All out of sweets, money box empty and candle wax all over the hall floor. Yes, Halloween was a popular one this year. Fully made up in “Bride of Frankenstein” look, I opened the door to two snickering teenage boys and a father who jumped when he saw me. “Excuse my dad – he’s a wimp!” declared one of the boys, fixated on the bridal cleavage. It was so nice to see gaggles of giggling kids running up the path and recoiling in mock terror when I asked them if they were the take-away dinner I’d just ordered. One little girl said (rather indignantly) that she wasn’t for eating, neither was her brother, mummy or daddy – thank you VERY MUCH. The emphasis on the “very much” made me laugh so much I lost an eyelash and sent them away with a couple of pounds each. My adorable husband stayed out of the drama and was rather miffed that I had to start dishing out his favourite dark chocolate Hobnobs when the cash and sweets ran out. The laughter and doorstep drama rather made up for it though and he regretted not doing his dastardly Dracula makeup to enter into the spirit. There’s always next year.
All this reminded me of how I used to be pushed onto doorsteps by my darling departed mum. Quite often I’d be sent to knock on doors with a charity fund-raising box or a pamphlet that Mum had created about whichever religion she was road-testing that week. Sometimes she’d accompany me and speak on my behalf. “Can my little girl have a glass of water please?” or “Can my little girl tell you all about (insert religious belief here) please?” or -worst of all – “Can we have some of your flowers for an old lady we’re visiting in hospital please? We don’t have the money for a proper bunch and my little girl was so enchanted with your flowers she wondered if you’d let us have some?” She was, of course, making it all up, I’d never said any such thing and I knew that this was a terrible cheek, but somehow Mum melted hearts and people did what she asked. Maybe it was the flame red hair, slightly manic look of the eye and the sheer surprise of the request that made them relent. Or maybe, as I’ve come to learn in later life, people are just kind and are often very happy to help if asked. The absolute worst bit of the flower begging story is that I had no idea that the house she’d chosen belonged to my arch nemesis at school who poked her head round the door and had that “Ooooh, just wait till I tell the other school bullies what Sonia’s mum did today” look on her smirking face. Many years later we met at a school reunion and we laughed about Mum’s antics. She didn’t remember the flower story though, but did remember the elephant feeding story which I’d forgotten. When we had school outings, three or four parents would volunteer to be helpers and I prayed that Mum never volunteered. She was nearly always busy and constantly working extra shifts to buy extras I later discovered. However, at the time I was relieved she’d never volunteered, so I could enjoy the trip. One fateful day – yes, you’ve guessed it – she volunteered and I spent two weeks in high anxiety wondering what would happen and how her crazy antics would contribute towards even more bullying and sniggering finger-pointing. We arrived at the zoo and were ushered to the front of the queue thanks to Mum declaring that we all needed the loo and should be allowed in first. When we got to the elephant enclosure Mum disappeared for a few minutes and re-appeared with a bag full of pastries which we all fed to the elephants. Nobody questioned it and we were all about to move on when a security guard “had a word” with Mum and looked quite serious. It turned out that she had gone into the canteen, found people who were eating pastries and convinced them to hand them over so we could feed the elephants with them. Somebody complained, hence security guard, but as nothing had been stolen and people had actually handed over said pastries, there was no case to be answered. Mum had apparently called the security guard “Grumpy guts” as we all made our way to the penguins and it wasn’t until Sara re-told the story that I vaguely remembered the incident. All was forgiven and she also told me that one day she’d been at school with a torn cardigan and Mum had asked my nan to knit a new cardigan, supposedly for me. I never received it because Mum secretly took it to Sara’s house because she obviously needed it more than I did.
Isn’t it bewildering sometimes to hear stories about people you love and how their actions have impacted on other people? I love the fact that my precious mum’s antics were widespread outside the family and that people remember her with great fondness and laughter, mixed up with a bit of “the sheer cheek of it!”
