The nights are drawing in and Mum wants to go to bed around 6pm, even though that’s when Barbara Windsor serves dinner. She’s started a whole new game … and a great idea for a new television reality show … Celebrity Carers … could that work? A couple of weeks ago Donald trump had gone to work there (he of the rotten soggy toast) and now it’s Barbara Windsor who’s given up life as a superstar and has dedicated herself to caring for my mum and her friends. She’s probably getting a bit mixed up with snippets of another conversation that we had a few months ago … take a deep breath … here goes. “Barbara Windsor … I love her but she chose some very strange men, didn’t she?” Well, her lovely husband now is Scott and he is the love of her life, Mum. Maybe you’re thinking of the old days when she was involved with Sid James from the Carry Ons and Ronn … Mum, interrupts with a hilarious aside “Oh yes, Sid! He was your grandfather, Sonia darling” (He wasn’t of course, but my Pop did look a bit like him with his twinkling eyes, razor-sharp humour and tight, curly hair). Are you thinking back to Barbara’s links to the London crime scene, Mum? “Well, wasn’t she married to one of the Two Ronnie’s? Was it Ronnie Corbett?” No, Ronnie Knight mum – he was the gangster, Ronnie Corbett was the comedian. “He was short too. She’s short isn’t she? Little Barbara Windsor?” I think you’re getting your Ronnies mixed up, Mum. “Ronnie Barker! Yes, she was married to Ronnie Barker – no wait – Ronnie Barker??? Ronnie Barker was a gangster? He never struck me as a violent type. Barbara Windsor – she’s quite short too – that’s probably why she liked him. Did she marry both of them?” I tried to interrupt her and steer her in the right direction, but tea has a nasty habit of catching in your throat when trying to stifle a laugh, making you cough and staining your new white blouse.
Luckily the tea stain came out. It’s fascinating how the memory can re-arrange life into brand new scenarios. Mum is very happy in her world – whenever she re-invents people, times, situations or whole periods of her life, it’s as though she’s suddenly remembered a whole new memory that had buried itself. She genuinely believes that Barbara Windsor works in the care home and it’s not my job to deny it or change that – if that’s what makes her happy, that’s fine isn’t it? I’ve spent a lifetime trying to re-configure her thinking as I thought that was the responsible thing to do, but looking back on it, that was purely my way of re-aligning my world to cope with her odd views. As a very little girl I’d apparently passed an audition to go to stage school. Mum had always wanted to see me on the big stage – saving every penny she had to put on Cinderella, starring me when I was 7. I remember a huge cut-out carriage stuck to the side of a big hooded pram, little boys dressed in white horse costumes and Prince Charming with his deep red velvet coat and white stockings. I think we had a piano player and sang songs from the Disney film, but it’s all a bit of a haze as it was in-between Mum depositing me with various friends overnight when she was either working extra hours or having to take time out with her depression. Each time she did this, my father would return from work as a classical musician to find an empty flat. It must have been terribly stressful for him of course, but nothing I ever actually saw, apart from one night that sticks in my memory. Mum had told me to go and get changed into my new stage school uniform and show Daddy. I was so excited, but it was another one of Mum’s manic episodes … she’d bought the uniform, despite Dad saying that although I’d passed the audition, I couldn’t possibly go to the drama school as they didn’t have the money for it. Back in those days I don’t think there were scholarships. So I had to take the uniform off, put it back in the bag and Dad marched off with it – probably to take it back for a refund … all very confusing. Hey ho.
People have often said that I’d be a good actress and I guess it comes from being able to put on a whole new skin with “normal” people from a very young age when Mum was behaving in strange ways. And you get very skilled in finding three very different ways of telling the same story to 3 parents – unpredictable Mum, sensible Dad who was exasperated by unpredictable Mum and step Mum, the wonderful new breath of fresh air and apparently normal influence in the family.
It’s all been a bit of a drama; with Mum now centre stage as the character that people are really coming to love. And Ronnie is now figuring in a very different way – as my beloved step grandson and brand new member of the family. I hope that one day he may get to meet Mum – I wonder what he’ll think of her with his brand new eyes – one thing I do know is that Mum will adore him and will tenderly stroke his chin, as she does to me every time she sees me. Love you Mum. Enjoy your early nights.