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.
“Come along Simon.” This is Leila Mum, she’s a girl dog. “Hello Simon. You’re lovely aren’t you?” Leila, Mum, her name’s Leila. Mum and Leila (Simon) are now super buddies. The intuition thing in dogs is astounding isn’t it? When I took Leila to meet Mum she instinctively went right up to her wheelchair and sat by her side looking up. Bearing in mind that she was on the end of a long lead, she could have approached any of the dozen residents, but no, she made a beeline for Mum who was completely enchanted by this golden little animal staring up at her. Mum was a little confused to see me on the other end of the lead though. “Oh Sonia darling, have you seen this gorgeous little dog?” Yes, Mum she’s my dog and I wanted you to meet her. “But you don’t have a dog”. I do now, Mum. This is Leila. “Did you borrow her from someone?” No, Mum she’s mine and she lives with us in London. “Ah – hello Simon” – and so it went on. They’re both totally besotted with each other, but I think some of it was down to Mum giving her all the cheese sandwiches on her own plate and borrowing sandwiches from some of the other residents – some happy to relinquish them and some definitely not. It was a little, well … let’s say, “fragrant” on the car journey home as Leila probably had one cheddar cheesie too many, but she was a happy little soul with her paws on the window frame staring out at all the passing traffic on the M25 home, farting like a trouper every time we hit a bump.
This first meeting with Mum and Leila made me think back to all the times I’ve walked dogs in the past. We never officially owned one before and I can remember being told that Nan and Pop’s dog jumped on a bus in Gray’s Inn Road never to be seen until weeks later when he appeared on their doorstep. Amazing thing, dog instinct, isn’t it? Mum used to run up to owners in parks, grab their dogs’ leads and run back to me with the dog to walk. She’d call them by any name she fancied back then too, despite the owners correcting her and looking a bit scared by this crazy lady who’d hijacked their prize pooch. I can remember always handing the lead back to grateful owners and mumbling things about Mum not meaning to upset them and how lovely their dog was. She always gave them sweets too, which I’m sure wasn’t good for them. One tiny dog got all stuck up with sticky toffee, dribbling profusely and whimpering with a muffled bark as his little jaws couldn’t dislodge the stuff. The owner said something about it rotting her dog’s teeth, but Mum told her to shut up and buy him some false dogteeth or put a muzzle on him. I can remember thinking that was a bit unfair as the dog was happily going along with his owner until Mum turned up and changed everything.
I think this little picture says it all – after the cheese sandwiches, a walk on the beach and half an hour away from the care home, Leila made a bee-line again for Mum when we got back and jumped up onto the chair beside her. Mum leant over to pet her and Leila rested her furry little face in Mum’s palm for well over a minute. Both calm. Both peaceful. Both connected. Bearing in mind that Mum’s attention span is limited and she doesn’t really hold a conversation for longer than a minute or so, she told Leila all about the recent bus trip she’d made (she told me they haven’t been out on a bus for months), recalled her breakfast (as far as I knew, she’d not had anything) and told Leila all about the time when I was about five and I got my fingers nibbled by a horse who lived in the fields that are now Brent Cross Shopping Centre. “Yes, Simon, Sonia howled the house down and I felt awful because I’d told her to hold some grass out for the horsey and he bit her fingers when getting the grass. Yes, he did. And she’s always been scared of horses ever since. She’s a scardie cat isn’t she? Do you like cats?” I was amazed as this story suddenly brought back a distant memory that I’ve completely forgotten about. Mum – that’s amazing, I’ve completely forgotten that story. “What story?” The story about the horse and me getting my fingers nibbled. “Sonia darling, I think you’re losing your marbles – what horse?”
I’m pretty sure that Leila will now be my conduit to other stories. Leila will just sit there and listen, whilst Mum’s memory unlocks stories that only a dog can understand.
