buy a new kitchen?”
In the last twenty years of her life, she loved ballroom dancing (the gowns, the evening trousers and shoes were something else), bargain shopping, walking her corgi, Buster, going out for trips with her platonic friend (“I told him, there will NEVER be any sex, so don’t get any ideas.” Virgo, through and through), holidays in the sun, Countdown and crosswords. She was a whizz at mental arithmetic and removed the fear of maths from son no 2 (now giving legal advice on fund acquisitions at HSBC bank) by taking him to play darts.
Mum was great fun, very caring yet sometimes lacking in the gratitude one might have hoped for.
I turned up at her house once with two big bags of tulip bulbs which I’d got on special offer, expecting her to be as pleased and delighted as any mother might be with such a present which would transform her spring garden.
Instead, she looked disgusted and exploded: “Oh NO! Not more BLOODY BULBS!!”
Turned out she’d just finished planting fifty free daffodil bulbs her neighbour had given her that very afternoon.
And so a new family phrase signifying extreme disgruntlement was born. BLOODY BULBS.
Happy Birthday Mumsie 🙂 xxx