In Mother’s Footsteps

So here’s the plan: reach Birmingham by eleven, find the tourist information office for a map and find out how far away the hospital is; look for a (self) guided walking tour; visit the museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard; return London by the afternoon train.
Of course it may not work out like that. Maybe I’ll have jettisoned this plan by the time I leave the station, and instead allow my nose to lead me, and wander the city’s streets and squares.

My return to the Midlands just over a week since the sortie to Coventry is thanks to some special offers on trains which Viv of the book group circulated. I shan’t have a lot of time, hence the plan.

You might be thinking I am going to visit someone in hospital. No, I’m not. It’s the buildings I want to see; specifically the older buildings, the ones that were there on the 1940s when Mother arrived to take an entrance exam that would allow her to train as a nurse. I understand that part of the hospital was originally the workhouse, and that there is an archway, unlisted that is threatened with demolition. Maybe it has already gone.

We never visited Birmingham. Although Mother had many fond memories, I don’t know that she ever returned. The closest I have been is a ride around Spaghetti Junction enough route to somewhere I don’t recall when I was a teenager. Continue reading

Under the Same Sun

Westie Puppy is back in her Belfast home and thriving. MasterB has not been outside for two days. The birds are emptying one of the four feeders in the garden and ignoring the others.

Half past five tonight and it was still light. It is spring. The evidence is all around us in the shape of daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses. New shoots pierce the earth. Trees are in blossom. Neighbours are turning the earth in their gardens and planting small purchases made at flower nurseries. I went out without my gloves.

Today is St David’s Day, 1st March, just over two weeks to go before Ersatz Paddies take to the streets wearing dubious hats and swearing allegiance to Guinness. When I was a child being Irish was unfashionable. Actually, it was more than unfashionable, it was social leprosy. I remained largely ignorant of this due to Mother’s relentless programming. My sister and I were brought up to believe our half-Irishness was a miraculous bonus, something of pride and joy. Similarly being the daughters of a working mother when girls we knew at school had mothers who mainly stayed at home. How I looked down on them. I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

I was around twelve when the penny finally dropped that I was doubly socially inferior as far as many of my classmates and their parents were concerned. At Mother’s funeral one of my cousins, the one who the rest of us see as being fantastically and unaccountably right wing, queried my description of Mother as Irish. It’s how she described herself, I replied. Another cousin said Mother would have called Derry Londonderry. No she didn’t, I said, hearing Mother’s voice in my head saying she came from Co Derry.

A few years ago Cousin and I deposited our grandmother’s autograph book at the Linenhall Library in Belfast. Much as we valued it, it seemed to have a significance beyond our family. It’s clear that my grandmother and her friends all considered themselves uncomplicatedly and proudly Irish. There are many patriotic entries for St Patrick’s Day; verses, pressed shamrocks, pen and ink drawings of harps. My grandmother signed the Ulster Covenant. Look online and you can find her name. I am guessing that post Partition she may have called herself British, but I don’t know. By then she was married and trapped in a cycle of pregnancy and increasing hardship, leading to her premature death in 1927. Continue reading

One Week On

This whole media access thing is very strange. I know I have comments on the blog, because I have had notifications via my ‘phone (battery how dead), but I cannot view them or answer them via my iPad because despite positive bars apparently the signal strength is insufficient. It was also insufficient last night when I posted via Blogsy, which is where I am typing now. Does Blogsy have some special deal with the internet? Why is it that nine times out of ten I can post from Blogsy but be unable to view anything else online? Not being technically savvy, these things bemuse and bother me.

Older Nephew came to das Boot today shortly after a text from Celia had alerted me to the fact that the Brexit narrative had again deviated from the expected path. This time it was the announcement that BoJo is not going to stand as a candidate to lead the Tories. Unable to face up to the crisis he has created, was Older Nephew’s opinion. I agree. Continue reading

She Ain’t Dead Yet

When Mother was ill in hospital she said she wanted to die. She said it again at various times when anxiety, fear and dementia overwhelmed her.

Listening to Aunt, what I hear is her desire to live. I told her today that I don’t think she’s dying now. She is someone with too firm a grip on life. Maybe that was why she sent me out to buy her some wafer thin ham and bread rolls. I confess I was surprised by this request, but not as surprised as the Specialist Nurse when I told her of my shopping list.