Leila has arrived and it’s like we’ve had her forever. She’s a Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix and we adore her, more than we ever thought we’d love an animal. Mum’s doggie dream has finally come true as she has always wanted me to have one for some reason. She wasn’t that interested in whether or not I had children, but a dog? Yes. She’s been borrowing dogs ever since I can remember. I’m suddenly re-living all the times when owners “lent” me their precious pooches rather than risk upsetting this crazy lady who’d appeared from nowhere and snatched the lead out of their hands. We had a dog in our flat once and I’m sure Mum only picked him up and took him home, because he didn’t have a collar and looked lost. A few hours later a lady knocked on the door and created merry Hell as she’d found out where the crazy redhead lady lived who’d nicked her beloved pet. I didn’t like the way she was yelling at Mum, so I started yelling at her to shut up because my Mum was kind and looked after animals and people who were lonely. Then she started yelling at me and the dog started howling like a mini wolf. He didn’t want to come out from under the bed and I don’t blame him. All those humans screaming like banshees! Our next pet was a tortoise called JOEY and I believe that Mum got him from the rag and bone man who’d found him wandering in the middle of the road. He was pretty boring though and kept trying to escape from our back garden – Joey, not the rag and bone man. I’d make him the perfect house, feed him, talk to him, but as soon as my back was turned he was off! I asked Mum why he kept running away, despite all the love and care I lavished on him and she said “he’s probably a boy tortoise, that’s what boys do”. No neurosis started there then! Then I asked if we could have our own dog, not a borrowed one and she admitted that she’d never really wanted one full-time as two children was quite enough poo for her, thank you very much.
It’s odd, because since then she’s always had a combative relationship with animals in my life, especially when she saw me lavishing affection on them. I inherited a wonderful old black and white moggie from a friend of the family who’d passed away and Mum hated her – the cat, not the family friend. They used to have boxing matches. Minnie would lash out at Mum, Mum would pat her back and on it would go until I had to intervene as referee. It once ended up with the cat spitting, weeing on the sofa and me telling Mum not to be so childish. Mum then patted me and told me to get a dog instead as dogs didn’t scratch. I tried reasoning with her that if she STROKED the cat, it wouldn’t scratch, but it fell on deaf ears. Our following chat went something like this:
“Oh get a dog, Sonia darling. You’d love to have a dog, wouldn’t you?” But what about the poo, Mum? You’ve always worried about the poo aspect. “Oh yes, the poo. Can’t you get a dog that poos in the loo? I saw that on “That’s Life”. I think you’d need to train a dog for a long time to do that Mum and besides, my work is far too unpredictable to have a dog anyway. “At least you’d have something to chase off burglars – stupid cats can’t do that”.
Mum’s heard about Leila and wants her to come and visit everyone at her care home. She thinks that Leila will calm some of the other residents down and Mum says she always has too many sausages, so Leila could have them. Bless her wonderful heart – always thinking of others.
“I’ll have to ask the staff if it’s ok to bring a dog to the care home.”
“It’s MY home and I want to meet her. Can I?”
Well that’s sorted then! I’ll tell you how we get on with the residents – fingers crossed there are no poos in strange places – and I’m talking about the dog, not the residents.
Sorry Seems to be the Easiest Word
Sorry – for walking in front of you. Sorry – for you letting me go first. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Why do we Brits say it all the time and rarely mean it? It’s a bit like ‘fine’ when we probably mean the opposite. Funny old thing, language. Tony & I have come to Spain for a couple of weeks and when I told Mum she said “Sorry you’re having to go all that way”. I smiled to myself and probed her a little more, trying hard not to ask direct questions or contradict her. “Yes, it’s a long way so it’s great that Easyjet go there from Gatwick. “Don’t go on holiday to Gatwick, it’s far too noisy with all those planes coming and going”. “We’re going to Spain, Mum – up in the mountains with clean air, the distant sound of cow bells and the coast a ten minute drive away”. “I love it when you get all poetic Sonia darling, did I teach you that?” “Yes, Mum. You did.” She’s always had such a way with words, even though she rarely picks up a pen these days. Mum has defaced every book she’s ever owned, even an ancient, once-very-valuable leather bound biblical encyclopedia with exquisite colour plates and hand-decorated capital letters to start each chapter. The man in the antiquarian book shop in Charing Cross shook his head, took off his circular gold-rimmed glasses and handed it back to me with a sad little smile and a sigh of disappointment when I enquired if it could be worth anything. “Yes, it would have been, but have you seen the scribbles?” Scribbles? What scribbles? There they were – Mum’s distinctive hand-written notes in various margins, page headers and on various gilt-rimmed blank pages. Most undecipherable, but one simply said “Sorry, I can’t” under a picture of Christ on the cross. I read the text to see if it referred to anything obvious, but I couldn’t find a connection. Mum was probably reading it when the thought popped into her head and if there was ever paper around, she’d write on it, jotting her feelings down. I know I’ve mentioned this before, so forgive the repetition. I’m about to visit a tiny church in Casares that, if I was religious, would be my own little Mecca and every time I see a figure of Jesus my mind always runs back to that precious book with Mum’s jottings. Sorry for what? What couldn’t she do?
