Mum’s new leggings have arrived. She’s cross that there are no pockets and she’s not keen on black. “So depressing, I don’t want depressing legs, even though they don’t work so well these days. How are your legs?” Mine are fine, Mum. They hold me up. “Like the tube strikers – there’s a lady driver being interviewed. Bit like you, but prettier”. Like me in looks? Or what, Mum? “Like you, driving big things – I don’t know where you get it from. Did your dad ever drive?” No, Mum and neither did you, so that’s probably why I wanted to do it so much. “It’s no fun being mental you know” then she lets out a huge laugh as I’m imagining her friend at the care home, Pat, giving her a toothless, cheeky smile and grimacing quickly afterwards. The sad thing is that my Mum knows that she has mental issues, but is always confused and angry about them, as if they’re not really part of her. More like a niggling, mouse snuffling through her head and nibbling away. I suppose that I always knew that she wasn’t like other mums as I spent most of my toddling years thinking that everyone always looked puzzled and only people on the television (my grandparents’ television) were happy and smiley. Those people sang, they laughed, they did normal things unlike every grown-up around me who was always confused, bewildered and saying boring things like “not in front of your children” or “yes, ok, calm down”. The number of times I heard those phrases is beyond counting. No wonder I started saying them to my dolls and, apparently, to nursery school teachers. After all, grown-ups couldn’t really be trusted and rarely knew anything. Mum used to tell me things and of course I believed them until I slowly worked out that they might not necessarily be right and that set a peculiar wheel in motion. Grown-ups are big people who tell you things, but you really couldn’t trust them, because they made you do things you didn’t want to do and said things that weren’t true. I was probably about 5 when I refused to run up to a bride coming out of the church and give her a kiss. Or when I asked a very large lady on the bus … “Are you expecting a baby?” She looked aghast and spluttered … No? with that twisty-up end of the word thing. “Ah – ok, then you must eat lots of chips then”. She was on the verge of tears and my five year old brain said “There you go, talk to a grown-up and then they go all silly as usual”. I should have known better really, because it was what mum had told me about fat ladies when I was curious about how people grew to be the size they were. Somewhere deep down I thought everyone was born at the size you knew them, so really fat people bothered me as I knew that their mummies would have had a hard time letting them out. Imagine the confusion in my little brain when people spoke about letting the dog out or letting the cat out of the bag. I digress … and it’s time to share an incident that will have every parent gasping and anyone who’s ever worked for a living putting their hands over their eyes. It’s hilarious looking back and when telling a couple of my friends who are West End agents, I’ve heard that almost silent, whispering, slow … noooooooooooooo
Mum’s always been a huge fan of a certain sixties iconic singer who used to sing with a cockney accent and had huge white teeth – and that’s all I’m saying, work it out for yourself. I had just started a new job as a trainee producer for BBC Radio Light Entertainment, so was incredibly excited by all the amazing people I’d be working with and for being part of a BBC department I’d always adored, not having a telly and everything. In a rare off-guard moment Mum asked where I was working and what I was doing. I would normally say something vague like … “Oh, doing a few nice things for the radio” … non-specific, mentioning no actual jobs, buildings, people or departments just in case. However, on this day I said that I was trying to fix people for a quiz and one of the people was her favourite singer. She was thrilled and wished me luck, saying all the normal things that an encouraging parent would. I forgot all about it. Three weeks ticked by and so I followed up all the requests I’d put in, including a call to his agent who sighed, went silent and said in a low, crisp, breathy tone “How many times do you have to be told, he DOES NOT WANT TO DO YOUR SHOW”. Click … brrrrrrrr. I’d never really dealt with agents before, so was going through the process of wondering why they were so rude when the penny dropped. CLANG. Mum ! I phoned straight back, managed to get the receptionist to keep the line open and blurted out that I needed to pop in. The inevitable, oh no, it’s not necessary, for God’s sake don’t actually COME in protestations followed, but I did. They were grown-ups after all. They did look a bit shocked when I showed them my BBC ID card of 23 year-old me and briefly explained about my meddlesome mother. Had she got anything to do with this annoyance they were obviously feeling? It was then that they offered me a seat, a cup of coffee and all checked each other before explaining that she’d been going to their office every day, refusing to leave until they gave her an answer about doing the quiz and pretending to be me. I’ll let that sink in for a moment … pretending to be me.
Looking back I know it was a loving mother trying to get a result for her beloved daughter, but all I could think of was the embarrassment, the label, the total and utter loss of professional reputation. Luckily, said agents and I are incredible friends now and are doing some pretty interesting projects together, but it could have gone very, very wrong.
I had the realisation the moment after the smiles and speak-soons, that I would never, ever be able to reveal anything about my job, who I work with, what I’m actually doing or who my friends are to mum. Although it has had its benefits when I needed a Rottweiler to sort something out … tip her off and off she goes and more on that in following posts. In one way it’s been sad, but in another, it makes you brave. I’ve always lived with the mantra that nothing that happens professionally will ever be as awkward as that. I laugh about it now and sometimes have people requesting a re-run of the story, especially people in the broadcast and theatre world.
I’d love to hear other stories … your stories … the boy on the bus who’s mum jumps on to give him his flask and wrap his scarf round his neck – good, but nowhere near as embarrassing as the hospital flower story. The friend who’s mother set her up on a blind date by sending in her own glam picture? Nope, nowhere close. Oh, I do love a dramatic after-dinner-with-friends-story about Mum’s antics and good luck to anyone who tells Sonia’s mum stories without adding in the reason behind them and laughing about the situation, rather than at her.