Mum bought me a gold ring with diamonds in an S-shape when I was 40. It was a bit too small, so I never really wore it. She remembered something about a ring this morning when I told her it was ready to pick up from the jewellers … “I think I remember the ring. … Sonia darling, I didn’t give you a ring yesterday did I?” No Mum, you didn’t ring me, you bought me a ring. Do you remember it? “Well, I’m ringing you now aren’t I?” No Mum, I rang you, but I’m talking about a little gold ring with diamondy stones in it. “I like the Rolling Stones”. I assumed it was cubic zirconia, but no, the jeweller told me it was antique gold with real diamonds and would have cost her a fortune. Bang ! Heart thump ! I remembered Mum taking on extra cleaning shifts at the time.
I was listening to a wonderful interview this morning on Radio 4 with the mum and son who inspired the musical “Everybody’s Talking about JAMIE”. He broke down in tears when his mum revealed how she’d gone short and was happy to do it, to make sure he got everything he needed to make his teenage drag queen life possible. This beautiful woman with her soft County Donegal accent got me thinking … do we ever really appreciate what our parents have done for us when it comes to going without things themselves to give us what we need? Probably not, after all they are parents, it’s what parents do. I’ve never had the joy of having my own children, so I don’t have first hand experience, but I know that I’d give my precious sister everything I had if she really needed it. In a heartbeat. Does that count?
Mum was never able to hold a real job down as her attention span is, let’s put it kindly, short. It always has been. And she was never going to get the Employee of the Month badge as she was constantly confusing her bosses. I remember my Dad telling me that she was cleaning for a local family who’s patriarchal figurehead knelt down to prey at least three times a day. Mum was sacked when she rammed her Hoover into him, telling him to “get up off your knees with all the preying nonsense – you’re in my way!” Not the cleverest way of ensuring long-term employment. When she moved to the coast and took a job in a local care home she raided the kitchen kitty and shared it out with all the residents, telling them to buy sensible biscuits as she didn’t like the digestives. The Scratchwood Services boss let her go when she kept banging on the doors of the hotel rooms when businessmen were “having a rest” with women in tow … she took offence to the “easyshags” (her term) and often chased them out of their rooms early with an admonishment and waggy finger. I know that waggy finger – it’s terrifying – I used it once recently myself – never again ! Somewhere there may still be footage of Mum cycling to Scratchwood Services from Hendon – up the M1. yes, the M1. She got very fed up with the police pulling her over all the time. ALL THE TIME ??? She told me that lorry drivers were the worst … hotting and honking, flashing their lights, stressing her out. My little 5’1″ mum with her flowing red hair, cycling on her battered old bicycle on the motorway. To make it even more perilous, she got so fed up with the lorries that she rode in the middle of the lane so they couldn’t keep pushing her onto the hard shoulder and yelled at them as they sped by. The lovely part of all of this – apart from her not being killed – was that she had a huge amount of affection for the police officers who knew her name and were always giving her a lift to the services with her bike in the back of their car with fruitless requests that she promised not to cycle back again. She promised. She didn’t keep her promises of course. If anyone ever remembers a friend, family member or fellow police colleague recalling these incidents I want to shake their hand and say thank you. It always amuses me to think that maybe, just maybe, a car driver who passed her on his way to a secret assignation at the Scratchwood Services hotel would end his liaison with a loud knock on the door and a muffled “GET OUT!”.
She was never afraid of work – and worked constantly. I can remember wondering why I was often at some weird person’s house after school, but got used to it . Now I realise it was Mum going out to save up for special birthday parties, or a fancy dolly, a dinghy for my brother, lean cuts of meat (that she’d often combine with very odd ingredients, but that’s another story), or a new pair of shiny shoes. And this one that slays people when I tell it. In the television industry we’re nearly all freelancers and when a contract falls down it’s the usual game of chess to get other work in. On this occasion three things fell down at once and I was worrying about the bills and mortgage. I called mum to say that I’d wait for a week or so until coming down to see her as I needed to conserve my money. She, of course, was fine with that as she’s never, ever been one of those mums who gives you hassle for not visiting. The next morning the postman arrived with a little parcel – Mum’s writing on the packet and a roll of sellotape used to wrap it up. Inside was her little silver leather purse with £3.84 in it. I called her to thank her and her words were, and I’ll never forget them … “Well Sonia darling, my pension comes on Monday and I can do until then and I thought you’d need this more than me”. That purse is one of the things I’d rescue if I ever had to leave the house in an emergency. That £3.84 would have bought her 2 Salvation Army breakfast bacon sandwiches – her favourite brekkie as she refused to use her gas cooker. And as always, for my sake, Mum went without.
I’ll never be able to repay her “withouts” but I can always give her respect and love, drive down to the coast whenever I can and have wonderful conversations with her. She’s never asked for anything in return – her only recent demand is for chocolate toffees and to sit calmly with her to hold her hand. That’s whenever she’s not flinging food or sweets at other residents or wagging her finger at Carol who keeps trying to Nick her biscuits.