Mother – 43

21 09 2016


Mother 43 – The one about the picnic.

My parents often took their grandchildren on trips and both parties enjoyed it as much as each other. And it really was great to see how two different generations interacted with each other.

There was something magical about watching my parents behave like children, and the children’s attempts to always be a bit older and a bit taller than they really were in order to gain some extra benefit from them.

Which brings me to the question asked by some at the time about why grandmother was seen sitting in the car in her underwear. And why granddad visited a Laundromat for the first time in his life, bearing a handful of woman’s clothing, all of it dripping wet.

He’d mentioned that it all went very quiet when he’d first entered. He thinks it might have been the woman’s tights hanging over his arm that did it. And as he also said at the time, his biggest worry was that somebody would call the police.

You see Dad being a man’s man, it took a lot of convincing to even get him to do the washing up, but to be asked to walk into a Laundromat, and to wash and dry female attire, in front of spectators, was really pushing the boundaries, well his boundaries anyway.

But needs must, and anyway it wasn’t his decision.

Apparently, everything was going fine until mother laid out the picnic blanket.

She’d turned to help my father empty the car of more stuff, saw his facial expression, sensed that something was wrong, and commenced with her usual twenty questions guessing game.

My father was a man of few words at the worst of times, and to get an answer from him in response to any question about any subject was like trying to get blood from a stone.

But in a panic, the best he could usually do in the way of communication was to stamp his feet, puff his cheeks up until they nearly burst, and point with both arms whilst shaking his head. And this is what he was doing now.

‘Do you want the toilet? Have you stood on a stinging nettle? Do you… ‘. Realising that she was getting nowhere mother turned her head to witness my toddler son running down the hill at full speed.

He was testing out his new trainers but didn’t know that on a downward slope the specially designed treads were never going to stop him when he wanted to stop. And of course,  they didn’t. Splash – he was in the lake.

Mother chased after him, down the same slope, but in a pair of Crocs with even less tread, and splash – she was in the same lake with him. Apparently, she’d looked like somebody skiing down a slope, and didn’t actually fall into the lake, but rather slide into it at great speed. And with both hands up in the air.

Thankfully everybody survived – my son from drowning, my mother from immodesty, and my father from an unusual display of less than masculine behaviour.

But as my son said at the time, in his own toddler way, none of this would have happened if he’d been wearing a proper pair of trainers like the one’s Mo Farah wears.







Mother – 42

18 09 2016


I’m having an out-of-body experience. I’m looking down at two people who are on their knees beneath a computer desk and trying to find out where 20 metres of optic cable will lead them.

One of those people is me. The other one is my mother.

Nothing is working in the house. The land line is down, the iPad is down, and I’ve forgotten to bring my mobile. But no worry as mother has one. If only we can find it.

We can’t ring it because as said none of the phones are working, and after a really thorough search we still haven’t located it.

So now we are down on our hands and knees hoping to find Mother’s modem.

The last time I saw mother’s modem it had half a cup of tea in a bone china cup resting on it.

Eventually I spot a small tea stain, then a bigger tea stain, and yes, hurray, an even bigger tea stain which has dried up on mothers modem. We check the cable and it appears to be connected properly.

We now speculate about whether the world has come to an end but can’t check because mother’s television isn’t working either.

I step outside the house, look up and down the road, and it does all feel a bit too quiet for a Thursday. But I’m relieved to say that I didn’t spot any tumble weed or nuclear waste blowing my way so I step back inside the house again.

Mother is now in the kitchen with her head underneath the stairs and she is rummaging.

I hold my breath and wait, hoping that she has remembered where she has put her mobile phone.

When she emerges, red faced, her fist is clutching a long strip of paper. It’s the receipt for the land line phones that aren’t working.

On with our coats and shoes, we are about to head out of the door when I hear a faint buzzing sound. It’s coming from mothers coat pocket, and yes it is her mobile phone.

The text message is from my sister and it informs mother that there has been a network failure in her area and it won’t be fixed until Monday.

Relieved we continue on our journey down to the news agents to buy 20 pounds of credit for mother’s mobile.