“Not for her,” she said. Her words were more a statement than a question. I skipped the bit about being vegetarian, and said, “Yes, for her. She says she’ll nibble them.”

The SN, so surprised she nearly forgot her professionalism, told me Aunt was amazing and that she astounded that she was still alive. I’ll leave you to sort out which she is which there. I am confident you’ll cope.

 

A similar tale with the Hospice Nurses who have been so used to being rejected by Aunt that they now just ‘drop in’ if they are near. “She’s a very determined lady,” they said. “Yes,” I said, thinking that if they had met the clan en masse it might have been an experience from which they would not have recovered.

Cousin and I have often said that Mother and her siblings, who of course include Cousin’s father, my Uncle Tommy, were a difficult bunch. One of my first school reports said I was determined to the point of defiance. Mother loved to quote it, I think she saw it as meaning I was cut from the same stone as she was.

But I have kept you waiting. Here are two photos of Aunt today. The first shows her looking very severe, though I think she was looking at photos of MasterB who she loves, which I had just put on her tablet. Though thinking about it, it may have been when she scrolled back to look at our various outings over two summers. When she saw the photo later, she looked at it in surprise. “I bet you didn’t think you could look so stern,” I said.

Stern Aunt

Stern Aunt

The second is marred by shadow, but the smile is there, so is the bruise on her head. I have tried to tell her that she has a global fandom, but I don’t think she’s taken it on board. Not sure how to progress that one.

Still Smiling

Still Smiling

We listened to Lemn Sissay on Desert Island Discs and she loved his voice. She gasped when he spoke about how his foster parents were told to consider the placement an adoption, and I should like her to hear it again, maybe in bits, and to hear her comments on his story.

No, she is most definitely still alive.

Kitchenless

I had lunch around five o’clock, courtesy of Celia who has furnished me with keys to her flat and given me the run of the kitchen.

The fitters arrived twenty heartstopping minutes late; traffic. I asked Danny to text me if they are delayed again. My nerves won’t take this. Mother was an inveterate worrier, a champion worrier, a worrier of awe-inspiring breadth and depth. Had there been an Olympic sport in worrying she would have brought home gold time and time again. I don’t think I’m in her league, at least I sincerely hope I am not, but something of her dedicating worrying seems to have rubbed off, and comes to light at times like these.


So once the fitters, Danny and his brother Nico, had arrived, I turned my worrying energy in the direction of the floor tiles; would they arrive early enough for Danny and Nico to lay them today? had the driver got Danny’s number if I was out?

Then when those two worries were allayed, I went onto tomorrow’s delivery. Then I had to put that worry aside when Danny pointed out, a trifle sourly I thought, that there was only one bag of tile adhesive. I had ordered two. A phone call to the suppliers (Tile Giant in case you’re interested) resulted in them admitting the fault but saying they couldn’t get another bag to us before tomorrow.

I am so glad I decided to take these days off and loiter while the work is being done. I made a mercy dash to the branch on the Old Kent Road – yes that’s the cheapest property on the London version of Monopoly and in my ‘hood’ as chaps and chapesses say these days – and brought home the goods. Thank goodness I am not living in the west coast of Scotland. On the other hand, if I were, I should probably be living in a larger property where I could have stored everything and so had the tiles, adhesive and grout delivered some days in advance of the project. Continue reading

A Walk in Kent, Part One

It all went very well until the lunch stop. The sun shone; the blackberries we intended to gather in the afternoon were abundant; the path was clear. Fab.

Two year ago, Celia and I did this same walk. In my mind at least, it is the Dead Mothers Walk, as for both of us it had been the summer when our mothers died, and this walk was our day away from normal life and its demands.

Roydon Hall, where once the Maharishi held sway, is still for sale, and had very tasty blackberries we could reach through the fence.

 Roydon Hall with Blackberries


Roydon Hall with Blackberries

Continue reading

Serendipitous Boat

So much in life seems to be down to luck, to chance, to random and quite unpredictable circumstances and encounters.

