Ten years ago Mum decided to carpet her garden. She used cheap off-cuts, mats, rugs from charity shops and carpet tiles she’d found outside a house that was being renovated. “Well, it’ll keep the weeds down”. The neighbours weren’t impressed by the bug infestation and dreadful smell, but Mum was adamant. “I can’t be bothered with all that mowing and clipping – and I don’t have the money for a gardener to put down patio slabs, so they’ll just have to lump it”. One neighbour moved. The other complained to the council, but she was out of luck as Mum was on the vulnerable persons register and their best advice was to call the police. I in turn had a call from the local PCSO police officer who had called me a few times before about Mum’s antics and I could hear him stifling a fit of the giggles whilst Mum was effing and blinding in the background telling the neighbour to mind her own business (and I’ve cleaned that bit up). She is never subtle when riled. Mum’s always been my secret weapon because when she’s fighting her corner – or mine come to that – she’s fierce. She may be 5’1″ and size 10, but she has no fear – none. She’d walk up to gangs of blade-flicking young men on their street corner and tell them to stop showing off, put their knives away and go home. I got a call about that one. She once marched into the local off-licence and downed half a bottle of whiskey in front of the startled shop keeper who refused to sell her any more booze, telling him to mind his own business as she’d drink what she liked and she wasn’t going to pay for it. I had to go down to Littlehampton to calm her down and remove her for the police station after that one. And probably the bravest she’s ever been (apart from cycling down the M1 on her pushbike) was to sit with her Arsenal hat on, cheering on her favourite football players whilst in the opponent’s stands. Mum was a telephonist for Arsenal and as a member of staff there were strict instructions not to watch the match unless they’d bought a proper ticket. So Mum thought nobody would spot her if she snuck in and sat at the other end … red hat, arms flailing, shouting at full pelt … I expect everyone did.
I had a call today. Mum has apparently taken against lovely, gentle Jenny who is another resident in the care home. There was some kind of altercation about the television and so Mum did her usual hurling protest, but this time there was hot coffee in the cup she was throwing and it drained down the wall and onto poor Jenny too. This lady is the sweetest, quietest woman so what on Earth she’d done to rile Mum is a mystery. Jenny always talks to me about Mum as if Mum is one of her children. “She’s such a lovely little thing … always drawing pictures and skipping about”. Mum doesn’t draw and she certainly can’t skip! I can clearly remember this next bit as if it was a high-definition drama. Jenny bent down to Mum, tickled her under the chin and said “Are you ok darling? What have you been doing today? Have you drawn any nice pictures for me or the other teachers?”. Close-up on Mum as she pulled a face that should only really come out when someone passes wind after Christmas dinner. She then turned to look at me, quick edit to her looking back at Jenny, looked back at me again and said under her breath. “Ignore her – she’s nuts”. Jenny squeezed her shoulder blades together in that “aah – isn’t she sweet?” gesture that old ladies do while Mum and I both burst into fits of hysterics as Jenny ruffled her hair and said “Don’t be a naughty girl or you won’t get any peanut brittle”. Mum thought that was hilarious. “Peanut brittle – as if I could eat that with no teeth!”.
So there’s no doubt a brown coffee stain on the carpet and I’ll try to get it out when I go down to see Mum before Christmas. Sometimes I secretly wish her carpeted garden experiment had worked as it’s so “Mum”. It lasted for about three years along with the plastic flowers that she plonked into the mud and garden ornaments she’d probably “borrowed” from other gardens in the area. I tried removing those smelly carpets once, managing to get rid of two of the scraps in the middle of the night, getting myself covered in woodlice, flies and huge, fat worms. They were back again the following weekend though – the carpets – and the worms come to think about it – bright red, green, purple and yellow – the carpets, not the worms – obviously. All bits that she’d convinced a carpet fitter to give her from the back of his van. I got a call about that too – from the police officer who reminded me that Mum shouldn’t try to drive vans without the permission of the driver. This time I was laughing … Mum can’t drive. She tried learning once as she was worried that I did all the driving and she thought that she should take some of the driving burden off me. After 3 lessons she sounded like she’d got the hang of gears, clutch and acceleration so I put the L plates on and took her out for a little practice drive. A woman in a red jeep cut her up and Mum took her hand off the wheel to gesture at her. I remember leaning over to take the wheel and told Mum to put her foot on the brake pedal as I tried to steer her towards the kerb. She didn’t brake of course as the red jeep woman needed teaching a lesson in manners and Mum was accelerating towards her. Have you ever tried stopping a car by pumping the hand brake twenty times? It’s not easy. We came to a halt in the inside lane of a roundabout. We both decided that driving lessons, Mum and driving tests weren’t a marriage made in Heaven. That didn’t stop her buying a clapped out Rover and getting the dealer to park it in her moaning neighbour’s drive. Fierce and fabulous as long as she’s on your side. And she always has been, in her crazy loving way.