All I have to do now is teach mother how to use it.

‘Please God grant me patience,’ I mumble as mother drops the phone and the battery falls out.
















Mother – episode 41

16 09 2016


Mother is amazing. She has embraced modern technology with gusto.
Her iPad is a blessing and she uses it for everything. “Searches” especially. Whether looking up the side effects of medication (All medications seem to cause a rash), reviews of films and plays, recipes, or family history, she has embraced the iPad’s attributes and cannot imagine life without it.

But I wish I could say the same about mothers approach to modern packaging.
It is supposedly designed for ease of use, to keep products fresh, and to enable the user to open and re-close the packaging again in order to keep the contents within it well-preserved.

There are the milk cartons – squeeze the flaps, pull them back, press them forward and an opening appears. Then there are the frozen peas – cut above the dotted line, slide the little plastic square back, and like an open zip, the peas are accessible. Or, pull the collar on the drinks bottle outwards and it will slowly uncoil, allowing the user to turn the cap and access its contents.

What innovative inventions. Yes, but totally ignored by mother who sees every form of packaging as an opportunity to use a large pair of kitchen scissors.

There are gaping wide open milk cartons, loose peas all over the freezer compartment, and headless washing up and bleach bottles in the cleaning cupboard.

And her medicine bottles are not only child proof but adult proof too – the process of pushing the cap down and turning it, all at the same time, a very strenuous exercise.

Even I limber up and blow into my hands, legs astride, before trying to open one, and when I’m not there, mother just keeps the caps off.

Which probably explains why mother is now attending keep fit classes again – her stated aim to be able to pull the lids from cans without the little tab coming away in her fingers. (I’ve found a hammer and a chisel quite useful at these times – it’s such a shame to waste food and drink).

As mother says ‘”Electric can openers are a great help – but don’t get her started on those little sardine tins with a key”.

I’d nodded in agreement, but inwardly I was thinking about a jar of jam, a door frame, the door I’m going to have to clamp onto the neck of it, and whether or not I should be turning the jam jar clockwise or anti-clockwise in order to get the darn lid off.




Mother. (Episode 36)

9 09 2016

light-bulbSure enough just as the evenings become darker all the light bulbs begin to go. Turn on, “Ping”, light bulb blown. Then we have to rummage in the garage with a torch for replacements. Inevitably the light bulbs we find are the wrong ones. Screw turn instead of bayonet or vice versa. And if we do find one it has been tried before and doesn’t work.

I’ve advised mother to throw things away if they aren’t of use anymore, but I suspect this is easier said than done. Mother is from the “Make do and mend”, generation. But how do you mend a light bulb?

Anyway, after what seemed like an eternity of searching I finally find another bayonet bulb. ‘Hurray. Found one’.

However, trying to change the blown light bulb was easier said than done. It appears to be welded to the lamp and after an impatient struggle, shatters.

With dust pan and broom in hand I clear up the glass fragments and head back to the garage for a pair of pliers. ‘Hurray, found some’.

On my knees I try applying the pliers to the remaining bit of light bulb stem. I’m perspiring profusely at this stage and mother asks if I shouldn’t take my jumper off.
I don’t answer, but through greeted teeth finally wrench the remaining piece of light bulb stem away from the lamp stand. ‘Phew’.

With the replacement light bulb in hand I ever so carefully push it down, turn it like a criminal trying to crack a bank safes code, then stand back to admire my handy work. ‘You can switch on the electricity now’.

And mother does, only to reveal a new light bulb shining a rather draining red glow across her living room.

‘You’d better draw the curtains before unwanted male callers start knocking at your door’.

Mother looks puzzled, squints at the red light and announces that she will buy some more light bulbs tomorrow. ‘But thank you for your help. It always looks so much easier when you do it’.





Mother. (Episode 34).

