“The Hurling” is my and Mum’s code for a situation where you get so frustrated, angry and irrational, the only thing to do is hurl things. “I had a hurling last week, Sonia darling” Mum told me once with a mischievous giggle in her voice. She’d hurled two cups of coffee over the care home fence as it had got too cold – no doubt losing essential temperature while she was throwing biscuits into the laps of her fellow residents. She referred to another hurling recently, but couldn’t quite remember why she’d done it; something to do with clothes. Knowing not to directly question or contradict her I told her that I felt like having one myself last Friday. She went quiet for a while, breathing hard into the telephone, took a sharp breath and asked “But you didn’t though, did you? Promise me you didn’t”. No Mum, I just took lots of deep breaths, listened to the sound of traffic around me, focussed on the road ahead and tried to ignore the rasping brake pads that Tony insisted were about to make our car into a death trap. All this on a day when the wireless hub decided to re-name itself to become invisible in the list of available networks, the printer packed up, the vacuum cleaner decided that my face was a far more efficient place to deposit its contents than the DUSTBIN! And I had one day to practice the route before taking the heritage Routemaster bus out on its inaugural 60s trip around some of London’s busiest roads with the words of the bus company’s boss saying, jovially, “Have fun, don’t f*ck it up”. Pistons on the Flying Scotsman? Nowhere near the same build up of pressure. Niagara Falls? A dribble by comparison. I asked Mum what I might feel like if I had a proper hurling and she told me that it was like a huge cloud of red all around you and the only way to puncture it was to throw something so hard that it broke its wall. Wow. A pretty major mental image isn’t it? I asked her why she didn’t want me to have a hurling – breaking my own no direct, difficult question rule – and she said that she’d be horrified if she’d passed her mental genes down to me. Reassurance, reassurance, reassurance and she was fine, breaking out from our serious chat with a “HELLO KEITH!” to her favourite friend there called Chris. He doesn’t appear to worry about reminding her every time “My name’s Chris, Margaret, Chris” to which she always responds “Oh, OK Keith”.
Yes, Mum used to break a lot of things. Plates, boxes of eggs, library books she hadn’t defaced yet, furniture, photo frames. All deliberately when she was in hurling mood. I grew up knowing that every time there were raised voices, something in the flat would be destroyed, so we shut down and created our own little dream worlds whenever that happened. It’s a good self-coping mechanism; but it does tend to drive everyone else berserk when you’re a grown up. One of my closest friends told me once that I “don’t do angry – or when I do, it’s a bit crap”. That made me want to hurl something, but I pinched my lips together, breathed out and thought about Waitrose Food Magazine. Then it made me really laugh as she collapsed into fits of giggles. I had a proper hurling once when struggling to understand an ex-partner’s mindset. I found one of the mugs a couple of weeks later, up against the tumbledown greenhouse about 70 feet down the garden. It felt good at the time, but it’s not a happy place. Good idea for a film maybe, where you can only enter another world if you puncture the red cloud of the one you’re already in. Mister Spielberg? I’ve got an idea I’d like to pitch to you.
Shall I tell you about the egg thing? For years and years I’d watched Mum go out and buy half a dozen eggs in a cardboard box and carry them carefully home. At first I was in a buggy and in later years I was walking with her. To me this was a significant and happy action as it always ended up with omelettes and Mum’s were the best as she used to add flour to make them all puffy. On the days I wasn’t eating she’d try and whisk them up into a glass of milk with sugar and pass it off as a delicious Nesquik drink, but I wasn’t fooled because egg is always gloopy and there’s the rotten little white bit in it that never dissolves … eeeuuughhhh. However, omelette days were more frequent. We had people coming round so Mum went to buy a whole dozen eggs. I insisted on carrying one box home, despite her protestations, after all I could be trusted. It was grown-ups who couldn’t. Along we went, accosting people to borrow their dogs, calling out to old ladies to mind the traffic, kissing nuns on the cheek, throwing apple cores into front gardens (don’t worry Sonia darling, apple cores are GOOD for gardens, they’re not litter) – I wasn’t convinced. And we got to our street corner and yes; you’ve guessed it, BANG. Down went the box of eggs as I hopped off a low wall. Mum didn’t say anything, just went silent and hurled the other box against our neighbour’s wall, took my hand and she left me with Dad while she went out to buy more eggs with a confused husband wondering what all the fuss was about. At that point I realised that I couldn’t be trusted and I’d caused a hurling, so I stopped eating altogether. They thought I was eating, but I’d hide the food anywhere I could. Cheese went inside my brother’s toy cars, apples in my mum’s wellington boots, bread down the toilet and real food on Daddy’s plate as he often didn’t notice the extra peas, lumpy mash or shoe leather liver. It’s no surprise, looking back, that the chubby little girl staring out of the school photographs aged 9 was now living with a step mum who made her feel safer, who could cook sweet & sour pork from scratch and didn’t insist I ate every single mouthful on the plate.
That image of a red cloud with impenetrable walls is quite something isn’t it? No wonder there were often holes in Mum’s clothes when she couldn’t have a full-on hurling, so took to cutting holes into things with scissors. She’s not officially allowed to have scissors these days, but has that stopped her? Not a bit of it. She’s so cheeky and loves it when the chiropodist comes as she’s always managed to snuffle away some piece of equipment that they’ve brought along. Normally trying to press it up on me when I go, as she can’t get out to buy me presents. Don’t get me wrong, curled blade toenail scissors are very useful and I always tell her what a brilliant present things like that are. She’s no fool though, often laughing at me and saying, “Don’t be daft Sonia darling, I only stole them from that silly foot man. Serves him right. He should be more alert – who knows what damage someone could do with scissors around here”. So now you know, wonderful care home workers – keep an eye out.
Oh Mum, you’re such a source of strength and happiness, despite all the crazy stuff you still manage to cram into your life. I’ll bring some balls of wool next time, so we can have fun hurling them together – I know it’ll make you laugh and who knows? It might replace the scary red cloud with the softer mohair version.
Now I need to find another name for my Wi-Fi – I liked the old name “New Direction” – run the D into the end of New and you’ll see what I mean. I guarantee that from now on, every time anyone says ‘I’ve got a new direction”, you’ll be inwardly chortling. Well, some of us will. Could I re-name it “The Hurling” maybe? No, too publicly confrontational. “Living Next Door to Finchley’s Noisiest Neighbours”? That’ll just have me wanting to hurl things at our adjoining walls every time I log on. So I’ll stick to “Huggles”, Mum’s word that is half cuddle and half hug that she finishes every conversation with. Huggles, Mum. See you at Easter.