It’s tennis season and memories of being turned away at the Wimbledon turnstiles still haunt me. Not even a frilly white frock, pretend tennis racquet and packet of strawberries was going to convince the security guards to let us in. I was probably 8 or 9 and Mum normally managed to blag her way in anywhere. Not this time, despite the flirting, protests and pushing me forward and ordering me to smile nicely. I knew at the time that my outfit was ridiculous. Tennis players wore short, simple tunics and not frilly bridal dresses. Nobody was going to be convinced by a pink plastic toy tennis racquet and as for the strawberries … mushy and inedible. Years later I was able to sneak in with my BBC ID pass and watch from the commentary boxes, As always, looking back, this was Mum at her most creative; trying to make a dream come true and cementing future memories. Cemented they were, but maybe not for the right reasons.

Barnet Council has brought back a Summer Festival and is putting on outdoor cinema events for us all to enjoy for free. Walking past the giant screen earlier with my little dog I heard the familiar plock, plock of the match and no doubt all eyes will be glued to Emma Raducanu as she slams her way into tennis history later today. I did start tennis lessons (in protest) at senior school, but was soon excused after messing around and not taking it seriously. Our tennis coach, the formidable Miss Harris, taught us how to serve … “ball UP, look UP, racquet back, watch ball and THROW the racquet over”. Yes, of course I knew that what she meant was to keep hold of the racquet while making a throwing motion to contact the ball and send it over the net. My first attempt was a disaster as I missed the ball. “You’re supposed to hit the ball, Sonia, not watch it drop to the ground.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Second attempt. Right – up, look, racquet back, watch and throw. Clatter, clatter, clatter. “You’re not supposed to actually throw the racquet across the court, Sonia.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was much happier running around the square, making faces at the tennis students who probably wished they’d had the balls to risk the wrath of Harris. The only competitive sport she ever convinced me to take part in was hockey which I also loathed. All that knocking of sticks, whacking shins and getting up at dawn for hockey matches. I made myself very good at defending the goal which meant that not only did I have shin pads, I didn’t have to do all that running up and down the pitch. Netball was OK as I was tall and was often made goalie. Again, lots of knocking the ball back and not having to run around too much.

So now we’re approaching a life after lockdown with more time to actually go to things I’m going to apply for tickets for Wimbledon next year – and in my precious mum’s honour I’m going to try and find a white frilly frock to wear. Looking back, I’m pleased we didn’t get in because she would have been heckling the players no doubt, gate-crashing VIP areas, digging up bits of grass for me to take home as a souvenir (I’ll tell you that story another time) and hoovering up the spare strawberries left by the posh people who bought them inside the club grounds. She came to the Finchley Festival once – the yearly event with dozens of highly decorated floats, Carnival Queens, displays, events and a huge fairground. There was so much noise around that nobody really noticed her loud singing and she even managed to get herself a ride on a police horse by flirting with the mounted policeman who wasn’t laughing at first when she stood on a chair and tried to mount his horse to sit behind him. Advantage Margaret.

Here’s to Summer freedom. Here’s to my marvellous mum. Love all.

Kate Mistletoe, Duchess of Cambridge

Kate Mistletoe, Duchess of Cambridge

“Am I coming to your house for Christmas, Sonia darling?” Mum, it breaks my heart, but don’t forget the bathroom’s upstairs and it’s not very comfortable for you downstairs. “I don’t like Upstairs Downstairs, no, no, no” Ah, ok.
I love Mum’s fantastic tangential thinking. It catches me off guard and makes me chuckle which in turn makes her laugh, although she very rarely knows why she’s doing it. “Will Kate Mistletoe be at the hospital?” Click, rewind, Kate? Who? Oh yes, Mum’s name for the Duchess of Cambridge. No Mum, I don’t think so. The baby’s not due till Spring. “Can you tell her to hurry up this time. Christmas Day maybe?”

Much though I’d love to fulfil all my mum’s dreams and wishes, conjuring a royal birth for Christmas Day might be a tricky one to organise. This was our conversation earlier today which has prompted me to recall a couple of Royal Mumbelievable truths.

I was a stick thin, ballet-minded child who spent a lot of time in the wings of theatres when my father was playing in the orchestra pit for the Royal Ballet. My impression of ballerinas was that they were pointy, sweaty, swearing, clod-hopping beauties who bashed their shoes on stage door steps to break them in before wearing them on stage. Those beautiful satin, perfect, ribboned shoes being smashed always upset me, but they were grown-ups of course and grown-ups always did daft things. Mum was convinced that I would be a ballerina, so had told me that one day I would dance for the Queen and I would sing for Cilla Black. She also told me that Margot Fonteyn was my Fairy Godmother, something I knew was real because I’d spent time in her dressing room and she always had sparkly things on. Once I rubbed her cheeks and eyes because I thought she had dirt on her face. She was very graceful in re-applying her make-up and telling me that fairies like me needed to go and see the show from the wings as that was a very special place. Ah – I’d worked out for myself that was why they called them the wings. Margot Fonteyne? Fairy Godmother? Well, that was all obviously true.