7 09 2016


On occasion when I visit mother random photographs appear. They’re not presented to me directly but put in places where I’m likely to be. The side table, by the kettle, the mantelpiece and so on. They always come as a bit of surprise because they cast me back to a time or place without prior warning. Some evoking a smile, like the one of my son as a toddler, face alive, childlike wonderment, trying to say ‘cheese’, eyes dazzled by the flash. Some a reminder of how time flies, two children  eating ice creams, building sand castles.  My sister and I. The innocence.

Inevitably mother will ask me whether I’ve seen such and such a photograph. I’ll nod, and a conversation will ensue about times past. Its happened quite a lot in the past few weeks, and when I think about, it tends to happen every autumn. Must be something to do with the shorter days, the colder air – our lush green surroundings turning gold, yellow, red then brown.

In truth mother has boxes and boxes of photographs and we keep promising that one day we will organise them into albums. But for now, it will just have to be a case of random photographs produced as and when mother finds them. I in turn will come across them whenever mother puts one out, and be transported back in time quite unexpectedly, but for the most part quite happily, to which ever year or decade they take me to.


Mother. (Episode 32)

6 09 2016

Just recently Mother and I went on a nostalgic trip back to Balham, London. It had been my mothers childhood home but also a place I visited on my own as a child almost every single weekend – to see my grandmother. I loved it. I would catch the bus from Camberwell, alight at Clapham North, then walk the entire length of the Cavendish road, and there, just around the corner, stood her apartment.  She’d always seem surprised to see me even though these visits had been prearranged, but after the initial shock, I would be ushered into the living room – Radio Luxembourg fading in and out on her radio, “mentholatum” dominating the air, and a roaring open fire threatening to burn the chimney down. The Devonshire toffees on her side table were nearly always sticky because of it, although we used to think as kids that she had sucked them, decided that she didn’t want them, and then put them back in their wrappers again. (Childrens imaginations, honestly!). We’d then discuss Elizabeth Taylor’s love life, well she did, study the form for the Epsom races, again, she did, until inevitably she’d doze off.

I can still recall her half choked snores as I took this opportunity to count the number of pennies she had saved in a biscuit tin. There were so many of them. Think of all the toys I could buy with them I would dream, one final snore, a smack of the lips, a mumble, my prompt to scoop all the coins back where I’d found them, plonk my self into the chair facing her again, and contemplate eating one of  her half chewed toffees. ‘I suppose you want some tea?’

Grandma’s bedroom was always dark, but the bed was fabulous – it was like sleeping on a giant marshmallow. But before I lay down on it I would always explore her dressing room table – fascinated by her hairnets, strewn around it like reinforced cobwebs -and the hat pins, so many types, my favourite being the one with a pear shaped pearl handle. It became my weapon for scaring off ghosts and things that went bump in the night. Usually granny crashing into things as she headed for the bathroom.

Next day, after door step slices of toast and Typhoo tea, a quick wash with sunlight soap, we’d head off to the Odeon cinema. All so exciting, although every film seemed to be a story from the Bible, and in truth I didn’t understand any of it. But the intermission ice creams were a treat, a visit to the Westbury next door to buy sliced ham for dinner an appetite enhancer, and the Lyons Victoria sponges in a box, a trip to taste heaven and back. But I was only ever allowed one slice.

Then mother would arrive to collect me, discussions about mother never having any luck just as long as she drove a green car, rumbling behind me as I caught up on the latest Liz Taylor scandal in grandmothers “Tit bits” magasine.

‘I suppose you would like some pocket money?’. Her knowing smile meeting with my excited grin as she plucked small brown envelopes from a box and handed then to me. ‘Now don’t go mad. Save some of it’. (Winnings from the Epsom races mother later told me). I’d be full of anticipation because I’d never know how much money was inside each little envelope until I got home. I don’t think grandmother did either. All that had been written on the front of them was “L Lucky”. But lets be upfront and admit that I never saved any of it – couldn’t wait to get down to “Meccano’s” to buy a sword or a cross bow or something else with grandmothers ill gotten gains. ‘Look what I’ve bought’.

We are back home now after an emotional but rewarding journey, emotional because I was a young boy when I first walked up Balham High Street, and mother because  she was a young girl when she first walked up the very same street. And because, now at different stages in our of lives, we’d walked up the very same street together.










