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.

Ignore her and she might go away

Ignore her and she might go away

I met up with my best, best friend from junior school last week, thirty five years after we last saw each other. We’d lost touch and after decades of trying to find him via social media, his old home address and Friends Reunited, up popped his photo on Facebook a couple of years ago. Bronzed and cool, now living in LA. The years flew past and he recalled a story that he’s often told people about my crazy mum. She’d turned up unexpectedly at my new school where things were pretty fantastic compared to the other schools I’d had to join mid-term along with the taunts, jibes and non-acceptance from other kids. Nobody, it seemed, liked a newcomer, apart from my last junior school where my lovely friend waved frantically at me shouting out “Sit here. Sit next to me!” Whereupon the other kids tried to get me next to them, smiled at me and offered me sweets in the break. I don’t think I really believed it, as it was likely I’d be yanked out of school again when one, both or all parents disappeared and moved – again! There was my mum at the end of the school path, in the street yelling out “ooh, ooh, Sonia darling, ooh ooh”. I whispered to my friend “Put your head down as we go past and maybe she won’t spot us amongst all the other kids”. It worked and off we scampered, seeking out ice cream and making sure we were home at least an hour after our annoying parents had told us to be back. My poor Mum. She would have been desperate to see me, having only limited access rights after the divorce. She shouldn’t have turned up un-announced, but “shouldn’t” wasn’t really in her vocabulary. Typical Mum. She would have decided she wanted to see me, got herself to the school and done what she always did – draw attention to herself and in turn to me. Although Andrew and I were laughing about it, I was holding back invisible tears to think how upset and confused she must have been to see her precious daughter for a snatched moment and then lose sight of her again.

She’s had a habit of turning up unexpectedly and one that sticks in my mind was when she took me and my brother to a holiday camp when we were 13 and 11 years old. I was just beginning to understand the power that a smile, a busty frame and long blonde hair had over teenage boys. I hung out with Philip, the first boy who called himself my boyfriend, smelled of mouthwash, bought me flowers (carnations) and chocolates (Black Magic). His mate tried it on with Dairy Milk, but that wasn’t cutting it when I had Mr. Listerine. We decided to go to the fancy dress party one evening and I made him a bow tie out of a black bin liner so that he could be James Bond and I was his Bond girl with a borrowed long frock and my hair piled up high on my head. While we were all parading around the stage there came on stage a little figure with what looked like an oversized grey bishop’s mitre resting on their shoulders with rows of points drawn on one side and a big pair of eyes on the other. Walking very slowly and with hands outstretched in front it was obvious that the thing they’d forgotten to include in this bizarre head costume was a pair of eyeholes. The Redcoat saw this as an opportunity to test out his comedy skills as he slid over and smiled at the audience before making a joke of some sort. For those not familiar with the pantomime of British holiday camps, imagine Summer Camp with people in red blazers organising “Miss Lovely Legs”, “Mr. Knobby Knees” competitions and embarrassing themselves once a week with their own talent show. Well this guy was classic. “So WHO do we have here then?” he said, winking at the audience and knocking on the cardboard headpiece. Sounding like it was coming from inside a sock, a shrill voice shouted out “JJJJJWWWAAAAARRFFFZZZZ”. “Pardon?” said the Redcoat, dancing around the character and mugging to the audience. Again, “I’m sorry – WHO or WHAT are you?”. Now he was doing that annoying pretend laugh where people who really aren’t very funny at all double over and hold their bellies in mock hysterics. “MMMMM JJJJJWWWAAAAARRFFFZZZZ !!!”, louder this time and starting to sound cross. “I’m sorry, love you’re gonna have to do better than that, isn’t she, or he, ladies and gentlemen?” Now the crowd was laughing, as was I, in the way you see a braying audience shouting OFF OFF OFF when a hopeless hopeful tries to belt out a Whitney Houston number on Britain’s Got Talent. Exasperated by not being understood the character tore off the grey cardboard hood thing and shouted “I’m Jaws, you stupid man!” “JAWS? Did you say JAWS?” “Yes, JAWS you stupid idiot, fatty fat boy!”. Silence fell and a few feet shuffled awkwardly as people started sniggering or walking off in embarrassment. The figure had flowing red hair, pink cheeks from being inside the home-made Jaws head and I hid behind Philip in case she saw me. Mum had tried very hard to be original and funny in her inimitable way, but I was crucified with embarrassment and wanted to deny I knew her in that moment. Aren’t we cruel when we’re kids? Of course, we laughed about it a few years later and I’ve never been able to see the film without thinking of my little mum marching around with a cardboard Jaws head on. It was rubbish, truth be told and didn’t look anything like a shark, but it was the creative thought I admire when I look back. Other mums were pirates, fairies, cats or ghosts. Mum was a shark. Of course she was.

Andrew and I compared notes about our mums, early careers, loves, losses and what makes us tick. He lives in LA now and it’s my turn to go and visit him next time. I knew I’d be friends with him forever when we first met. He was warm, welcoming, smiley and kind. He apparently thought I was sweet, quiet and shy. Well, that was the coping strategy in a new school. Keep a low profile and perhaps they’ll ignore you and stick horrible notes on someone else’s back. It’s so life affirming to hear a friend saying “Wow – what a lot you’ve packed in to your life” and “How did you EVER get over that?”. Channelling my mum, that’s how. She was brave, creative and confident in her Jaws moment – all qualities she’s passed on to me whenever I try something new and plunge feet first into a new adventure. She still nags me when I see her. “You’re not getting enough sleep” is her current favourite one as she tries to convince the care home staff to make up a bedroom for me so that I can stay the night.

So when I rock up to Los Angeles International Airport should I wear a Jaws costume and shout “Ooh,ooh Andrew, ooh ooh?” He’d laugh, but I’m not sure about the LAPD … safe journey back across the Atlantic my precious friend and I’ll tell Mum all about our wonderful afternoon when I see her at the weekend on the South Coast where, thankfully, great whites are few and far between.

Mum Might Get Marmite

Mum Might Get Marmite

Mum wants Marmite for Christmas. “It’ll be a good present for you to buy me, Sonia darling as it will last a year at least – save you money”. A year, Mum? It’ll have to be a very big jar. “No, a little one is fine – hate the stuff so I won’t eat it”. Mum logic. Short blog this time. Mum is channeling her inner Tommy Cooper. Marmite it is.

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