A couple of years later when my parents started splitting up it was a bit turbulent, let’s put it that way. Didn’t most parents shout and throw plates? I thought that was normal. And didn’t all Mummies take you to friends’ houses and leave you there for a few days? Horrid, the basis of life-long abandonment issues, but didn’t everyone’s parents do that? Mum would often succumb to depression and “getaways” she called them. She had to take time away from the world and putting me in the home of a safe, normal family who could take proper care of me was her way of ensuring I was ok. Of course I wasn’t. Why would my Mum who told me all the time how much she loved me, abandon me at Sharon’s house when I lived four doors away? Poor old Sharon – sharing her bedroom with a snivelling neighbour and long, silent dinner times. No wonder she ganged up on me at school with the other kids who nick-named me “Ding Dong”. I let them do it, because I knew that it was less hurtful than having my hair pulled. “Ding Dong, Bell Dong, Your head’s gone wrong. Two screws are loose. Your head’s no use”. Quite funny looking back on it and I appreciated the clever play on words even then. In a period of adjustment at home, Dad’s only option was to bring family members or close friends over to look after us when he went out to work. Mum would always phone us, so it felt like she was there, but one evening she decided that it wasn’t ok for us to have Auntie Georgie over twice in one week. Dad told me years later that it was probably the most embarrassing moment of his life when at a Royal Ballet performance at The Royal Opera House that night, Mum wanted to “have a word”. Refused entry via the Stage Door she got round the doorman, claiming to be a late comer. This was in the days when everyone mistook her for Nancy in the film, Oliver, so she could always get round people. What did she do? Quietly slip in and wait for the interval? No. Did she take her place in the foyer and hope to catch Dad coming out at the end? No, of course not. She marched down the central aisle in the middle of act one, looked into the pit and threw her handbag at my Dad in the violin section shouting “I want a word with you”. There would have been crashing of instruments and stunned silence from the audience, orchestra and dancers no doubt. Dad’s only option was to leave the pit and deal with my meddlesome mum in the band room. Of course, he thought his career as a classical violinist was over, but quite the opposite. He probably got more work and compassionate bookings as everybody realised what he was coping with as a 25 year old husband of a 38 year old fiery redhead with two young children to support.

I’ve asked her about that incident in the past and her best answer was “Well, sometimes you’ve just got to do the thing that gets you noticed.” But didn’t it worry you that people would be upset, let alone the performance spoiled? “Well, they do the same dance every night, so what harm is one bit of interruption?”. That’s mum’s logic. She’s fearless. She doesn’t see how her actions impact on those around her. You know you’re losing the argument when you shout out in desperation “Can’t you SEE how embarassing that is?”. I did that a lot. Quite simply, she couldn’t, can’t, doesn’t. ‘A lack of social conscience’ it was once described to me as. ‘Borderline personality disorder’ at another more recent assessment. Nobody really knows, do they? Or maybe they do. Do you know?

Mum’s never actually met the queen, but she’s been interviewed about her. There was a Royal visit in the 80’s that Mum made a big effort to get to. She’d bought an old hat from the charity shop, stuck a union jack flag on the side, cut out a Fleur de Lis for the other side and painted HRH in red nail varnish on the front. She thought the Fleur de Lis looked similar enough to the Prince of Wales Feathers. Local TV were stopping people to talk about it and apparently she was featured – at the end of the item – the “and finally” slot. It must have been funny to watch her and I’ve seen the hat. It’s not a great design. Unlikely to pass muster at Ascot. Striking, but … no Vivienne Westwood. If I ever find the footage or find out which royal reporter picked my quirky mum and hat out of the crowd I’ll “have a word” myself as she was upset that they asked her a silly question about getting ahead of the crowd. She knew, deep down, that they were poking fun no doubt and that always makes me sad whilst smiling about the reactions she would have got.

You like Kate Mistletoe then, do you mum? “Who?” Kate Mistletoe. “Sonia darling, don’t eat mistletoe will you? It’a parasite” Splutter … cough … tea down white jumper. “Are you choking, Sonia darling?” No mum, I’m ok. I love you. See you at the weekend. “You’re not a parasite darling, you don’t think that do you?”. Err … no of course I don’t Mum. “I gave birth to you, you know” Yes mum, thank the world for that.

Cue … Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy … with Frank Muir’s ambiguous, non-PC words that nobody’s allowed to say any more.

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