“It’s Mental Health Day today Mum, so I’m going to write up one of your stories”. Oh, fine Sonia darling, but please not the wig story. “What wig story, Mum?” When I wore a wig to your office. At least I think I did. It’s annoying, Sonia darling, when your brain doesn’t do what you want it to”. I know Mum, but you DO need to tell me about the wig at the office story. “They’re bringing the tea trolley round – will you be long or my drink will get cold?” Well, as Mum can’t actually remember the office wig story I can recall at least one of them, although I’m wondering now if there were others that I’ve been blissfully unaware of. Wig? Office? My blood drained a little bit from my cheeks as I looked back and wondered about what she could have done, but does it matter now? Said grey wig was something she acquired from her boss whilst working as a cleaner in Swiss Cottage back in the 60s, so it was a bit moth-eaten, scraggy and, let’s be honest, dated. Mum once appeared in it at a family christening and stood at the back of the church hoping nobody would notice her, but when she started heckling the vicar (as is her way) she was outed. And then, horror of horrors, whilst working at Radio 2 on a huge concert idea in Stratford Upon Avon with a full orchestra, superstar guests, accompanying teddy bears and Gyles Brandreth I spotted her making a bee-line for the Controller of the network. The wig ? The wig ? Where have I seen that before ? Oh blimey, Mum ! She was berating the Controller again for giving me too much work, but softened the whole thing by pushing a teddy bear into her hands saying that it was a gift from God. Graceful as ever, the Controller accepted the bear and put it pride of place in front of the conductor’s podium. I thought it better not to interfere or make actual contact until after the show when, hopefully, she would have calmed down and enjoyed the performance. She spotted me and shouted out “Whooo – hooo SONIA – what time are you finished?” Yes, we were recording at the time and editing is a wonderful thing. It’s always been a struggle to reconcile the embarrassing situations with the deep love I have always had for my Mum – my meddlesome Mum who does everything with the sole intent of protecting and supporting me in her special way. They all make for fantastic, funny stories in retrospect of course, but never at the time. So maybe there’s no reconciliation to be done, just love and admiration. So on Mental Health Day I can share that Mum is enjoying afternoon tea with soggy Rich Tea biscuits and plain cheese sandwiches. She knows her brain sometimes lets her down, but she’s never ever let me down as a mother and I hope she would say the same about me as a daughter. If I ask her, she’ll simply take hold of my hand, smile into my eyes for a moment and then get distracted by a random thought or the fun of flinging food around the room. Happy MHD you wonderful woman.
Mum’s hysterical word mix-ups are becoming the stuff of legend. A couple of years ago she called me in a panic “Don’t eat any of that horrible telly food stuff will you, Sonia darling?” What do you mean Mum? “You know, those two blokes – you’ve worked with them. Such awful food” Not sure who you mean, Mum. Surely not the Hairy Bikers, their food is fantastic. “No, no, not those two – I’m sure you’ve worked with them – they’re in that hot place” Errr … not sure Mum. “Oh yes, you know … the two boys with the rotten food. Anton and du Bek”. I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here was on the TV in the background.
She’s always had a way with words and if only my mum could have concentrated for more than a minute or two on anything specific, she would have been the most extraordinary writer. Most of what she wrote was in the margin of books, across the top of school essays, in bibles, adding extras to library book prologues, rental agreements, you name it. Always a challenge when I rocked up to school with an account of a weekend (which, for a joyous change was relatively quiet and boring), to find Mum had scribbled “Sonia needs more sleep” or “Please don’t make children stand on their desks” on the back. I did once have to stand on my desk as my teacher had insisted that you never see the moon and the sun at the same time in the sky. She was wrong and I knew it. I’d seen it and I’d drawn it. Other kids started laughing and pointing fingers at me and my ridiculed picture, but I knew I was right and no-one was going to tell me otherwise, especially not a teacher who was a silly grown-up and didn’t know anything. Looking back, this poor woman must have questioned her career choice with all the scenarios mum created. Mum was not well and at the time I had no idea of her mental illness, so everything she did was just brushed aside as Mum being mum – maddening, meddlesome mum.
A fantastic radio presenter with whom I worked for a couple of years on dear old Radio 2 once caught me out by insisting I joined her in the studio as there was a problem she needed to sort out. Now, it was not the thing for radio producers to speak in those days. We were the monitors not the performers. However … the mic was open, Judi was firing on all comedy cylinders and somehow she got onto the subject of porridge. “Oh no” I thought to myself, “please don’t force this story out live on air”. She did of course, because it was a very funny story. I was protesting my mum’s rotten cooking when I was about 7 and refused point blank to eat her porridge that was thick, grainy, salty and sticky. Later at school I saw all the kids run to the window, laughing and sniggering, glancing in my direction. Aforementioned new teacher was trying to control the class and failing miserably. I knew what was going on. Mum ! Marching across the playground, arms outstretched with a package of something wrapped in a plastic bag. The usual thing was that I was summonsed out of my class room, calmed my Mum down, helped the teachers understand that she didn’t mean it and returned to my class. Not on this occasion. BANG. The classroom door flew open and Mum marched in and what sounded like a canon ball was down on the teacher’s desk with a crash. She then shouted in her posh falsetto voice “I want Sonia to have EATEN this but the time she gets home”. Door slam, out she went, classroom silent, teacher open-mouthed, welling tears, panic across her face. I knew what to do, so led her by the hand to the bin, told her to empty the porridge into it and she could pretend that I’d eaten it and nobody would be in trouble. So that was the story I told on-air, adding that I adored by Mum, but she could be a liability at times.
That evening Mum called me. “I heard your story on the radio today. Did I really do that?” Yes Mum, but it’s a great story. She was now laughing, saying “What a mother I am. Honestly !”. Yes, mum, what a mother you are and I love every little bit of you. Sometimes I don’t love the behaviour but I love you.
Mum doesn’t like Strictly by the way. ” I don’t like his teeth”. I’ll leave that with you as I’m sure you’ll get who she was talking about. Obviously a bit of an obsession.