What were your favourite childhood sweets or were you one of the lucky ones whose mum gave them organic carrot sticks and tooth friendly low sugar stuff? When I was little sherbert lemons and fruit salad chewies were great and rhubarb and custard boiled sugar sweets were my favourite. Mainly because they could mask the flavour of my dearly departed mum’s atrocious cooking. They played havoc with my teeth of course and one day I might get round to changing all the metallic fillings to invisible fillings, but I’m not quite that vain … YET. Talking to my dear friend Sue across in Provence I’d forgotten to take my semi-precious stones necklace off and we were discussing colour themes for blogs and podcasting in general. I’ve chosen rhubarb and custard colours for the podcast page and Sue helpfully added that my necklace could be a regular appearance as it has yellow and pink semi-precious stones in it. YES!
This is a short-ish blog to tell you that the trailer for the MUMBELIEVABLE podcast trailer is now up on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. I’m beyond excited and we’ve already got five shows in the can thanks to the professionalism, enthusiasm and speed of Ultimate Content who are producing the podcast with me. The reaction from agents and VIPs has been incredible, so we’re confident that this little pod is going to fly.
Here’s a link to the new MUMBELIEVABLE podcast page on there website. You can listen to the 1-minute trailer there and see the colours.
The more shares and likes we get the better at this early stages because I’m told that clicks and likes are super important in podcast land. It’s all a bit new to me as I’m still thinking back to the old days of producing BBC Radio shows where editing involved razor blades, sticky tape and chinagraph pencils. I hope that lots of people will feel like share their own stories and open up conversations about tricky relationships as well as celebrating the great ones.
Do you have a mum story to share? I’d love to include other stories in the podcast if you’re up for that.
Right … I’m going to buy myself a packet of rhubarb and custard sweets to keep me going while we put the finishing flourishes to the episodes. Exciting times, even though my teeth won’t thank me. Sorry Simon (my fabulously brilliant and hilarious dentist). I promise to clean my teeth, unlike my mum who lost all hers when she hit 50 and never nagged me to clean mine when I was little. Maybe I’ll go for the chewies on second thoughts, but then again no, because the last chewy thing made the veneer on my front tooth come off and nobody wants to hear a whistling podcaster. Decisions, decisions …
“Freddie who?” asked the young consultant when I commented on the brilliance of Mercury’s voice. He’d never heard of Queen which made my joke about Fat Bottom Girls fall flat on its … well, bottom! My mum loved the radio and recorded almost every show I produced whilst at Radio 2. She only ever recorded random snippets and always deleted my credit at the end in case they somehow tracked me down at home and burgled my house. She adored Brian Hayes when he was on LBC, Gloria Hunniford on Radio 2 and The Archers on Radio 4 – apart from Linda Snell who she called a “snoot”.
”Don’t ever get a job as a presenter will you, Sonia darling?” Why, Mum? “Because people will know who you are and will bother you for autographs.” Considering her mantelpiece was full of signed photos from radio presenters, I found her logic flawed somewhat.
I wonder what she’d have made of my new project? A major content production company has invited me to make a podcast based on this blog – all about our mums from maddening and meddlesome to miraculous and marvellous. We recorded the pilot yesterday which went really well with a terrific guest who I’m keeping secret for now. Years of producing shows and training people in public speaking has paid off and it felt fantastic to be on the other side of the microphone again.
I can’t tell you the name of the podcast yet, but as soon as we’re up and running with a few more episodes you’ll know ALL about it. Oh yes ! I was going to call it Radio Ma-Ma but we’ve got a much better title. Thunderbolt and lightening … very very exciting … and yes, I know, I know … frightening ! But only a little bit.
A very short blog to remember my precious mum in the run up to Christmas. I’d spent all night creating this special cake and Mum’s reaction was – Why do the reindeers have Square legs? And His stomach looks like he’s about to explode. We did eventually eat the cake after taking it to at least four parties where we had to stop people slicing into it.
Considering that Mum was the worst cook for anything savoury, her cakes were always gorgeous. She didn’t like this actual cake as it was a dense fruitcake which she always said gave her windypops.
