At 4am on Christmas morning 3 years ago, we were woken to Danny Boy being played on our piano – full volume, same left hand chord throughout and high-pitched singing to accompany it. Mum was staying for Christmas and together with her early hours cabaret she decided that the garden patio was the best place for her portable loo. Not neatly in a corner downstairs, near her bed, but outside; in the cold, in the rain. To clarify, it was usually in the house, but whenever she wanted to use it, she’d drag it outside. She said that it was joyful to see the stars rather than a boring old ceiling and who are we to argue? Mum’s logic always makes total sense when you let her actions settle in a bit and think about what she says with an open mind.
Yesterday I went to see her and it’s obvious that she is suddenly forgetting a lot and her attention span is now pretty limited. She blurted out in the middle of her carers’ explanation of her new routine that she only wanted to hear Elvis Presley music from now on and liked Candle in the Wind.” That’s Elton, Mum – not Elvis”. No, Elvis, I like Elvis. “What Elvis songs do you like Mum?”. I’ve just told you, Candle in the Wind ! She’s getting frustrated now … mumbling under her breath that the carers are all musical halfwits. Then she shouted out … I WANT CANDLE IN THE WIND – NOW! So I found it on YouTube and played it to her. Yes, you’re ahead of me I’m sure; on seeing Elton John she was shocked. “Good gracious. What happened to his hair? And he looks very boring these days. “Mum – this is Elton John, not Elvis Presley. Would you like me to play you some Elvis Presley? Jailhouse Rock? Return to Sender? Heartbreak Hotel? “Oh dear – he HAS got depressing with his song titles hasn’t he? All so negative … heartbreak, jails. No, I’ll have Candle in the Wind again.” This went on for a while, Elton and Elvis getting intertwined and mixed up and then she suddenly broke into Danny Boy. Every single word of the verse perfect, her soft voice floating the melody with a look in her eye that seemed as if she was singing it to a long-lost friend somewhere deep in her memory. “Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling … from Glen to Glen and down the mountain side. The Summer’s gone and all the roses are falling. it’s you it’s you must go and I must bide …” Then in shrieking banshee mode with a twinkle in her eye and making everyone jump out of their skins … LA LOOO LA LAAAAAAAY, LOO LA, LOO LA, LOO LAAAAAAAAY … LE LOO LA LAAAAAY LA LOO LA LOO LA LAAAAAAAY … deep breath … la looo la LAAAAAAAAAAAY with all the stars a twinkling (she’s now remembering the stars outside I think) … la loo la loo la loo I love yooooooo soooooooo as she takes up my hand and kisses the back of it and bursts into fits of giggles.
The transformative power of music never ceases to amaze me. When I was little I was taught to play piano by a wonderful classical pianist called Angela Brownridge who lived next door. Little did I realise at the time quite what an established soloist she was and she inspired me to push myself to try pieces I’d always thought too hard. It was many years later that I caught up with Angela again. Good old Facebook. So it felt absolutely right to play some of Angela’s recordings when Tony and I got married. Mum recognised Angela’s playing, even though she couldn’t have heard those recordings for over thirty years. Angela’s style struck a note with her and although Mum’s piano playing wasn’t something that flowed naturally, Angela taught her the basics for Danny Boy when I was 6 and Mum was 39. And it’s been her party piece ever since. We sang Danny Boy together yesterday and I recorded it on my iPhone. I know that one day that will be one of the most precious pieces of music I own so I’d better back it up.
As far as New Year goes I wished her Happy New Year and her simple answer was ”Yes darling, it’s a happy year as long as you’re in it. A happy year without a tear in it”. Are they words to a famous song? I can’t seem to find it, so I’m hoping that my marvellous Mum made them up and that I’ll be able to use them in a future lyric. In her own way, my Mum has lived her life like a candle in the wind … buffeting around, changing direction with the breeze, reaching out to cling to people who never really got to know her. One thing’s for certain – she’s a legend – and a long way from burning out. Just keep her away from matches.