Mum’s carers have put her to bed early tonight. The clocks have gone back in the UK and now that the evenings are drawing in, they’re going to try and get her to sleep a little sooner. She rarely sleeps for long – two hours at the most in any one block – but it doesn’t seem to do her any harm. A couple of weeks ago I asked her if she was all cosy for bed and she replied “Don’t be silly, Sonia darling, why would I wear a coat to bed?” No, Mum, cosy for bed. “Four beds? Did they finally arrive then?” Yes, I grant you this is a slightly confusing conversation and it has a very touching origin.
A great friend of mine, Ian, is a wonderful jazz singer and a star presenter on Jazz FM, one of Mum’s favourite stations. Mum adores the voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt and Cleo Laine, but when she sings herself she sounds more like Dame Evadne Hinge with her showy-offy voice – on the whole to attract attention and make people laugh. It works. I was telling Mum all about Ian’s amazingly selfless work with the refugees who were living in the Calais camps before they were dismantled. The refugee crisis was across every news bulletin at the time and some of the world leaders were asked if they would ever consider opening their homes to a refugee. Some replied, somewhat unbelievably that of course they would open their homes to migrants. Mum was having a conscious day and was totally engaged in the subject, remembering the words of Angela Merkel (dubbed Angela Murk by Mum) and wondering how my friend was able to give up so much of his precious time. Then the tea trolley arrived and it broke Mum’s concentration. She took off from the subject of refugees and the dangers of hiding under trucks to insist that she had 3 cups of tea as I always wanted 2 (I don’t, but I went along with it) and 3 slices of cake as I always ate two (I don’t, but again…) She then turned to me and cupped my face in her gentle hands … “Sonia darling, my room’s big and I’m sure we could get another three beds in here. Can you ask them if any of them would like to stay here – I’m sure the home won’t mind”? I’m not sure it’s that easy Mum; maybe it would be simpler to send Ian a bit of money as he’s trying to provide shelters for people over in Calais. “Yes I suppose so, but honestly, there’s so much extra space here, it seems a shame. They all look like nice people and I don’t think they’d do me any harm. Can you buy me three beds – the charity shop ones will be fine”.
Such a generous soul and it’s been a lifetime of careful management of her pension to make sure that she didn’t give it all away the moment she got it and not have enough left for food and heating. When I was little, there was always a new child having toast or cereal in our flat. They were usually the latchkey kids from school who had to fend for themselves till their parents came home. Mum would scoop them up, rarely leaving a note for their folks and then bring them home to us for a bit of food and to play a game. As mentioned before, we didn’t have a television, so there were always things to play with, paper and pens and our imaginations. Those evenings normally ended in some kind of drama as the parents of the latchkey kids finally found out where they were after hours of worry and searching. Again, Mum thinking about the children’s’ welfare without really thinking through the consequences.
Her question about the new beds was obviously linked to her earlier conversations about sharing her room with the refugees – she remembers little snippets, sneaks them into the conversation and sometimes the relevance only occurs to me hours later once I’ve tried piece it all together. I used to clear her house up when I visited her – feathers here, old orange peel there, boot polish next to the sugar, ant powder in front of every chair. Out with the hoover and into the bin. Until one day I asked her what each item was for to see if there was a reason she kept repeating the chaos, The feather was to remind her to pick up her milk (a pigeon once landed on her arm outside the corner shop), the orange peel was to remember to ring me (she knows I love oranges and she’s always remembered that I once put 50 oranges in an old fire place as a Christmas decoration) and the ant powder was to stop woodlice crawling into her slippers as she didn’t like squashing them. It all made total sense and I was sorry to have ridden all over it with my own lens whilst ignoring hers. It’s very easy for apparently ‘normal’ people, whatever that means, to see eccentric behaviour as something that needs clearing up. Most of the time it makes much more sense than ours and in Mum’s case every rescued child, offer of a bed, fragment of orange peel and pile of powder had love at its heart. Something that I appreciate now every time I see her or call her at the home.
I’ve never quite got my head round the relevance of the boot polish and sugar, but it’s bound to have a deep meaning to her. She may still be asleep now, however it’s two hours since she was tucked up so no doubt she’s up again, music on full volume, encouraging her neighbours to join in. Her favourite piece of music is “Danny Boy” which she learnt to play on the piano when she was about 40. Her version is the melody with her right hand, accompanied by the same chord in the left hand all the way through. Unlikely to ever get airplay on Jazz FM, but it’ll always be her tune – as it was 2 Christmas’s ago when Tony and I woke up at 4am to it being bashed out on the piano … soft pedal disengaged, windows open, loving every joyful second. Night Night Mum.