Happy Christmas – it’ll be a quiet one this year and I can’t wait. Chemo coming to an end soon and no more ‘orrible drugs till January.
“You’re just like you’re mother” or “ Meet the mother, know the daughter”. Sentences I lived in dread of hearing until Mum and I came to really understand and honour each other once she reached 80 and was placed by the mental health authorities into a secure care home.
A couple of weeks after my previous post I sought help with debilitating grief at becoming an adult orphan after losing my precious, funny, wonderful Dad. This was on top of losing three close friends just before Dad died in an instant. I told myself, slightly tongue-in-cheek that I was going nuts and was just like my mum. It made me smile to think about it as I noticed certain expressions, looks and existential stabs at the world which reminded me of her. I knew my mental state was poor, but I didn’t really believe it deep down until those two words were made real by my therapist suggesting that I was going through a type of nervous breakdown. But I wasn’t running down the street naked, singing Danny Boy at top volume ( like Mum did ) or pretending I was a prima ballerina and performing en pointe in bare feet ( again, like Mum did). I felt breathless all the time, agoraphobic and running on empty. Normal for grief and burnout, right?
It turned out that the breathlessness was from blood clots in my lungs and very low blood count. Even though I was hospitalised and felt awful I decided not to give in to the mental decline and fought the emotions, telling myself I was getting stronger. I wasn’t. I nearly died but thanks to a strong heart, the clots passed through it and lodged in my lungs. Then they told me that my low blood count could mean I went quickly into sepsis if I caught a fever. I caught that fever and was hospitalised again. While trying to make sense of everything from my hospital bed the main diagnosis came in – life threatening leukaemia – seriously?
Oh, for Heavan’s sake. What was going on?
Now I had an inkling into the mental turmoil my complicated, maddening, loving mother went through and if it was possible to love her memory even more, I did. Now I’m grateful for the near-death experiences as they’ve allowed me to understand the crazy life Mum lived and I have inherited her adventurous no-more-if-only attitude now that I’m on the road to recovery from this horrible blood cancer.
As for “Meet the mother, know the daughter”, my darling husband adored my mum and could see how I’d inherited her bravery and comical look at the world. And I’m so grateful for the chance of getting to know myself by experiencing the light and dark of life through her crystal blue eyes.
I’ve started a new blog as I feel that there’s a new adventure to tell – hop on over to www.chemo-chameleon.com for the new stuff. I’ll be checking in here whenever a situation occurs that directly relates to Kathleen Margaret Beldom. She would have been distraught at my cancer diagnosis and Heaven knows what she would have said or done in the hospital. I know one thing. It would have been the stuff of anecdotes and mayhem. Many years ago I had major surgery and Mum invited a priest one day, a very puzzled Rabbi the next and a group of gospel singers to sing outside my window. Happy days.
I danced, sang, and did anything to distract people from my mum’s crazy behaviour and until recently, I thought this was normal and “cute”. However, conversations with a therapist who is helping me process the death of four close friends and the sudden passing of my dear dad, have made me realise that it was anything but normal. It was a coping mechanism, sure. It was a way of making me feel happier by banishing the “scary monster”, OK. But it was the result of having a dysfunctional mum whose erratic, unpredictable behaviour made me want to hide in cupboards and tear up tutus. It was the behaviour of a little girl going through mental health problems which were never spotted because she was so good at hiding them.
This is a hard blog to write and I’ve been wondering about sharing experiences and insight, but as it’s Children’s Mental Health Week it feels like the timing is right.
Creating fantasy lands, disappearing into fairy tales and imagining life as a princess or ballerina sums up my early life. I hated school. I found teachers ridiculous. I stayed away from the other kids who would make “crazy” gestures whenever my mum turned up at school or sent me to school in weird outfits. Who’d have thought that a yellow T-shirt, bright red hot pants and wellingtons would mean another day in the school office with Mrs Partridge? She was sweet and I asked her once why she walked like a dinosaur as she held her elbows tight into her waist and let her hands droop down in front of her, making her bottom stand out. (Ooh, I said “bottom”). I can remember her being very amused when I showed her how ballerinas held themselves properly and her frowning face when I demonstrated how she should do it to look more normal. OK, I was 6. I didn’t understand that you shouldn’t say things like that to grown-ups in case they got upset. But most grown-ups were upset, weren’t they? Cross and bemused people getting in the way of my stories. Silly people. I inherited a bit of my mum’s no-filter approach to life because let’s face it, grown-ups were weirdos, so you might as well have fun turning them into fun characters and story inhabitants, right? So what if they got their angry face on? Twirl, point, hop and twirl.