It’s coming up to Christmas season and I wanted to share something that I remembered whilst putting on makeup for Halloween. For about three years Mum had badgered my school into considering me for the part of the Virgin Mary in the school nativity and they always chose a Catholic girl for the leading role. Then one year they gave in and I found out that I was chosen to be Mary when it was announced at school assembly. I was very excited, even though they told me that there were no plans for a solo ballet routine. I had the blue robe, a white head covering and learned my one and only line like a trooper. We did a couple of rehearsals and my “Oh Joseph, I’m tired. Can we rest here a while?” line was going to be get me an Oscar. The night before the show I checked my costume, spoke my lines to a mirror, remembered to smile and was confident that this was going to be a triumph. My Joseph co-star was my first crush – with his StartRight sandals, knobbly knees and huge sticking-out ears. Yes, Kenneth Williams (not THE Kenneth Williams – stop messin’ about!) was going to be my real husband one day, despite not showing me the slightest bit of interest and refusing to hold my hand in rehearsals. On the day of the nativity Mum took me out of school for the morning and sat me down. I had to close my eyes while it felt like she was brushing my face with big soft brushes and dusting things around my eyes. It took ages, but as I’d grown accustomed to zoning out when Mum was in full-on strange behaviour mode, I was probably singing the songs from Cinderella in my head or trying to remember the latest ballet dance. It all finished, I put on my costume and she marched me into school, much to the relief of the teachers who must have been lining up my under-study. Well, at least I thought it was relief as they were smiling a lot and one of them laughed before clasping a hand to her mouth. When I walked on stage, parents stared, kids started laughing and I, like a trooper, tried not to be put off and said my line. Kenneth Williams didn’t say his next line, because he was staring at me open-mouthed. I had to say it for him to recover the situation – a skill I’d learned very well whenever Mum was involved in anything. When it was all over I saw myself in the mirror. Staring back at me was The Virgin Mary in heavy stage make-up, complete with blusher, blue and silver eye shadow, bright red lipstick, mascara and heavy brown eyebrows. Mortified wasn’t the word. I think she’d even given me a Marilyn Monroe beauty spot. As a grown-up I did tease her about it and she laughed at the audacity of it. Even she could see that a tarty Virgin Mary wasn’t the look my school were going for. But we made up eventually of course, although at the time it took me two days to speak to her again after the nativity play.
Years later, when taking my English O-level exam we were presented with three titles to choose from for a fictional story. My choice was “Making Up” and I told the story of a little girl whose mum took her stage makeup a bit too far in the wrong circumstances. My English teach told me that I’d got the wrong end of the stick and the title referred to making up after an argument. Miffed, I beat myself up about misinterpreting the title and obviously failing my English. Imagine my absolute delight when I passed and the school were sent a note saying that they applauded one student’s fascinating interpretation of the phrase and recommended that I pursued a career in writing. Well, it’s taken me forty years to take their advice and I’ve decided to create a children’s picture book inspired by the wonderful feedback I get from this blog and it’s all about a little girl and her naughty mum who has good days, naughty days and sometimes goes away for a few days while granny and grandad come round. Watch this space and if the book catches the imagination of children who can see from the story that strange behaviour in a parent is nothing to be ashamed of – job done. And if grown-ups use it as a funny story from which to springboard into conversations about mental health and their own issues – job done too. So many incidents to choose from of course when it comes to naughty mum stories – you couldn’t make it up!
Mum bought me a gold ring with diamonds in an S-shape when I was 40. It was a bit too small, so I never really wore it. She remembered something about a ring this morning when I told her it was ready to pick up from the jewellers … “I think I remember the ring. … Sonia darling, I didn’t give you a ring yesterday did I?” No Mum, you didn’t ring me, you bought me a ring. Do you remember it? “Well, I’m ringing you now aren’t I?” No Mum, I rang you, but I’m talking about a little gold ring with diamondy stones in it. “I like the Rolling Stones”. I assumed it was cubic zirconia, but no, the jeweller told me it was antique gold with real diamonds and would have cost her a fortune. Bang ! Heart thump ! I remembered Mum taking on extra cleaning shifts at the time.
I was listening to a wonderful interview this morning on Radio 4 with the mum and son who inspired the musical “Everybody’s Talking about JAMIE”. He broke down in tears when his mum revealed how she’d gone short and was happy to do it, to make sure he got everything he needed to make his teenage drag queen life possible. This beautiful woman with her soft County Donegal accent got me thinking … do we ever really appreciate what our parents have done for us when it comes to going without things themselves to give us what we need? Probably not, after all they are parents, it’s what parents do. I’ve never had the joy of having my own children, so I don’t have first hand experience, but I know that I’d give my precious sister everything I had if she really needed it. In a heartbeat. Does that count?
