Bowie, Bedtime and Boredom
Mum’s got a pressure mat under her bed so that her carers can tell if she’s getting up or has fallen over – she thinks it’s more fun to do a sitting dance routine on her bed, feet touching the mat, until they come running to see what’s happening in Room 8. I asked her in August if she’d like a lower bed … “No thank you, but I love David Bowie – his hair, not his music”. Ah ok Mum, he was as bit of a trend setter wasn’t he? Did you like his spiky hair or his smooth styles? “Spiky with that sun thing on his forehead. Is it tin foil? You won’t do that will you?” No mum, but about this new mattress … ” Oh yes, ok. You’re getting very boring Sonia, I’m trying to lighten things up a bit”. We tried a little more conversation about David Bowie, but she’d already forgotten who he is and reminded me that she hates ginger hair. Her own hair colour. She’s 87 and no white hairs, just silky, soft auburn ginger hair now down to her shoulders. My lovely Mum has never liked herself much. I once tried to get to the bottom of why she hated ginger hair so violently and I think I got close. When she was little, kids were teasing her in her school in Sheffield. Shouting out the usual taunts – carrot top, gingernut, red robin. She fought back so hard with the chief bully girl and pushed her against a wall which gave her a bruise. It was covered by a plaster for a few days and was a daily reminder to my mum that she’d hurt someone and from that moment she associated red hair with trouble – and trouble with herself. It hasn’t stopped her causing it or getting into it since then of course. When she eventually told me about the bullying I understood why she often cuts herself out of photographs and more recently when she sees herself in a picture she play fights with the image and shouts “BOING!” when trying to rub herself out. She loves the pictures of my wedding day to my beloved Tony – a small affair with my two best friends as witnesses . So far, she’s kept herself in all of those pictures. Photos have always been a bit of theme with us – from when she always insisted that I stood next to brides in their new family portrait – any bride, any wedding, any church, anywhere we were. Up I was marched – stood next to bride and told to stop looking so serious. I’d love to find one of the photographs one day – a confused bride and groom next to a grumpy little girl staring angrily at someone facing the group. As I’ve mentioned before, grown-ups always looked confused – and no wonder. And in those days I would have looked a bit scruffy as mum always swaddled me up in layer upon layer of clothes ‘so that I didn’t catch a chill’. No pretty fluffy pink lacy number in keeping with a wedding picture, no. More like thick tights, socks over the top, a skirt, cardigan, wind-cheater (I think it was called) – with peacock feather coloured material that shone different tones in different light and diamond stitching on it, coat and hat. And that was Summer – Winter weddings always had an extra layer. I always got an elaborate bride doll at every birthday which I normally discarded as it reminded me too much of the wedding portrait sagas. She’d probably worked extra hours to earn enough money to pay for them which only occurred to me once I started work myself. Tony & I got married 2 years ago so that Mum could be there while she was still mobile … she was chatting away to her carer when we walked in. She then fell back in tears when she saw me in a wedding frock and Tony is a fantastic blue suit … “Oh Sonia darling, you look beautiful, my darling daughter and her Prince Blue Charming”. From then on she was joining in at every point, but who cared? That was the reason we married in an old pub and had our big party the following day in Covent Garden. More on that at another point. It’s 3.30pm and Mum’s still asleep – her carers normally wake her up to say hello or pass the phone over, but not today as I don’t want to disturb her dreams. She rarely sleeps for more than 2 hours at a time, so I’m hoping that she’s getting some proper rest – long, luscious red hair coating the pillow, face peaceful, brain calm. I bought her a pair of red velvet slippers recently, which she loves. I’m now thinking that Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” is about as perfect a song as I could get if I needed a soundtrack for the movie of her life … “Let’s dance, put on your red shoes and dance the blues …” Her dancing feet will no doubt alert her carers that she’s trying to get up and about later, demanding scrambled egg with butter and no cold bits.