Cope, cope, hide, dance, cope, cope.
I remember loving the game of hide and seek. I got good at it. I could find places where nobody could ever find me until I sneezed or coughed. I managed almost a whole day at junior school and only emerged when I heard unfamiliar male voices shouting my name. And whenever I needed time out to de-tox from Mum’s craziness I could hide in my fantasy world where I was a princess and nobody, not even Mrs Partridge could make me concentrate on lessons or take anything seriously. And there were times that I did what the teachers told me: leave the classroom if I wasn’t going to concentrate or take part. Well, they DID say to leave, but they didn’t say that I had to stay in the corridor outside the classroom did they?
Mum was going through a particularly difficult emotional episode when I was in my early teens. I was aware that she’d not been around as much and, to be honest, I was having more fun with my friends than with anyone in my stressful family at the time. I was living with my Dad who’d recently married my stepmother. Dad told me to go and visit Mum and was greeted with my, “Nah, another time.” response. He insisted I went to see her, which was unusual for Dad as he normally cursed her existence under his breath whenever I spoke about her. Go and see her? Ohh Kaaay, whatever. She was in her room in the guest house with two or three friends. Sitting in a chair near the window, wrapped in a blanket, she saw me, stretched out her hands and beckoned me to her. I froze. I just couldn’t go to her. I was angry with her for causing all the fuss and put my hand up in the classic “talk to the hand” gesture that hadn’t yet been invented. She buckled, her face crumpled and she started crying. The more pleading her friends did, the more adamant I was to stay in the doorway and not go in. I did eventually, but I really didn’t want to and on the way home I went into the cinema instead of going straight back to Dad’s. Mum was worried I’d been kidnapped and had called the police, Dad was furious with my disappearance and I just wanted a cupboard to hide in to get away from the whole lot of them with a big fat key to stop anyone coming in. I’d never really forgiven myself for being so cruel to my mum and I’ve realised recently that silence, a steely stare and a metaphorical “talk to the hand” has become my default for dealing with difficult people in my personal life. Occasionally the angry monster has emerged if I’ve been pushed into losing my temper, but I have to be really pushed. The odd mug-throwing or stomping off is OK, isn’t it? But that pent-up emotional repression isn’t.
Talking that episode through recently, I came to see that I was far too young to understand what was going on, too young to be the one to forgive my mother’s mental state and I have been hanging on to that guilt all my life. I went to see Mum the next day and recently it was pointed out to me that forty+ years ago I’d made sure that Mum was looked after, Dad was OK and not going crimson in the face when talking about her and my stepmother might stick around if I made her smile with my dancing and singing. But who was looking after me during that time? The answer? Well, I’ve always thought it was me. The proper answer, of course, was no one, because everyone assumed I was OK. I think Mrs Partridge was probably the only one who saw what was going on, which is why she would sneak me the odd biscuit, and a cup of orange and ask me if I wanted to talk about anything whenever I was dumped on her for whatever reason. I ALWAYS wanted to talk about being in Cinderella or dancing for the Royal Ballet and I’ve often wondered if things would have been different if I had been encouraged out of my fantasy world. Would I have been so good at dealing with VIPs, creating children’s stories and coaching people to be more confident by having conversations with their younger selves? Probably not, so I’m not wasting any more time wondering. I’m on a mission to dig deep, share and encourage myself to be more honest and hopefully encourage other people to speak out and share their own experiences as the children of mentally unstable parents.
Talking to other people my age who’ve experienced a tricky parent, it’s apparent that children’s strange behaviour or demonstrations of underlying stress weren’t recognised, let alone spoken about openly in public back then. How great that today we have Children’s Mental Health Week where the well-being of young people is top of the agenda.