Mum was never able to hold a real job down as her attention span is, let’s put it kindly, short. It always has been. And she was never going to get the Employee of the Month badge as she was constantly confusing her bosses. I remember my Dad telling me that she was cleaning for a local family who’s patriarchal figurehead knelt down to prey at least three times a day. Mum was sacked when she rammed her Hoover into him, telling him to “get up off your knees with all the preying nonsense – you’re in my way!” Not the cleverest way of ensuring long-term employment. When she moved to the coast and took a job in a local care home she raided the kitchen kitty and shared it out with all the residents, telling them to buy sensible biscuits as she didn’t like the digestives. The Scratchwood Services boss let her go when she kept banging on the doors of the hotel rooms when businessmen were “having a rest” with women in tow … she took offence to the “easyshags” (her term) and often chased them out of their rooms early with an admonishment and waggy finger. I know that waggy finger – it’s terrifying – I used it once recently myself – never again ! Somewhere there may still be footage of Mum cycling to Scratchwood Services from Hendon – up the M1. yes, the M1. She got very fed up with the police pulling her over all the time. ALL THE TIME ??? She told me that lorry drivers were the worst … hotting and honking, flashing their lights, stressing her out. My little 5’1″ mum with her flowing red hair, cycling on her battered old bicycle on the motorway. To make it even more perilous, she got so fed up with the lorries that she rode in the middle of the lane so they couldn’t keep pushing her onto the hard shoulder and yelled at them as they sped by. The lovely part of all of this – apart from her not being killed – was that she had a huge amount of affection for the police officers who knew her name and were always giving her a lift to the services with her bike in the back of their car with fruitless requests that she promised not to cycle back again. She promised. She didn’t keep her promises of course. If anyone ever remembers a friend, family member or fellow police colleague recalling these incidents I want to shake their hand and say thank you. It always amuses me to think that maybe, just maybe, a car driver who passed her on his way to a secret assignation at the Scratchwood Services hotel would end his liaison with a loud knock on the door and a muffled “GET OUT!”.
She was never afraid of work – and worked constantly. I can remember wondering why I was often at some weird person’s house after school, but got used to it . Now I realise it was Mum going out to save up for special birthday parties, or a fancy dolly, a dinghy for my brother, lean cuts of meat (that she’d often combine with very odd ingredients, but that’s another story), or a new pair of shiny shoes. And this one that slays people when I tell it. In the television industry we’re nearly all freelancers and when a contract falls down it’s the usual game of chess to get other work in. On this occasion three things fell down at once and I was worrying about the bills and mortgage. I called mum to say that I’d wait for a week or so until coming down to see her as I needed to conserve my money. She, of course, was fine with that as she’s never, ever been one of those mums who gives you hassle for not visiting. The next morning the postman arrived with a little parcel – Mum’s writing on the packet and a roll of sellotape used to wrap it up. Inside was her little silver leather purse with £3.84 in it. I called her to thank her and her words were, and I’ll never forget them … “Well Sonia darling, my pension comes on Monday and I can do until then and I thought you’d need this more than me”. That purse is one of the things I’d rescue if I ever had to leave the house in an emergency. That £3.84 would have bought her 2 Salvation Army breakfast bacon sandwiches – her favourite brekkie as she refused to use her gas cooker. And as always, for my sake, Mum went without.
I’ll never be able to repay her “withouts” but I can always give her respect and love, drive down to the coast whenever I can and have wonderful conversations with her. She’s never asked for anything in return – her only recent demand is for chocolate toffees and to sit calmly with her to hold her hand. That’s whenever she’s not flinging food or sweets at other residents or wagging her finger at Carol who keeps trying to Nick her biscuits.
Clive, Colin & Olive are the only Snow White dwarves worth caring about, Michael Pillow is the best broadcaster about train journeys, my head looks like a giant sugar cube, scrambled eggs and toffee will keep you going till 100 and Piers Morgan is the best James Bond ever. According to Mum, these facts are all true and everything else is fanciful thinking on my behalf. She’ll often berate me for ‘getting above myself with the intellect’ and corrects me by giving me ‘proper’ stories to relate … and when you think about it, they all make sense – Mum sense. A load of old Mumsense and I love it.
