Now that the Christmas decorations are coming down and the New Year is well and truly on its way I’m wondering what 2019 will bring and how it will feel without my beloved Mum. I know she’d be urging me to write our story, get more sleep, turn out the un-necessary lights and eat more sprouts. She absolutely loved them and passed that passion on to me – in fact there are still two bowlfuls of sprout, kale & broccoli soup for anyone brave enough to be within farting distance of loved ones. Mum tinkered with the idea of vegetarianism after my brother announced on Christmas Day 1985 that he wasn’t eating meat anymore. She coaxed him with “Just a little bit of turkey, you won’t notice it” and “I’ll liquidise it into the custard so you can’t taste it.” I kid ye not. Her logic was that custard was sweet so would mask the flavour of turkey, but she never really embraced vegetarianism properly. She tried not eating meat for a while, but the lure of bacon was too much. The closest she ever came to commitment was after a spontaneous visit to the stunning Neasden Temple in the early 90s whilst we were lost on the way to IKEA for some Christmas glasses. It’s one of those incredible buildings that makes you gasp when you first see it. The ornate architecture is so clever that it appears to be an enormous temple miles away, but is in fact just the other side of the wrought iron railings. An optical illusion that bursts against a summer blue sky with its bright white stone and intricate carvings. “Come along, Sonia darling, let’s go in and have a look.”
Right. I’m taking Mum into a sacred holy temple. Well, IKEA would have to wait with its meatballs and smelly candles. We’re going to visit a temple. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?
Thank goodness the temple is very visitor friendly, so we wandered around the enormous lobby and through the rows of spiritual gifts. I was eyeing up the essential oil burners when Mum picked one up and dropped it on the floor to test its strength. “Yes, that will last you – you’re always dropping things and breaking them!” Blooming cheek. Err … who’s just dropped something deliberately and tried to break it for real? A lovely old man came up and asked Mum if she’d like to buy the burner to which she asked if he’d like to give it to us for free as it was our first visit. He did. He actually wrapped it up in tissue paper, placed it in a beautiful little bag with gold rope handles and gave it to me, placing both his hands around mine and smiling gently towards Mum. I probably did one of those ridiculous I’m-not-like-her-I’m-really-quite-normal-you-know faces to which he patted both my hands and glanced towards the entrance. Now, he was probably hoping that we would take our lovely gift and go. After all, Mum was now striking up conversations with all the volunteers and telling them that the Christian faith was really the only one that made sense. Time to steer her away, especially as she was confusing things by asking if anyone had ever tried to be Jewish or understood why Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t believe in blood transfusions.
“Mum, let’s have a look around, then we really should be going”. We saw signs to an exhibition that showed the incredible build process and were told that we could go in a little later as it was closed for a school visit. Shame as that would have been relatively neutral ground.
Next to the museum space was one of those thick red ropes with a brass hook on each end that attached to big brass loops on the wall implying NO ENTRY. Mum’s eyes lit up. CLANK. “No, Mum, it’s there for a reason”. Stupid thing to say – nobody’s reason was ever the same logic as Mum’s and as far as she was concerned here was an opportunity to take a peak behind a forbidden rope and go on an adventure. A very nice lady reminded us that the rope meant NO ENTRY to which Mum smiled sweetly, took my hand and barged through it. Luckily it only led to a storeroom with boxes of trinkets, so Mum’s adventure was cut short. Then she asked where the main praying place was. “You mean the sanctum, the place were people go to reflect?” asked a charming old man. “No, where people roast chickens you silly, man, where do you think I mean?”. MUM! Don’t be so rude, we’re in someone else’s sacred place of worship, behave yourself. Well, I was saying that inside, outside I was simpering and trying to manhandle Mum to the entrance. She wasn’t having any of it. “I want to pray and I want to pray NOW. And you’re coming with me.” “No I’m not, Mum.” “Excuse me Sir, can you tell my daughter that she needs to come and pray with me. She’s in need of guidance as her life’s out of control.” What the actual proverbial? I’m on my way to IKEA to buy Christmas stuff for our family celebrations, holding down a steady job, paying my bills and feeling very much in control, thank you very much. The little old man pointed to the entrance to the sanctum, but pressed his fingers to his lips to indicate silence, shook his head at our summer garb (short trousers & t-shirts) and waved his finger as if to say “you can’t go in.” I can almost hear the shrieks of “Noooooo”. Did she smile back sweetly, acquiesce and move on? Not on your nelly, she was right up those stairs, dragging me behind her, shouting, “We’re coming in, so stop all your nonsense.” Yes, that’s what she actually said. Stop all your nonsense. I don’t remember much about the sanctum, apart from the fact that it was busy and everybody who was kneeling suddenly stood up and almost everyone looked furious. Yes, there is a point to this story, because I want you to guess what her parting shot was. Go on, have a go. She stood at the entrance to the sanctum once she had whirled round it taking pot shots at anyone within her eye-line, waved at everyone and shouted at the top of her voice, “VEGETARIANS – NO SENSE OF HUMOUR”.
It was at that point that she flew towards the entrance and found the lovely man who had given me the oil burner. “Are you a vegetarian?” He looked a little confused and said he was. She then muttered about how everyone looked so healthy, so she was going to give it a go and did he have any words of advice?
We did eventually get to IKEA and I think I bought glasses, but it was all a bit of a blur as I was still reeling from the temple experience. She absolutely loved it of course and couldn’t stop talking about how gracious, friendly and gentle all the people were who worked there. No concept of how her actions might have insulted their faith or caused huge disruption to an otherwise peaceful and serene scene. But who am I to judge her for that? She certainly wouldn’t have been forgotten and I’m betting that most of the people she encountered on that day had never met anyone quite like her. I asked her once which place of worship she liked best and she told me that it was a synagogue in Hendon where she used to sit with all the men.
She never made it to the Christmas lunch this year, but I know one thing. She’d have overdosed on sprouts and had two helpings of Christmas pudding as she was always hoping to find that magical silver sixpence.
Happy New Year – here’s to 2019 with all its adventures therein.