Mum used to watch the television with sunglasses on because she confused the brightness button for the volume control. “I’m not enjoying this show, but I’m watching because you used to work with these boys”. Which boys, Mum? “These boys, these two, you know”. Any clues? “The suity booty boys” Errrr … who might she be watching I wondered? “They give people money”. Can you describe them, Mum? What do they look like? “Oh you know, Sonia darling, you’ve worked with them … CHAS AND DEN! Tell them to turn the light off.” Now there’s a tribute act if ever I’ve heard one. Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis in braces and flat caps singing “Gertcha” or in their case “Gertchacashflowsorted aaaht !” Mum told me not to be so silly and respect the people I’d worked with – after all, they’d helped to pay for my Donald Duck obsession. There are bits of this conversation from a couple of years ago that make sense, in their own way. It’s one of my favourite Mum mix-ups, the small parts contributing to the beauty of the whole.
Television and Mum has always been a tricky combo. As a very small child my father insisted that we didn’t have a telly as it would stifle our creativity and turn us into lazy kids. This meant, of course, that we had lots of lazy kid friends whose houses we used to find any excuse to go to. The haven of Nan and Pop’s flat always had the telly on quietly in the background until one of the big entertainment shows was on and the volume went up. It was there that I learned to love Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Chas and Dave and anyone who threw their talent out for the world to enjoy. Mum would only stop talking over everything when Val Doonican came on as she liked his rocking chair and always wanted one. We did buy one, but I remember rocking so hard that it nearly tipped over and once rocked over Mum’s new shoe – with her foot in it – so it went out to the rag and bone man. There’s a point to all this as the rag and bone man used to fancy Mum and once gave her a tortoise which she called Dave after Chas & Dave. She couldn’t call it Chas as that was Dad’s name and that would have been too confusing. So Dave it was – slow old Dave, escaping at every opportunity and digging himself into the mud when Summer started to wane.
Our flat was actually small, but I remember it being huge. Dad would have been practicing his violin in the main bed-sitting room while my brother and I would be in our room at the back, quietly pretending to be superstars in case Dad heard us; and that might have meant having to confess to watching these entertainers on someone else’s telly. So imagine my joy many years later at Radio 2 when Frances Line, our wonderful channel Controller, asked me to meet Chas & Dave’s manager to discuss a special programme featuring the boys. I thought … “think BIG Sonia, think BRAVE like Mum does.” So I suggested to Frances that we should do something huge, book in a proper band to back Chas & Dave, invite superstar guests on and record in a huge cabaret venue in North London. Worrying that she’d tell me go away and stop being silly, she said “Great idea – off you go”. So I did and 6 specials later Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock became firm friends. And through them I met my lovely husband Tony – it’s great when life aligns isn’t it? So Mum’s always known that Chas & Dave have always felt part of the family, even though she was never given any actual dates or details just in case she decided to pay them a visit.
I was about 7 when I first really understood that Mum had mental health issues. The full extent of her illness had been kept from me for years and all credit to my selfless step mother Donna who took on two young children and an unstable, unpredictable ex-wife when she married the love of her life, my Dad Charles (or Chas as often referred to by his folks; my Nan and Pop). My brother and I were once waiting for her to pick us up for one of our regular Sunday visit days out, but she didn’t appear for a while. So we ventured into the Golders Green Station cafe to wait as it was cold. About an hour later the cafe owner came up and said, cautiously … “Are you Sonia & David?” Yes we said, wondering why we were suddenly being addressed by our names. “Are you waiting for your Mum?” Yes … we were. At full blast he then leant out of the cafe window and yelled at two policemen outside … “They’re in here!” We were then escorted out by two young male coppers who refused to tell us anything until we got to the station. Terrified, puzzled and suddenly realising that we really couldn’t go to the station with them or “how would Mum know where to meet us?”, we were told that our family knew what was going on and that we shouldn’t worry. Huh ! Grown-ups … even the official ones spoken nonsense and we decided that we couldn’t even trust the police. We sat in a cold, bare room until a lovely lady came in, followed by a very anxious Dad and Donna. Mum had apparently been taken into care to protect herself and a couple of people she’d accosted and had eventually told the authorities that her children were running around at Golders Green. The search party had been up and down the High Street, missing children alert, the works. I found all this out years later, but at the time I just retreated into my safe little world to sing songs and remember lyrics of the great standards. Mum was trouble and she’s made the police arrest us. We knew she wasn’t like other Mums, but she always did lovely things in her own way, despite being the MOST embarrassing mum on the planet. It was all so confusing.
We saw her the following weekend and as usual she crouched down and held her arms out as we ran towards her. And we probably went to the zoo where she always managed to get us into bits of the zoo that other kids never got to see. Through sheer exuberance, charm and never taking no for an answer.
Mum – have you tried turning the brightness down on your telly? And the volume up? You might enjoy it more. “No thank you, I’m fine. They’ve just given a girl £50,000 – amazing. Did they ever give you money?” She was obviously convinced that two of the Dragons were Chas & Dave in disguise. When Tony and I told Chas & Dave that we were going to get married, they dedicated their hit “I Wish I Could Write A Love Song” to us when on stage at the Albert Hall. Mum would have loved that, but she would probably have heckled them with “stop singing in that silly voice” or “Tell my daughter to get more sleep”. And if that scared, young policeman had been in the audience I’d have asked the boys to dedicate the Sideboard Song to him … “ I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care if he comes round here, I’ve got my beer in the sideboard here, let mother sort it out if he comes round here”. She always did in her own way and I try to continue doing it when she needs it (sorting out, not beer – she’s not allowed).