MUMFORGETTABLE

MUMFORGETTABLE

“Once met, never forgotten”, is one of the phrases used by a special guest on my new MUMBELIEVABLE podcast about our challenging, courageous, confusing and cherished mums.  Margaret was a one-off.  For anyone who met her, she wasn’t one of those women who merged into a beige memory – oh no, she was a bright red, luminous green kind of woman.  A woman not afraid of speaking her mind, flirting with any man within winking distance, demanding money off strangers or brazenly stealing bunches of flowers from flower stalls or front gardens.  The only thing that scared her was that I could become well known and get my house burgled.  She was convinced that if anyone knew my name they could look me up and break in.  I think secretly she knew that she was capable of doing it, so was suspicious of the world of Margarets out there.

Today being Mother’s Day is a mixture of celebration and sadness as Mum is no longer with us, but her memory and life is the basis for the new podcast which has already had dozens of famous faces agreeing to come onto talk about their own mums.  We are officially launching today and put up a couple of episodes online for people to get a flavour of what’s to come and the reaction has been overwhelming.  With 24 hours we had 900 downloads, so that’s a good sign in podland, so I’m told.  That’s the happy bit.  The sad bit is that Mum isn’t here to listen to the stories.  She would laugh her head off at the memories I have of her antics, because she always told me that she had no real recollection of doing or saying the things that caused me so much embarrassment in my childhood.  I suppose it was because she was doing them all the time, not just to me, but to my long-suffering dad, mixed up brother and anyone around her.  I think what’s making the podcast so appealing is that it’s a celebration of our mums, mixed in with more poignant, deeper stories about how their lives were so different to ours.  The first two episodes on the podcast feature Steve Nallon and Kerry Howard.  Steve was the definitive Maggie Thatcher on the original Spitting Image and we learned from him that around the time he lost his mum when he was 9 years old, he realised he had a skill for  impressions.  His story about how unbelievably open-minded his mum and grand parents were is a lesson to us all.  Kerry’s mum sounds incredible and a TV star in her own right as she has been accompanying her son, Russell Howard (Kerry’s brother) on screen around the world and getting her teeth into adventures she never would have dreamed of having.  Another insightful and moving story that reinforces the message that life’s there for living, if we choose to live it.

This blog will soon become part of the MUMBELIEVABLE family as it’s too confusing for my little brain to have so many concurrent blogs and pods going.  The podcast is inspired by the stories I’ve been telling about Margaret here and I want the podcast to become an archive of generational stories that help tell us who we all are, through the lens of the mothers who brought us into this world.  I’m thankful that my cancer journey completely missed Mum.  She would have been beside herself. because in one of her lucid moments when I was about to go into hospital for a gall bladder removal, she said. “Now, don’t you die on me, Sonia darling.  That’s not a gift a mother wants from her daughter.”  Looking back, I went into hospital on the Monday after Mother’s Day which must have been behind her thinking over 30 years ago.

I’m on a mission now to include stories of our mums, good, bad or ugly (stories, not the mums) to help support people who may have had tricky relationships, amuse those who love a giggle and to help us all dig a bit deeper into our own lives.  One guest said that we only really think of parents from the moment we were born.  Their history isn’t relevant to us until we’re much more enquiring as adults.  I sometimes regret not sitting down with my dad to ask him more about his upbringing from a working class family who were supportive, but confused by his career choice to be a classical violinist.  I did ask my mum about her early life, but to be honest, the stories were so fantastic and mostly made up, I’ll never really know.  

In my bones I feel that I may get to know more about her through the podcast as I’m hoping that friends and family will tell me stories of their own encounters with her.  And I can build up an album of pictures and stories that make more sense than the tale she told me of living on a yacht on the French Riviera, dropping in for lunch with Prince Rainier and learning how to ride a horse on the golden beaches.  Do you know what?  I’m going to believe that’s true.  It’s the sort of thing my mumfomgettable mum could have done.  I’m also really looking forward to people sharing their own mum stories, so if you feel inclined please drop me a line and we can chat. 

To quote the great Nate King Cole, one of Mum’s favourite singers … “Like a song of love that clings to meHow the thought of you does things to me, Never before has someone been more…”

Happy Mother’s Day = to our mothers near and far.

 

 

RADIO MA MA

“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.


Take five

Take five

Mum passed five years ago and it seems like the day before yesterday. I stayed and talked to her for hours after she died and even though I know she’s gone, I always feel her mischievous presence everywhere.

I’m sitting in the chemo clinic waiting for treatment and Maura has just taken my lunch order. When mum worked as a a cleaner and domestic in Edgware General she used to bring me home whole meals on china plates, covered in clingfilm. Sometimes the food was a bit mushed together. That’s because she traveled everywhere on her bike, swearing at careless drivers and flirting with police or traffic wardens when she was told off for taking liberties.