We’ve all had those moments when someone says something hysterical in front of a crowd and when that person is completely unaware of what they’ve said it makes us laugh even more, even though we know we shouldn’t – but it’s fun isn’t it? It’s panto season coming up and Tony and I are the panto band again – this year it’s Bluebeard, not Snow White, but Mum won’t be convinced that there won’t be dwarves in it. She won’t be able to come and see it this year and that’s probably just as well. The last theatre experience I took her to was to see Tommy Steele in Scrooge and we had seats at the back of the gallery – always a sensible place for Mum as she can’t resist joining in and causing a few shhhhhh’s and menacing looks over the shoulder for those too scared to do a shhhhhh. Back of the gallery? Yes, good thinking as she was so far away from the stage, she couldn’t possibly shout out to the performers . Wrong. Shout she did. Loudly, waving arms, mentioning me in every sentence. “Whoooo-ooooo Tommy Steele ! My daughter here wants to marry you” and a little later “Whhooo-ooooo Tommy Steele ! Do you have a dog? My daughter wants a puppy.” Where did THAT come from? Neither of these heckles were true of course and even though I’ve told myself a million times that people will only be reacting to Mum’s antics and not associating me with the mayhem, I was wrong. They did and told ME to shut up and stop encouraging my Mum. Tommy Steele did eventually respond with a “Hello up in the Gods – I’m the star of this show”. It didn’t stop her and how we weren’t ejected I’ll never know. Scrooge was similar to panto with its jokes and crafty asides to the audience, so we managed to stay till the end. She went to the loo after the curtain call and then I lost her. She’d gone. Nowhere to be seen. It was about twenty minutes until one of the ushers asked me if I was THE Sonia? Oh dear, here we go, straight back to childhood horrors of being rounded up by policemen as Mum was unexpectedly taken into care. “Yes – is everything ok?” Yes, Mum says that she’ll only be 10 minutes or so as she’s hoping to get to see Tommy after the show. Luckily (for me) she’d not got past Stage Door and came back into the main foyer on the arm of a very camp, red-faced young usher who kept patting her arm. She’d loved every minute of Scrooge of course and said she’d felt part of the show. I think I shrunk at least 2 inches by compressing my spine and trying to be invisible.
When my brother was born, Mum had severe post-natal depression which was, as far as I can ascertain, undiagnosed and written off as eccentricity. She’s never liked her red hair and when my brother arrived with his gorgeous shock of ginger hair she associated him with herself and didn’t connect. She was a ballerina who’d been asked to dance with Nuryev, so she couldn’t possibly look after a new baby. She broke toes going up on pointe in the hospital ward and cut the hem of her hospital gown to look more like a tutu. I’d heard the stories from Dad and Pop as they were always brought up as funny anecdotes, but underneath I knew that things weren’t right with her at the time and although they were funny antics they were, as I started to realise as I got older, the result of severe mental health problems. The gap between my parents was 13 years – she was the older one – so it had its challenges as a marriage in the 60s when that age gap was more unusual than now. She was always very astute though in her own way and in between her muddled thinking and outrageous behaviour, there lurked a philosopher and deep thinker. I can remember going to the ballet and asking Mum who all the dancer characters were. I must have been talking out loud as there was lots of shhhhhhh’s dotted throughout this memory. “Sonia darling, what you have to remember in ballet is that dancing has to be very clear on who is a man and who is a woman otherwise people get confused. That’s why the men have their willies on show and the ladies wear short skirts. These were the actual words she said. Yes, willies on show. I was confused and asked her afterwards if it was ok for men to show their willies on stage? Yes she said, as long as they are in a ballet. I wasn’t convinced but went along with it. I asked her later if it HAD to be men and women getting married, or could men marry men and women marry women. Only in America she told me. Ah, only in America, ok that made sense to my 5-year old brain. Soon afterwards I remember meeting one of Dad’s friends at a concert he was playing in and this man had a funny voice. I asked him why he had a funny voice and he told me he was American. Ah – are you sleeping with a man? I asked. Dad spat out his Guinness and his colleague walked away after smiling at me in that I’m-smiling-but-I’m-not-happy way. Mum had told me that men marry men in America, so surely that made sense? Why were grown-ups so confusing?
Mum told me yesterday that the care home has a box of James Bond films and she’s going to watch the Piers Morgan one. Try telling her that it’s Pierce Brosnan … she berated me again with a friendly chide … Pierce? What kind of a man’s name is that? OK Mum, which film is it? Tomorrow Never Dies? The World is Not Enough? Die Another Day? “Oh do be quiet Sonia darling, you’re so depressing at times you know”. We’re having a couple of excerpts of the James Bond theme in panto – when the baddies gets chased by the goodies, so I’ll be thinking of Mum and her box sets at the next rehearsal, fantasising about Tommy Steele in the main role maybe, wondering if any of the flash, bangs or wallops will happen in the right places. It’s going to be fun – oh yes it is.
