I called Mum earlier to wish her a happy 88th birthday for tomorrow.
“I’m NOT going to bingo – I hate it!” she yelled at me.
“OK, OK what’s the problem with bingo, Mum?”
“I HATE bingo and I WON’T go. And I’m NOT fat”.
A little bit of mental back-tracking and I realised that she was getting bingo and birthdays mixed up. Tomorrow she’ll be 88 and, of course, 88 is “two fat ladies” in bingo talk. She’s never been a bingo fan, but this number has obviously stayed with her, buried deep somewhere in her memory bank. She took me to bingo a lot when I was a little girl and I was hooked from the moment I won a beach ball at my very first bingo game on a seaside pier somewhere in the South Coast. It was magical; they shouted out numbers and strange phrases, people ticked off their numbers and you won a prize. It happened at the next game too. Double beach ball joy. I made up a poem that I’m sure must have driven her to distraction, but she never protested. It went something like this:
Bingo, bingo, bingo, a game with silly lingo, two fat ladies, legs eleven, win a beach ball and go to Heaven. Wordsworth would have been proud of me as I sang it all holiday.
The concept of age is obviously confusing Mum today. She told me that she thinks I’m 35 and Tony’s 38, so we’ll keep it there if it makes her feel better. I asked her how old she’d like to be and she said 33. It was the age she was when I was born. Aah, that’s nice, Mum. That’s such a sweet thing to say. “You were much easier to deal with before you learned to talk!”, then she collapses into peels of laughter as her carers jokingly admonish her in the background. “Don’t be mean, Margaret”, “Oh Margaret, that’ not a nice thing to say to your daughter”.
“Oh she doesn’t mind. She’s been around a long time. Fancy having an 88 year-old daughter! Who’d have believed it?”
Who indeed? All the fives, that’s who.
Happy Birthday, darling Mum xx
Mum wrote me poem about a rainbow when I was little. “Coloured bands of light are bending in the sky, beneath the world’s revolving as time and space go by, Shine my little angel in everything you do. When I dream …” and then the poem stops. No doubt Mum’s mind was distracted by whatever was happening around her or another thought hijacked the poetry space in her head. She rarely wrote verse and I treasure this little snippet.
There are rainbows everywhere at the moment; metaphorical, physical, edible.
We had rainbows over Bognor last week when the smattering of rain teased the tinder grass of the South Downs. Mum told me that everyone was wearing rainbows on the sea front. I probed a little further .
“Everyone’s WEARING rainbows, Mum? Maybe you mean SEEING”.
“No, Sonia darling, wearing. It’s like the sky has come down to Earth.”
Of course, it was Brighton Pride and the coast was full of colourful people in colourful clothes, sporting coloured bands and glitter faces. Mum recalled that she’d once written a poem about a rainbow, but had no idea where it was. I told her that I had found it amongst her things when I collected up all the precious jottings, ramblings and scraps of paper she’d stored up over the years. She’d moved on to a cheese-on-toast conversation pretty immediately, so the news of the archive preservation didn’t hit home. Then a week or so ago my wonderful youngest nephew brought the audience to silence before rapturous applause when he played “Over the Rainbow” at his end of school concert. I missed it, but could hear the notes when my family described how beautifully he’d played his trombone. He, of course, was nonchalant and dismissive – as children often are who have immense talent and no real understanding of their artistic power.
Tonight I’m celebrating this wonderful summer by creating a rainbow on the plate; my way of ensuring that we get the full range of nutrients and foods in one sitting. Mum tried to teach me this when she used every trick in the book to get me to eat. She made colourful bands of tomato ketchup, cheesy sauce, beetroot (yuck), peas (ok, peas were just about edible) and baked beans, telling me that as rainbows were the most beautiful thing on Earth, this was the most beautiful and tasty dinner ever, ever, ever. I wasn’t convinced and saw right through it. It was my way of protesting at her crazy antics – refusing to eat a mouthful, hiding food, stuffing it in boxes and squishing it into her old wellington boots. I appreciated the imagery of the rainbow, but after a few distracted prods and mixing it all up, the rainbow always looked like a pile of old mush. Poor Mum. She worked so hard to pay for food and I rejected it. It was a pretty effective protest though, as Mum always seemed at her most calm when giving in to my food refusals to cook bubbly cheesy toasts or crumpets with butter and strawberry jam. Writing this, I’ve just realised something. One of my signature “wow” dishes is rainbow mash; flavoured potato layers that burst with colour and flavour; bottom layer beetroot & horseradish, then a blue cheese layer, topped by pesto, then lemon, Cheddar cheese and a final sun-dried tomato layer on top. Thanks Mum – I’ve never made the connection until now. It’s too fiddly to make tonight and also a bit too hot as we’re still sweltering here in the UK. Maybe next week, after our weekend trip down to see her on the coast. The weather prediction? Sunny, cloudy, with light showers, so no prizes for what we’ll be looking out for.
Maybe Mum was dreaming about rainbows all those years ago. She would have been 9 years old when “The Wizard of Oz” came out and I know that she snuck out of her foster home to see it. “If happy little blue birds fly …” Hang on, wait … didn’t the Muppets say “somewhere you’ll find it, the rainbow connection”. I’ve just found it. Night night my precious Mum. See you at the weekend.