I’ll be thinking of her later today when we go into the tiny, cool chapel that I first visited over ten years ago when my life was in meltdown and I had to escape to silence and beauty. A wonderful friend who I see far too little of (thank you Brendan if you’re reading this), recommended that I went away to somewhere peaceful to reflect and recover. The man I was seeing at the time had crippling depression, no matter what I tried to do or say to support him. Mum was drinking and driving me crackers, I’d lost my job and it felt like my brain had been replaced with cotton wool. I can remember apologising to everyone for everything all the time; Sorry to be so miserable, sorry I haven’t called you, sorry I’m such a rubbish friend, so it was a turning point when I could say thank you to my precious friend David for lending me his beautiful little Spanish house as a retreat. While there I ventured to different villages and stumbled upon Casares on a Sunday. There in my shorts, trainers and casual t-shirt I didn’t dare enter the church for fear of insulting the locals. But it was quiet and a little man beckoned me in, gesturing for me to sit down and wait. Unsure of why I was agreeing to sit alone in a church pew I did as he said and rested there, looking at the statues and crosses, thinking about the comfort they bring to people who genuinely believe. About five minutes later the door opened and the little man ushered a little lady into the church and she spoke a few words of English. “My friend, he told me you need peace. This … this … (she gestured around the church) … this … your sanctuary. Welcome. Stay. She handed me a glass of water and as I drank I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I said sorry; sorry for the tears, sorry for interrupting your day, sorry for running away Mum, sorry for being a nuisance. I don’t think she understood, but they smiled at me, gestured around the church and shook their heads. “No sorry, no sorry. Sanctuary”. Such kindness and such a life-changing moment when I felt that I should stop saying sorry all the time. I didn’t need to beg these people to forgive me for anything. They were tender, caring people who saw a sad person and offered her a place to be at peace.
The last time Tony and I visited Casares, we sat in a café overlooking the tiny village square with the church on one corner and I told him about the reason I loved the place so much. An old green Rover car pulled up outside the church and Tony noticed that the last three letters of the number plate were BBC. Amazing, as it’s the place that Tony and I had met each other. How lovely was that? What he hadn’t noticed was that the preceding four numbers of the plate were our home telephone number. I was about to go and talk to the driver when the car disappeared, so who knows, maybe we’ll see it again today and find out who it belongs to. I told Mum about that number plate and she looked at us both and simply said “of course”. I’ll never know what was going through her head when she wrote in all those books, but I do know that she doesn’t have to be sorry for any of it. Not even the hat she drew on the Pope.
Mum is enthralled with watching a repeat of the the royal wedding, but thinks the venue is rather odd.
“It’s a bit of a knockdown place don’t you think?” sniffs my Mum. A knockdown place Mum? I’m not sure what you mean. “Knockdown, you know!” She’s sounding fractious, so I don’t pursue it.
“Do you like her dress Mum?”
“It needs more pearls and frilly stuff, but it’s pretty enough and I like her necklace”
“Ah Mum – I think you mean neckline. I don’t think she’s wearing a necklace”
“Harry looks sweet though. You met him didn’t you?”