As for scrambled eggs and toffee … Mum woofed down a whole jar of Potter’s malt extract and cod liver oil when the carers weren’t looking and had the inevitable digestive ‘alterations’ to her normal routine and she’s on a protest … only accepting scrambled eggs or toffees to eat … to teach her carers a lesson. A lesson in what, I’m not sure, but with every day we speak I continue to learn from this extraordinary woman. Dum diddle-um dum, dum-dum-dum-dum, Dum diddle-um dum, dum-dum-dum-dum, Daaaaa Dum, Da dum dum .
Scrambled eggs and malt extract with cod liver oil are Mum’s current favourites. After a couple of years of refusing to eat anything apart from white bread & butter, the occasional spoonful of peas or half a sausage, she has picked up her appetite at last. Good luck to anyone trying to tell her that 5 sudden spoonfuls of malt extract on the trot may not be good for her digestion. Energised and super alert she quizzed me about the people I’m working with. Time for a mind exercise I thought. Mum – try and think of one of the biggest black male singers the world has ever known. “Yes, ok Sonia darling. Shirley Bassey?” Male, mum. “Shirley Williams?”. I think you’re thinking about Iris Williams. No Mum, think male singers. “Andy Williams?” He’s white Mum. Think younger, part of a group called The Jacksons. “Jack Jones?”. I can almost hear us all shouting out at the screen as I write this, but bear with it … she gets to her answer in the end. Mum, he did songs like Thriller, Heal The World, I Want You Back. “Star Wars??? Your father was in that wasn’t he, Sonia darling?” Where are you going with this, Mum? “Your father was in Star Wars” He played on the soundtrack, Mum. But which black, male singer was in Star Wars Mum? “Chewbacca !!!”. What? She’s realised that she’s made a joke and feeling very happy with herself. Joyful to see. I Want You Back – Chewbacca. Yes, I can see in mum’s mind why that makes perfect sense. She’s completely lost interest in the original question and is now hurling biscuits at Chris, her favourite resident in the home. Her boyfriend. “Oh I love him Sonia darling, I really do. Maybe I’ll marry him one day”. She insists on calling him Keith, which is the name of the mini-bus driver who was the previous object of Mum’s affection. “He’s left now, Sonia darling” (He hasn’t and still drives the mini-bus, it’s just that Mum’s a little too fragile these days to take the bone-rattling bumps of a long journey). Chris is a very sweet, docile chap who is obviously fond of Mum and is constantly picking bits of food off his clothes as Mum can’t take anything over to him, so hurling will have to do.
Back in 1997 food, hurling and games took a very different turn. She was independent, mobile and self-medicating with whiskey as she was going through the first stages of painful hip degeneration and aware that her mental capacity was waning. It was always upsetting to hear her wondering out loud why her brain wasn’t doing what she wanted it to do, despite me telling her all the time that she was my Mum and I loved her whatever her brain did. Looking back of course she needed proper medical help and support with mental illness, but her phobia of doctors and hospitals made it impossible to get her to see anyone and she was functioning in the real world – in a way that always alarmed me, but seemed to suit her. She was a mother in the 60s and 70s when mental illness was something that people swept away and her bad behaviour was treated as a conscious decision on her part to misbehave and do ‘crazy’ things. People would smile, throw their hands up in the ‘who knows?’ gesture and hope she’d stop doing it. These days her illness would have been seen for what it is and she’d be supported, not dismissed. Anyway, this particular day she’d drunk what appeared to be half a bottle of whiskey as she turned up to my first wedding in a beautiful shocking pink two-piece with a straw hat and posh shoes. She looked lovely and my heart sank when I clocked that she’d been drinking, despite promises of staying sober. Oh dear … this was going to be a challenging day anyway with all factions of different families meeting for the first time and Mum … drunk … I told myself to let go, try not to focus on it and enjoy the day. Yes. Right.