She was terrified of being a hospital patient, but loved working in them, Sometimes, if I didn’t find a wrapped meal in the fridge there might be a handful of chocolates and even a get well card once. She’d tell me tales of getting patients out of bed and taking them for walks, despite protestations from nursing staff. And a midwife once confided in me that Mum had a magical effect on scared new mothers. She had suffered severe post natal depression, so she would have seen someone suffering and felt it was her mission to cheer them up, probably by bringing them chocolates that she’d nicked from another patient.

I remember going into her room at the care home and seeing her windowsill covered in model boats. She was never that keen on boating and I asked her about them. “I know you love the water and and Frank didn’t need so many, so I’ve borrowed them.” Did he mind? I asked. “He was furious, but it’s all part of the fun of living here.” she laughed. A little later in the day she produced a ‘going home bag’ containing thawed garlic bread, three sandwiches wrapped in foil, a can of Pepsi and three incontinence pads.

She’s with me today in spirit and there are chocolates on reception … I sense mischief.

Children’s Mental Health Week

Children’s Mental Health Week

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.

 

Mumbelievably emotional

Mumbelievably emotional

“It’ll be quite emotional”, they said. “No, I’m sure it won’t.” said I. “You’ll need to dig deep.” they said. “I’ve spent my lifetime talking about this, so I doubt it.” said I. “Do you ever listen to grown-ups?” they asked. “Rarely” said I. Deep down, I’ve always believed that you might listen to a grown-up, smile, make all the sounds to make the grown-up feel you’ve listened, then ignore them and do your own thing. For people who’ve followed this blog over the years, you’ll know that this is because my precious, departed Mum would say anything that popped into her head and, like a fool, I believed it. Then I’d repeat it and get into trouble. Lesson in life? Grown-ups can’t be trusted. I can remember testing my teachers with impossible questions just to reassure myself that my theory was right. “Miss Townsend – how do you spell Jascha Heifetz?” “Yashy who?” “You know, Jascha Heifetz, the most famous violinist in the world, surely everybody knows that?” Poor Miss Townsend with her flushing red cheeks, wide-eyed panic and spluttery answers. That little girl probably triggered her fear of public speaking and the dread of being asked difficult questions she couldn’t answer. Then there was Mr. Traue. Now, he was a big, clever grown-up with an authority about him that made you feel he should know what he was talking about. “Mr. Traue?” “Yes, Sonia.” “If eyelashes and eyebrows are meant to protect your eyes from dirt, why don’t worms have eyelashes or eyebrows?” Hah! No answer. I knew it. And as for the teacher who made me stand on a stool in the corner, facing away from the class because MARY had stepped on someone’s foot and I got the blame – I got to stand there for ages because I kept smiling to myself. She thought it was guilt, but I knew it was because I’d proved to myself yet again that grown-ups didn’t know what they were doing.

This little engine has been running my life until relatively recently. A clever little engine, always stocked with fuel, never breaking down or leaking. An engine that I rumbled into life when I was probably four or five and one that really needs retiring. As part of the healing process when my mum was finally sectioned, aged 80, I could see it for what it was and, respectfully, tell it to shut up. No wonder I could only last so long in a high-powered job with a powerful boss. And my quizzical face in response to an order or instruction could have been seen as defiance. Hindsight is a wonderful thing if you use it properly.

A couple of years ago a major literary agent encouraged me to write a memoir about growing up with a mentally unstable mum. It was emotional. I did dig deep. And I did listen to this clever, intelligent, insightful man. Many weeks of recalling the emotional trauma took its toll and even though I adored my mother in later life, I started to regurgitate the old feelings of frustration and hurt at what I perceived to be her not loving me. All nonsense of course as I know now that every strange thing she did was based on love and was all she could think of doing while her mind was turning somersaults. I came to the conclusion that unless you’re a famous face, a known writer or a million-plus blogger, nobody would really be interested. Friends told me that I should keep working on it as the blog was funny, uplifting and supportive and if the book was based on the blog, it would be a hit. I listened, but deep down it just wasn’t working. Cut forward three of four years later after getting my bus driving licence and writing the Granny Franny Adventures books and – “Tah-dah!” – the answer came. This book was always meant to be a starting point for young children to see that parents can act differently and do strange things, but deep down they still love them. I also hoped that grown-ups could read the story to their children or grand children and talk openly about their own issues or the issues of people around. The message: you’re always loved, no matter how strange things might appear. A picture book! Yes ! A picture book for children aged 4-8 about a little girl and her naughty mum. A mum who embarrasses her in front of her friends, sabotages play dates and jumps up and down on things she shouldn’t. I’ve written it now and after working with the most brilliant editor, it feels like a great mix of a funny story, emotional ups and downs and a strong message that no matter what, you’re loved very, very much.

Keep a look out for MUMBELIEVABLE, a picture book for 3-7 year olds, as I’m about to send it out to publishers. I don’t know what ever happened to Miss Townsend, but one thing’s for sure; she’s getting a mention in the dedications. Sadly, Mr. Traue died a few years ago and I wonder if he ever thought more about worms’ eyebrows.

I read the final version again this morning and shed a few tears for my darling mother who did everything she ever could to protect, nurture and support me. Mummy Margaret – you were and always will be mumbelievable.

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