“I met Prince Edward Mum”.
“Did you wear a necklace at your wedding?”.
“It was a very old mother-of-pearl necklace, Mum”
“Did I like it?”
“Yes Mum, you did”
“You’ve met Prince Harry haven’t you?”
“Prince Edward, Mum, but it was many years ago”
Actually, the Prince Edward story is quite funny in itself. All she did was to write to him afterwards, but we never had an answer and this is probably why. Way, way back when I was a trainee producer for BBC Radio Light Entertainment, we produced a huge celebration of radio by staging a special concert at Earl’s Court with one Prince Edward as the guest of honour at the supper prior to the LIVE concert which went out on Radio 2, 3 and 4. My role was to engage the acts and organise all the visuals. What actually happened was that the Executive Producer asked if there was anything I thought we should add and I piped up that there was a huge video wall on either side of the screen, so why didn’t we use it? I should have kept my mouth shut. After all this was radio. Still, the guests were going to watch a spectacular concert, so they needed to be entertained in the best possible way – what with there being a royal prince there and everything. So, my life was all about sourcing high def pictures to accompany the music numbers and cabaret, old stock photos of the BBC through history and a few shots of BBC special events. Come the day of the rehearsal I realised that to operate the audio visual screens, I had to climb a vertical ladder about 30 foot high behind the audience section and walk along a metal gantry. OK, that’s going to be fine, as I don’t mind heights. Our guests on the night were Frankie Howard, the BBC Concert Orchestra, a tap dancing troupe (don’t ask, yes I know … RADIO !!!) and various posh singers. What I’d failed to remember was that I would be in full evening dress, but I managed the climb up the gantry to be in position well before the guests started assembling. Frankie Howard, of course, over-ran by 10 minutes, so it was all a bit of a scramble to get everything in. Luckily the networks allowed the over-run and broadcast the whole thing. Phew! We’d made it and everyone was cheering. It was my time to come back down and join the party, so I started the perilous descent. Not so easy in a long frock as you can imagine, so there was nothing more for it than to lift up the long velvet skirt to make sure nothing tripped me up. I looked down to check where I was and saw the Executive producer frantically waving UP, UP signs. What did he mean, UP, UP? I was on my way down. I tried one more step down to then see him making a dramatic CUT, CUT mime across his neck. He obviously wanted me to stop, so I did. Hung mid air, on a vertical ladder, skirt in hand, trembling on a thin rung. I looked down again to see the whole audience looking up in horror. You know that scene in The Producers when the audience first clock “Spring Time for Hitler”? It was a bit like that. I know that I was in a dangerous position, but they didn’t need to be so worried about me! It was then I realised that I was descending the ladder that was positioned right behind Prince Edward’s seat. He hadn’t moved yet, so that whole audience was waiting for his signal so get up from the concert. And what did they see? Me, legs showing, balanced like a tragic trapeze act about 10 feet above his head. Hmmmm … what to do? Luckily, Prince Edward moved quite quickly, clocking me and the audience. I was introduced to him at the after show party and I think I tried a curtsy, I can’t quite remember, but he said, with a huge grin, “Ah yes, I’ve seen you before haven’t I? You obviously don’t have a fear of heights.” I told Mum that story and she laughed a lot. Then she told me that she was going to write to Prince Edward to see if he was single and wanted to marry me. No amount of protesting on any level would have got through to her.
Back to the royal wedding viewing.
“It’s a very happy occasion isn’t it, Mum?”
“Yes, but very knock-down.” I can’t get to the bottom of what she means, but the only thing I can think is that the commentators were saying how well British royal weddings do Pomp and A-list guests, maybe she thought they were talking about Pompeii – one of the places she’s always wanted to visit. Knockdown is Mum’s words for ruins.
I could tell you stories about all the letters she’s written to the royal family, but the blog would last forever. One that got a lovely response was that Her Majesty The Queen was very touched by the gift that Mum left at Buckingham Palace and that the she would share the chocolates with her family at Christmas. And I bet you something – Mum would have worked an extra week’s late shifts to buy super posh chocolates for The Queen. She’s like that.