She’d brought a whicker basket on wheels and insisted on taking it into the ceremony room. I wrestled it from her and put it safely in a corner of the registrar’s office before ushering her and her friend upstairs where the wedding guests were waiting. There was some kind of altercation as she entered, but I ignored it and went back downstairs to carry on the registration process. She’d heckled me throughout the ceremony of course and had apparently gone up to my friend Nigel in a loud voice saying … ” She should be marrying YOU”. Eventually, we all got into cars to the Orange Tree Pub for our wedding lunch. At the main table Mum was sitting next to my new mother-in-law who was sitting next to me. My friend across the table kept gesturing to me with that jerk-the-head-to-one-side-to-indicate-something-was-happening-in-that-direction way. Obviously jerking her head towards where Mum was sitting. No, I wasn’t going to take any notice. Mum always did weird things in public and this was my day, not to be spoiled by her drunken antics. More jerking and pleading with the eyes to take notice. Then I heard it …”I don’t like you! You and your horrid, stupid hair. You look like Joan of Arc”. Mum didn’t like my new mother-in-law as you have probably gathered. Well, that was rude, but what could I do about that? I didn’t like her much either. Then I saw my friend’s eyes go wide and panic streak across her face as she went to get up from her chair. Leaning forward to see what was going on I heard the flint of a Clipper lighter … one, two, three strokes … then a small flame. “Burn Joan of Arc, burn …” as the lighter’s flame connected with the side of said mother-in-law’s head. Her name was Pat and pat she did … patting out the flame that had taken hold of the small amount of crew cut hair she had. Oh dear, oh dear. I should have seen the portents that this marriage wasn’t destined for success. Thankfully, Mum’s friend took her home soon after that and we all continued the party and I tried very hard not to laugh out loud when I saw that Pat’s hair was salt & pepper grey on one side and singe-orange on the other. I really did try. I did. I think there was a tissue that I managed to stuff into my mouth, disguised as a sneeze and a runny nose. It was never mentioned again.
A couple of weeks later I suddenly remembered the whicker basket. Did anyone pick it up? I know that Mum didn’t have it with her when she went home, so I called the registry office and they said it was still there. On picking it up, an apologetic, gentle lady put a hand on my shoulder and said “Im sorry, but we had to get rid of the contents. I hope you don’t mind”. Contents? What was in there? “A few things from Selfridge’s Food Hall – a cooked turkey crown, half a stilton, a large fruit cake and a side of salmon – we didn’t realise until the room started to smell”. I then realised what Mum had done. From the bottom of her heart she’d wanted me to have a good day, so had scrimped and saved every penny from her pension to buy food for the reception. She’d not checked of course if we had it covered and was going on what used to happen in her family when people got married. Everyone in the family got together to supply the food for the wedding party as they were a mining family from Sheffield with very little spare cash. My heart broke into twenty tiny pieces. All that effort, all that money, the complication of going to Selfridge’s on a bus and picking it all up, getting to the registry office and having it taken away; no wonder she was keen to keep it with her. I had put it in a corner and written it off as yet another one of Mum’s silly things she does … a whicker basket at a wedding ceremony … I ask you! In a calm moment a couple of weeks later I told her that we’d found the food – just that. I didn’t explain about the smelly room or the time frame. She simply said “I’m glad you got it … was it nice?” At the time I though Yes, Mum it was nice. It was the kind of the gesture, kindness and pure love that’s always going to be ten thousand times better than ‘nice’.
I love that Joan of Arc was probably a flaming red head – like Mum. And that she had a short fuse – like Mum. And she didn’t give a damn about what people thought about her – like Mum. But unlike Joan of Arc, Mum hasn’t made the history books … yet !
Mum used to watch the television with sunglasses on because she confused the brightness button for the volume control. “I’m not enjoying this show, but I’m watching because you used to work with these boys”. Which boys, Mum? “These boys, these two, you know”. Any clues? “The suity booty boys” Errrr … who might she be watching I wondered? “They give people money”. Can you describe them, Mum? What do they look like? “Oh you know, Sonia darling, you’ve worked with them … CHAS AND DEN! Tell them to turn the light off.” Now there’s a tribute act if ever I’ve heard one. Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis in braces and flat caps singing “Gertcha” or in their case “Gertchacashflowsorted aaaht !” Mum told me not to be so silly and respect the people I’d worked with – after all, they’d helped to pay for my Donald Duck obsession. There are bits of this conversation from a couple of years ago that make sense, in their own way. It’s one of my favourite Mum mix-ups, the small parts contributing to the beauty of the whole.