The angry monster will inevitably appear at times, but she won’t look quite as scary if I imagine her in a red tutu and yellow ballet shoes whenever she threatens to de-rail me.
I wrote a little poem for my darling Dad’s funeral and nearly got through it without crumbling into a soggy heap. For safety I printed out two sheets of A4 – one with “We apologise for the interruption”, followed by “Normal service will be resumed soon.” When I lost my composure, it gave me a couple of seconds to take deep diaphragm breaths and the packed chapel a moment to giggle at something that Dad would have found hilarious. What a sense of humour he had. Often inappropriate, constantly erupting and breaking any tension around him. Laughter has a wonderful way of restoring balance, doesn’t it? He would be deeply philosophical, sometimes probing the inner-most bleakness of the soul and would then round it off with a pun or a quote, but mostly a silly expression, creased up face and inner laughter that was infectious. There is one precious memory that I try to bring to the front of my thinking whenever a wave of grief threatens to de-rail any plan or mundane action. It works on every level – visual, sound and emotional. Dad and I sharing a joke (often something that only we would understand), both in fits of hysterics, tears streaming down our faces, knowing looks between us. Accompanied by the sound of high-pitched, agonised screeching laughter, followed by a weak plea of “please, no more …” Then the utter joy of being questioned about what was so funny, when we both knew that neither of us could remember and the look of understanding between us when we were eventually urged to calm down. Oh Dad, I’m going to miss that so much. Luckily my darling husband is an entertainer and we laugh together every day at something, And it’s the best times with my darling sister too when we’re both in “Dadsterics” about something that wouldn’t amuse anyone else. Joy.
When I was about 6 Dad started to teach me to play violin and the first tune I scraped out was “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”. You can hear it now can’t you? Loud rasping notes vibrating in protest from strings being assaulted by a heavy bow. I think I eventually got to Grade 3 violin, however I stopped when I couldn’t get the image of my Dad’s face in hysterics at some violin beginner’s concert. He couldn’t stand badly-played violin, him being a professional player and even though he would never have said it to me, I really did sound terrible and I knew deep down that I’d rather have Dad laughing at a common joke, than at my terrible fiddling. That memory inspired this poem.
Oh, and he also loved pork pies, even though he knew he shouldn’t really eat them. But he ate them anyway and made naughty faces behind the backs of anyone who told him otherwise.
This poem is called TWINKLE, TWINKLE, GIANT STAR
I’ve loved my dad for sixty years, Well, 59 if truth be told,
We laughed together, reduced to tears with the jokes and anecdotes he told.
He played with words and had great fun with silly names and risque rhyming.
He gave me the gift of the painful pun and the delicate art of …
C urious, clever and
H alf of me
A lways up for a cup of tea
R obust, riotous
L oving and kind
E ver amazing with his
S prightly mind.
Aged four I’d creep around our flat, not jumping or bumping or anything like that.
Because Dad would be playing his 78s. “Don’t scratch Yascha Heifetz!” or any of the greats..
He’d put on a record to tell a story – Noddy and Big Ears in all their glory,
And The Happy Prince was all the rage – “Sit back and listen, now turn the page.”
I remember him practicing the violin for hours as music was life’s soundtrack at Audley Towers.
“You sound like Pagannini” I laughed and teased. Although he was laughing, I knew he was pleased.
What joy when one day while at Radio 2, I booked him to play on a show – like you do.
My lovely Dad and the Fortuna Quartet, A moment of music I’ll never forget.
My father Charles, our Charlie, Dad. Although today I’m sensationally sad
You always taught me to look ahead and bouncing around are those words you said.
Open yourself up for the joy of success,
Don’t brace yourself for failure.
Always upbeat and stressy seldom, this marvellous man, Charles Edward Beldom.
Keep twinkling, twinkling, giant star and I’ll keep looking up wondering which one you are.
Up above – keeping watch from the sky. In the perpetual search for the perfect pork pie.
Sonia’s Mum is a transformational love story between a mentally complex mother and the daughter who adored her. I want to share these deeply personal and funny stories so that we can raise awareness for how challenging it is for many people who’ve had mentally ill parents and have struggled to come to terms with their own issues.
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