A little pile of plain digestive biscuits, a cheeky smile and my mum’s soft hand encasing mine – these are the presents I love. In the old days she used to buy the most extraordinary array of gifts from extravagant to plain loopy. Everything had a reason somewhere deep down, although I’ll never fathom the significance of five giant sweet jars recycled from a sweet shop with a single barley sugar sweet and a feather in each one. The yearly supply of Strepsils was useful I guess, but medicine for Christmas was always a bit weird.
As birthdays approach she’ll be gearing up for our annual conversation. “I can’t get out to buy you anything, but what do you want?” Mum, please don’t worry, just seeing you is enough. “What did I buy you last year?” It was lovely Mum. She hasn’t been out to buy anything for eight years, because she’s not allowed out on her own. She occasionally orders her carers to pop down to the local Tesco for toffees when I’m not due to visit for a few days. I had a panic phone call once from the care home to say that Margaret was insistent that they bought her a pair of extra large, tan support tights, despite the fact that she’s a ‘small’ and doesn’t wear tights. She eventually confessed that they were for me, so they were checking if I really did want them or not. I didn’t and as I would have had to pay for them anyway and tan? Tan tights? I don’t think so. There was no need to tell Mum that I’d refused them as she would have forgotten about her order five minutes after she’d placed it.
Some of my mum’s gifts adorn my home; an overbearing, detailed Armani owl figurine (birdarine?), a delicate art deco lady in a flowing green dress pointing balletically to the ceiling and Hamble the doll from Play School, an old children’s television programme. If you’ve never seen Play School it was a British series with various dolls and characters who got up to adventures with the hosts. Hamble was eventually cast aside because she couldn’t sit up straight and was tricky to cuddle, unlike Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima the rag doll and the huge green velvet Humpty with a huge round white nose. Everybody knew that round noses were supposed to be red though, surely? I didn’t like Humpty, he was creepy. Hamble, or Susan Mendy as I called her, was wonderful. She had a face like a real girl, tippy up eyes, soft limbs and extra chewy toes. She sits above my writing desk these days, staring down at me with her now rigid blue eyes and a little white frock that Mum always told me was mine when I was a baby. I think that’s probably one of her fantasies though as it’s more likely that she saw it in a charity shop and bought the dress because it looked a bit like a bridal gown. Even though I’d heard Mum saying over and over that she loved me and her dream was to see me as a bride one day when I married my Prince Charming, the joy of a happy marriage escaped me completely until I was 48. My first marriage was an utter, unmitigated, depressing disaster as I married midst a debilitating depression that I never admitted to anyone, not even my precious, precious friend who jokingly asked me if I was “doing the right thing in marrying him” the night before. I should have been honest and backed out, but I simply didn’t have the strength and everyone was making plans for the day. Nobody was showing any signs of this being the wrong thing to do, so I thought I was obviously mad in my own thoughts of breaking it off. How could I let everyone down? I believed that everyone else’s feelings were so much more important than mine. I was in a mess and I didn’t really know it. I can remember seeing my future husband on his mobile phone, strutting across the green in his tail-coat, laughing loudly into the mouthpiece with not a care in the world. I should have backed out then, but my crucifying belief was that he was all I deserved. Which sane, intelligent, desirable man would ever want to be with a crumbling mess like me with a crazy mother interfering at every point? The only thing to have come out of that short-lived marriage was the wonderful story of Mum trying to set fire to my mother-in-law at the wedding, but I’ve covered that story in another blog, “Burn Joan of Arc, Burn” (Nov 4th, 2017). Mum bought us a huge figurine of a joking fisherman up on one leg, dangling a massive fish for our first anniversary. It was the sort of present you’d have bought an obsessive amateur angler for their 60th birthday. What did I want with something like that? It was so big that it dominated any space and led to some very confused looks from friends and family. It made me a bit cross to be honest. How could Mum have mis-judged me so? My