Mother. (Episode 31)

5 09 2016

The garage isn’t a place I often visit. It’s cold, damp and there is no car parked in it. But it is full of stuff and no matter how many times I empty it its always full of stuff again when I visit next time – usually at my mothers request. “I’m running out of space. Could you come over and tidy it up a bit?’

I arrive, a bit down trodden.  I know I’m going to need a good supply of rubble sacks and plastic crates before I start. I also know that there will be a large stash of discarded flower pots in the middle of the garage floor, piles of Pound Shop peat, enough plastic bags to service Sainsbury’s customers for a year, a massive quantity of bleach, prescription medicine trays, and out of date flavoured water, Sanatogen, Lucozade and Coco Cola. Not to mention the odd shoes (Odd shoes?), hand bags, rusted tools and paint tins.

There’s never enough room in the boot of the Polo for everything, so a few of the rubble sacks end up staying behind. And by the time I get around to tidying up mothers garage again there still won’t be enough room to transport everything to the recycling center.  Next time I will have to hire a van I vow.

But the most stressful day for mother is a Thursday. Bin day. She has black crates, green crates, blue crates and a grey wheelie bin. Oh yes and a black compost bag.

The problem is that she never knows what is going to be collected on any particular Thursday and the schedule does vary. So I usually find mother sitting on the stairs in the hallway with the front door wide open waiting for the refuse collectors to arrive so that she can ask them what they are collecting today. Its always a mystery to mother.

I am sure there must be a leaflet explaining the schedule  somewhere in mothers house but I have yet to find it. (Its probably in the garage :0)).

Anyway last Thursday was such a lovely day I suggested that mother sit outside and wait for the refuge collectors to which she’d replied. ‘But I might fall asleep and wake up at the rubbish dump’.





Mother. (Episode 28)

2 09 2016

Where I live the door to door callers either want to sell cheaper electricity, gas or broadband services, with the occasional person collecting for charity. Where my mother lives most of the callers want to fix her roof, clear her gutters, do her garden or tarmac the driveway. Some even want to clean her house.

I have a strict rule never to buy anything from door to door callers, although I will give something to those collecting for charities. I’ve tried to convert mother to my way of thinking but with various degrees of failure. She employed a cleaner for four hours once, the problem being that mother felt compelled to clean the house before the cleaner arrived, and then would spend two hours chatting to the cleaner over cups of tea.  Mother knew that she’d made a wrong decision when the cleaner started spraying her LED TV screen with Windolene. ‘They’re not supposed to do that are they?’ ‘Hrmmm. No mum. It damages the film coating protecting the screen’.

Then there was the man who came to clear her guttering. Whilst up on the roof he claimed that he had discovered that some of the concrete rendering had crumbled and offered to re-concrete it. Mother accepted. Within months the new concrete border had crumbled, thereby blocking the guttering and causing a leak. Mother then had to call a roofer to fix the leak.

Chancing his arm the same man came back about a year later offering the same service. My mother remembered him and started to complain, at which point the handyman  ran off, but not before snatching his leaflet back out from mothers hand. He clearly didn’t want her calling him after all.

More recently a door to door salesman installed a new door bell as the old one had lost its ring. When visiting mother recently, I had on more than one occasion responded to her door bell by answering it, but when I opened the front door there was no one there.  When I mentioned this to mother she casually remarked that there was something wrong with the new door chime. It only chimed when someone pressed her neighbours door bell. ‘Something to do with a cross wired Wi-Fi ‘, she explained.

Now anyone looking for mother has to bang on her window. But at least its put a stop to the door to door salesman. Honestly.



Mother. (Episode 27)

1 09 2016
 Things I didn't know about my mother. (Part 20)

I always know when mother is in a bad mood. Like the time when I stood beside the open car door in order to let her in and mother walked around to the other side, struggled to pull the car door open and then plonked herself right in the middle of the rear seat with her handbag occupying the space where I intended to sit. Then there was the time when I received a text from mother asking me to send on her mobile number. No niceties, just a text stating, “Send me my mobile phone number”. I did in haste. Back came the reply “Txs”,  again with no niceties.