If Cat hadn’t had died when he did, I shouldn’t have been looking at sites with cats needing homes, and looking at them with my friend Sue across the pond. My search was restricted to London. Sue, in Houston was looking at a larger canvas. It was she who spotted MasterB.

Oh Happy Day!

The Director

The Director


Continue reading

Lost Childhoods

On the tarmac

On the tarmac

Maybe this was my ‘plane. Maybe not.

My head is still partly in NI. Talking to Aunt this evening, telling her who I had seen, what I had done, I mentioned that I have obtained a copy of my mother’s birth certificate, and was surprised to see that it was my grandmother who had registered the birth, almost a month after that auspicious event, and just two days before Christmas.

I have said before that Mother and her siblings had a hard childhood. Aunt had a particularly tough time. Both she and Mother were taken to live with a couple who treated them very badly.

Mother ran away.

Twice.

The first time she took Aunt, and they each carried their meagre possessions. As Aunt said tonight, that made their progress through hedges and across fields difficult.

They didn’t get very far before they were caught and taken back. Mother was beaten to within an inch of her life with a stick cut from the hedge. Her vest stuck to her back with blood. Aunt could do nothing but howl. Then Mother was sent to bed in a loft, told the police would come for her in the morning because of her wickedness, and Aunt was forbidden to speak to her.

The sisters were seven and four at the time.
Continue reading

Dementia Revisited

Home from book club and I am tired, but my mind is alert and I know if I go to bed now, I am going to be wakeful, eyes shut against the darkness while my thoughts rebel against sleep.

The book we discussed was Elizabeth is Missing. A remarkable first novel from a a young women who seems to have garnered uncanny insights into the minds of those living with dementia.

Obviously it triggered lots of personal responses. I am not the only member of the book club who has (had) a close and dear relative with dementia. Without Michèle to keep us on the straight and narrow and keep the discussion to the literary merit of the book, the conversation was wide ranging, anecdotal and personal.

Initially, I didn’t think I could read this book. The first few pages brought back clearly and painfully the dealings with outside bodies when we were trying to manage Mother’s dementia. So I bought an audio version and largely listened to it. That seemed to give the words space, and allow my thoughts to range freely.

It reminded me of things I had forgotten; how Mother, the world’s biggest declutterer and tidyupper – you only had to leave a cup of coffee on a coaster for a moment for it to be whisked away, so that when you went to take another sip the cup was already washed up and restored to its place in the cupboard – turned hoarder and lax washerupper; how she wrapped odd items in tissues, napkins; how she disappeared her glasses and other objects – we once realised she was walking about with a knife up her sleeve; how none of these things made her stupid. She was often confused, lost and frightened; trying to make sense of a world which had suddenly and inexplicably become alien, but she could still have moments of startling clarity, moments when I would look into her eyes and see the woman who was my competent, industrious, capable mother. Continue reading

The Pictures Unposted

When I first started blogging my strap line was Landlubber Afloat. That was in the DT days. But it underlines how I thought being on das Boot was going to be a main reason for writing. And even now, when I am afloat, my urge to record the days is far greater than when I am home. Blogging became about other things, but Mother, Cat and das Boot were by far and away the most important parts of my online journal.

Now Aunt is looking at her life to come in terms of months, and taking her to the places she wants to go, helping her to see the flowers and landscapes she wants to see has brought a new focus to my visits East and to my posts.

In time to come these pictures, these words will remind me of the strange path we tread now. I say that with some confidence, as when I reread the posts about Mother they take me back to feelings, good and bad, I now often find difficult to recall. Some people say that photographs disrupt the process of memory. I can see that that is possible, but photographs also capture a moment and can bring back a time and its attendant emotions with startling clarity.

Slow evenings like tonight (though I have little hope that there is even the slightest chance of uploading this post until I am back at home) watching the sun go down on the river, listening to the birdsong, watching MasterB, take me back to Mother dying and after.

They don't make me particularly sad, though understandably there are moments. Rather, I feel a closeness to her that is precious. Maybe driving around an East Anglia in its spring clothes will in the future bring Aunt back too.

Our memories work in strange ways.

So you may enjoy these photos, and I hope you shall, but they will doubtless have an entirely different resonance for me.