ex-husband didn’t go fishing either, so it made no sense. I tried putting it next to the little pond in the garden, but it looked ridiculous. I eventually tracked down the man who made it to ask if he’d like it back, but he said it wasn’t one of his favourites, so I was stuck with it. I couldn’t take it to the charity shop, could I? Or could I? No, it would have broken her heart if she’d seen it in the shop window. But then again, maybe not. When I moved into my house there were a couple of truly awful light fittings that looked like old colonial ceiling fans interspersed with mock-flame effect glass light fittings. They had to go, so I took one to the local charity shop. They didn’t think it would sell, but put it in the window as a piece of set design. Two days later I had one of Mum’s surprise visits .. “ooooh, oooooh Sonia?” shouted through the letterbox. Lovely to see her of course, but it was always when I was in the middle of something important (why did she never, ever, ring first?). I could see through the glass that she was struggling with something heavy. There she was, proud as punch with the light fitting. What the … ? Mum, I … “I’m thrilled, Sonia darling, you’ve only got one of these and I saw this and thought it would match.” How much did they charge you for it, Mum? “It was only £50”. Fifty quid? Seriously? Grabbing ******rds! I was furious. Not only because I’d got the blooming thing back again, but because Mum had wasted so much of her money on another thing I didn’t really want. I’m ashamed to admit that I was probably quite cruel in telling her that I didn’t like it and could we get the money back for something I DID want. Mum didn’t flinch at that at all and said that we could both carry it back as it was a bit tricky getting it to my house, despite a kind man helping her some of the way. Off we marched, but the little volunteer lady in the charity shop was having none of it. “This is a CHARITY shop you know – we’re here to make money for charitable causes by selling things that kind people bring in”. Yes, I’m aware of what a charity shop is and does, because I’m the “kind lady” who brought it in a few days ago. Mum got it wrong, thinking it would match the other one, but I was donating it because it doesn’t go. Please could you see your way clear to at least exchanging it for something else? “No Madam, I can’t. This is a charity shop …” etc. etc. Mum was now off snuffling out second hand shoes and jumpers so I tried a different approach on the lady. I explained that Mum had mental health problems and often had manic episodes where she spent money un-necessarily. SILENCE. The lady drew in a very long breath, pinched her mouth together, looked very slowly up to my eyes, lowered her chin so that she was now eyeballing me through her rotten eyebrows and repeated … “Madam, this is a charity shop … we make our money”. OK, OK, OK! I wasn’t going to win this one. Where was Mum? In horror, I saw her making her way out of the door with a pile of clothes, a few ornaments and a brass vase. Mum! What are you doing? “Stupid woman – she can keep her stupid light fitting and her money. Come along, these clothes will fit you beautifully and your lounge will look lovely with this vase. LADY BEHIND THAT TILL – you jolly well stay there and call the police if you have to. Come along, Sonia darling, don’t waste your time on the mealy mouthed bitch!” Panic struck and I blurted out apologies to the lady, mumbling about how she was only doing her job and don’t call the police. My day was quite calm to start off with and now I was back in the maelstrom of chaos that most of Mum’s visits led to. I felt deflated, stupid, embarrassed and four years old, trying to mop up the effects of one of Mum’s tsunamis.
These days it’s Mum who loves getting presents – chocolate biscuits that she distributes to her fellow residents, toffees that she scoffs in one sitting and fluffy fleecy blankets that she wraps around herself to remind her of me when I’m not there. I spoke to her yesterday and as we were finishing up she called one of her carer ladies over so that she could give her a hug. I could hear it all on the end of the phone … “Yes, we love you too Margaret. Let me go now, Margaret.” The phone call was topped off with Mum telling me that she was cuddling one of her friends, pretending it was me and could I feel her arms around me? I love her so much and the best present she can ever give me is that she keeps going, continues to live a peaceful, calm life and has enough strength to throw a mild wobbly every now and then to remind us that’s she’s still got that energy and passion for a life she’s always thrown herself into head-first.