But what can sometimes annoy mother is when we are out walking. I’ll surge ahead just to make sure we are heading in the right direction, and also to save mother from any wasted footsteps if we are not. And as a form of protest at leaving her alone, (even though I have explained what I am doing) mother will have inevitably disappeared by the time I come back for her. I then end up wasting a load of footsteps trying to find her. I swear she is hiding.

Once she emerged from an alley way accompanied by six beer swilling alcoholics. I’d only left her for half a minute! Another time she emerged from a police car accompanied by a police officer wearing a frown of ‘How could you desert your mother?’ She had apparently got lost about ten feet from where I was standing and they had picked her up.

Often Mother will say hello to somebody on the street, I’ll ask who it is she is smiling at, and she’ll reply that she doesn’t know as she has never seen them before.

But what I really do find odd is when I turn around just to make sure that mother is keeping up with me and then she  will turn around, either to check that her imaginary friend is still following her, or perhaps to ensure that she is not being followed by alcoholics or police officers.

There have even been times when I’ve turned around, mother has turned around, the person behind her has turned around, and so on and so forth all the way down the street.

But out walking with mother is never dull. I’ve witnessed mother waving at people that were waving at somebody else, and just last week I saw mother turn to talk to someone who she thought was talking to her, but was in fact chatting to someone else on their iPhone. Oblivious mother continued the conversation until, frustrated by the intrusion; the iPhone user wrenched the phone from her ear and said. ’I wasn’t talking to you’, to which mother replied ‘Charming I’m sure’.

I didn’t look back this time, just looked up, said a prayer and tried to pretend that all this wasn’t happening.




Mother. (Episode 26).

31 08 2016

Mother belongs to a generation where she only had one partner- my dad – and even though he passed away nearly fourteen years ago now I’m still convinced she would feel disloyal or unfaithful in some way if she even entertained the thought of another partner. Not that she has lacked admirers. There was Harry, Dax Wax hair, a paunch framed by a waistcoat, who took a shine to her – and even though mother was flattered by the attention she received initially, quickly began hiding when she sensed that he was becoming a bit too amorous. Door bells unanswered, letters not replied to. But persistent he was, even going as far as to empty a box of chocolates through the letter box one by one when he discovered that the box itself wouldn’t go through it. Unaware of this new postal service mother opened the front door and trampled coffee creams all the way back into the living room. Even after mother had read the little gift card that came with them, smudged with strawberry cream fondant, she remained unmoved, declaring that she was quite happy on her own thank you very much and was quite able to buy her own confectionery. ‘He’s  always chasing woman but never knowing what to do with them when he finally catches them’. (Pause). ‘Or so they say’.

Needless to say that a lack of attention from mothers side meant that he did eventually disappear from the scene, leaving mother I suspect, a little sadder for the lack of admiration. Complicated? Who am I to say, but loyal to my father mother most certainly was and is to this very day.

Which reminds me. A trailer park owner once took a shine to her as well, repeatedly saying ‘Wow’ when she wound down the car window to ask him for directions. I do believe she blushed slightly before re-establishing her composure, but the sparkle in her eyes remained for the rest of the day and indeed for the rest of our Florida holiday.

Sadly there seem to be a lack of admirers on the scene at the moment, and mother has taken to telling me about how many people compliment her on her young looks for her age. This I know is my cue to reaffirm the truth with a nod and a couple more compliments. ‘Your hair looks lovely. Nice coat,’ which nearly always acts as a prompt for mother to smile, do a double take in the mirror, and add an extra dab of powder to an already over powdered nose. (Cough)

With an audible sigh of relief, from me that is not mother, we then head out of the door.

Once on the bus mother whispers about girls displaying tomorrows washing today and how they fail to leave anything to the imagination, and I try really hard not to stare for too long at a tall girl in leggings that look very similar to an extra layer of skin.

‘What a lovely day…. Ooooh look a squirrel’, I say as I turn my head away and point a little bit too vigorously out of the bus window.

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