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.

Wimbledon’t

Wimbledon’t

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.

A mother brick in the wall

A mother brick in the wall

What does your name say about you? I’ve had the polite “could you spell that please?” and the insulting “Blimey – did you ever think of changing it?” Today I found the true meaning of “it’s got your name on it” when I saw my mum’s name on a brick in a wall. Not graffiti, you understand; engraved on a brass plaque attached to one of a hundred bricks to help raise money to maintain the beautiful grounds of a local park. “Margaret Beldom” – just that. Simple, uncomplicated, peaceful amongst other names and bathed in sunlight. When I spotted it I stopped and said out (very) loud, “Aaaah – here you are” and a huge beam spread across my face. Here you are, Mum. Part of me, part of this wall, a name that hundreds of people are going to see and wonder about. The lyrics to Pink Floyd’s song, Another Brick in the Wall, took on totally new meanings. “We don’t need no education.” Mum had very little and ran away from school all the time, but it didn’t stop her being incredibly creative, resourceful, anti-establishment (applause please) and helping other people live meaningful lives. “We don’t need no thought control.” Are you kidding? Mum, having her thinking repressed? I don’t think so. “No dark sarcasm in the classroom.” Well, SHE might not have done, but I did when Mum turned up with jumpers for me to put on despite it being summer, porridge to eat or her version of my homework. “Teachers, leave those kids alone.” Hmmm, yes. Having to stand on the desk while being told that ‘You kids from broken homes with crazy parents are all alike’ didn’t do much for my confidence. It made me an independent thinker though, where creating poems, stories and pictures was far more satisfying than learning my 6 times table or hearing silly nonsense about all-powerful deities forcing fathers to kill their sons or eat their own babies.

One brick above my mum’s was another surprise – one I had engraved for my wonderful step-grandmother and professional pianist, Audrey who used to live in Finchley. Weird, or is it, that they were engraved months apart and end up next to each other? Audrey’s first encounter with my mum was when a flame-haired, screaming banshee turned up on her doorstep with two little children saying “If she wants him, she can have his children.” This was after mum saw a random name on a birthday card, put 6 and 6 together to make 99 and thumbed a lift across London to wreak havoc. I don’t remember it, but it’s etched in my step mum’s brain as you can imagine. Such a dramatic event actually pulled her and my dad together to hatch a survival plan now that there was a real life vigilante on the loose, likely to turn up anywhere, dragging bewildered children along. They were colleagues, nothing had occurred between them, but mum, with her uncanny gift of foresight had predicted the future. With those wonderful hindsight glasses on I can see that this was Mum off-loading her kids onto people she thought had more space, money and sanity than she did. I remember there being an awful lot of arguing, plate throwing and door slamming at the time. Same old, same old. She used to tell me that our (future) step mum liked cuddles and being naked with my father, whereas she didn’t. Talk about a recipe for promiscuity and a deep-rooted confusion between love and sex in a young girl. That’s another story.

Funny that thirty years later I ended up buying a home that was on the same road where Audrey was married and round the corner to the house she was born. Not so random after all, maybe. What do you think? My sister thinks that it would amuse Mum and Audrey and she’s right. They both had a wicked sense of humour, disobeyed convention and made people laugh.

All in all you’re not just another brick in the wall, Mum. You’re my brick and it’s not just any old wall, it’s Grade II listed. Shine on you crazy diamond.

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