Television and Mum has always been a tricky combo. As a very small child my father insisted that we didn’t have a telly as it would stifle our creativity and turn us into lazy kids. This meant, of course, that we had lots of lazy kid friends whose houses we used to find any excuse to go to. The haven of Nan and Pop’s flat always had the telly on quietly in the background until one of the big entertainment shows was on and the volume went up. It was there that I learned to love Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Chas and Dave and anyone who threw their talent out for the world to enjoy. Mum would only stop talking over everything when Val Doonican came on as she liked his rocking chair and always wanted one. We did buy one, but I remember rocking so hard that it nearly tipped over and once rocked over Mum’s new shoe – with her foot in it – so it went out to the rag and bone man. There’s a point to all this as the rag and bone man used to fancy Mum and once gave her a tortoise which she called Dave after Chas & Dave. She couldn’t call it Chas as that was Dad’s name and that would have been too confusing. So Dave it was – slow old Dave, escaping at every opportunity and digging himself into the mud when Summer started to wane.
Our flat was actually small, but I remember it being huge. Dad would have been practicing his violin in the main bed-sitting room while my brother and I would be in our room at the back, quietly pretending to be superstars in case Dad heard us; and that might have meant having to confess to watching these entertainers on someone else’s telly. So imagine my joy many years later at Radio 2 when Frances Line, our wonderful channel Controller, asked me to meet Chas & Dave’s manager to discuss a special programme featuring the boys. I thought … “think BIG Sonia, think BRAVE like Mum does.” So I suggested to Frances that we should do something huge, book in a proper band to back Chas & Dave, invite superstar guests on and record in a huge cabaret venue in North London. Worrying that she’d tell me go away and stop being silly, she said “Great idea – off you go”. So I did and 6 specials later Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock became firm friends. And through them I met my lovely husband Tony – it’s great when life aligns isn’t it? So Mum’s always known that Chas & Dave have always felt part of the family, even though she was never given any actual dates or details just in case she decided to pay them a visit.
I was about 7 when I first really understood that Mum had mental health issues. The full extent of her illness had been kept from me for years and all credit to my selfless step mother Donna who took on two young children and an unstable, unpredictable ex-wife when she married the love of her life, my Dad Charles (or Chas as often referred to by his folks; my Nan and Pop). My brother and I were once waiting for her to pick us up for one of our regular Sunday visit days out, but she didn’t appear for a while. So we ventured into the Golders Green Station cafe to wait as it was cold. About an hour later the cafe owner came up and said, cautiously … “Are you Sonia & David?” Yes we said, wondering why we were suddenly being addressed by our names. “Are you waiting for your Mum?” Yes … we were. At full blast he then leant out of the cafe window and yelled at two policemen outside … “They’re in here!” We were then escorted out by two young male coppers who refused to tell us anything until we got to the station. Terrified, puzzled and suddenly realising that we really couldn’t go to the station with them or “how would Mum know where to meet us?”, we were told that our family knew what was going on and that we shouldn’t worry. Huh ! Grown-ups … even the official ones spoken nonsense and we decided that we couldn’t even trust the police. We sat in a cold, bare room until a lovely lady came in, followed by a very anxious Dad and Donna. Mum had apparently been taken into care to protect herself and a couple of people she’d accosted and had eventually told the authorities that her children were running around at Golders Green. The search party had been up and down the High Street, missing children alert, the works. I found all this out years later, but at the time I just retreated into my safe little world to sing songs and remember lyrics of the great standards. Mum was trouble and she’s made the police arrest us. We knew she wasn’t like other Mums, but she always did lovely things in her own way, despite being the MOST embarrassing mum on the planet. It was all so confusing.
We saw her the following weekend and as usual she crouched down and held her arms out as we ran towards her. And we probably went to the zoo where she always managed to get us into bits of the zoo that other kids never got to see. Through sheer exuberance, charm and never taking no for an answer.
Mum – have you tried turning the brightness down on your telly? And the volume up? You might enjoy it more. “No thank you, I’m fine. They’ve just given a girl £50,000 – amazing. Did they ever give you money?” She was obviously convinced that two of the Dragons were Chas & Dave in disguise. When Tony and I told Chas & Dave that we were going to get married, they dedicated their hit “I Wish I Could Write A Love Song” to us when on stage at the Albert Hall. Mum would have loved that, but she would probably have heckled them with “stop singing in that silly voice” or “Tell my daughter to get more sleep”. And if that scared, young policeman had been in the audience I’d have asked the boys to dedicate the Sideboard Song to him … “ I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care if he comes round here, I’ve got my beer in the sideboard here, let mother sort it out if he comes round here”. She always did in her own way and I try to continue doing it when she needs it (sorting out, not beer – she’s not allowed).