It’s been a while since I’ve had chance to share much here. I always feel guilty about absences from blogging. Not so much because I envision an eager readership hanging on my every word but I guess because I have this sense that the blog is there looking over my shoulder – judging me for not posting.
It is much the same as this quiet but determined voice I have heard for much of my life whispering in my ear about my actions, my thoughts, the shops I shop in and the words I use. The voice not of God but of my mother.
Those of you who know me in real life or who follow me on twitter will be aware that mum died rather suddenly just over a week ago. I say suddenly, mum had been ill for a quite sometime, indeed for much longer than the rest of the family were aware, something that has been a source of consternation to us over these past few weeks. She was diagnosed with an agressive form of lukaemia back in february but always suggested that the prognosis was better than it really could have been. When we visited her as a family just over three weeks ago she was clearly poorly but much more well than we thought she might be, we even had a meal together with her my step-father us and all the kids. So it was a shock for her to deteriorate and die so quickly.
The thing is I did not always share the best of relationships with mum. She clearly thought a lot of us, but was not good at showing it. She loved the grand children but didn’t ever make the sort of effort I’ll hope we will when we are grandparents ourselves. And there was this constant voice that she probably had no idea was a constant echo in my mind.
Everytime I used the metric system instead of feet and inches or pounds and ounces, everytime I watched ITV or enjoyed something with Bruce Forsyth in it (that admittedly is a rare occurence – enjoy is such a strong word), everytime I shopped in Tesco, use the microwave oven or use tea bags instead of ‘real’ leaf tea and most of all when I enjoyed a pint of real ale.
Because my mum had an over zealous sense of right and wrong. When I was growing up my small boy mind learned a long list of things that were not OK and made the connection that mum’s dislike of something meant that actually it was bad and should be avoided. I honestly thought ITV was bad. I remember been told what a disappointment I was after I rather hesitantly expressed a wish to watch the Dukes of Hazard when I was about eight years old.
It was the same with so many things. When Tesco developed a new superstore in our home town in the late 80s that chain of shops was added to the list. I was 15 before I sneaked into a Tesco store and much, much older before I ever had the courage to admit to mum that I regularly shopped there. For other teenagers it was booze and cigarettes they furtively indulged in away from their parent’s gaze. For me it was an occasional tea bag made cuppa or a half-hour of TV from ‘the other side’ (bear in mind that for much of my childhood there were only 3 channels to watch in the UK and after that only 4 for many more years).
My life was bound up with this sense of guilt about all these things until long after I left home, married and had a family of my own. It was odd that she should have been the source of such guilt given that the guilt culturew of her Roman Catholic upbringing is what she always claimed turned her away from God. In later years, after she got over the act of rebellion my coming to faith was, she took peverse pleasure in telling her catholic school alumni that I had become a Christian in a protestant Church and was now a Church of England priest. But for whatever reason she left this sense of guilt lingering over my life. To the extent that as a thirty something man with (then) 4 children I found myself incapable of ordering a pint of beer at her 70th birthday celebration a few years ago.
The thing is, whether she meant it or not, mum always managed to impart the impression that these things, these principles or simple prejudices of hers were a gospel truth. A genuine shadow of guilt has haunted much of my adult life but not generally for any great sin, but for shopping in the ‘wrong’ supermarket, watching the ‘wrong’ television channel or using the ‘wrong’ method of brewing a cup of tea, and I may use teabags nowadays but I still never, ever make a cup of tea in the mug – that lasting legacy of right and wrong will probably never allow me to do that – if it’s not brewed in a pot, it’s not a proper cup of tea!
And now that voice is gone. There is something final about death that means that even though those things are still important to her the shadow of her voice in my mind as left with her spirit.
The sad thing is as I go through some of the boxes of paper and letters she left behind I am starting to see a woman I never met. One that wasn’t bound up in this list of prohibited things and actions. I am seeing a picture of a woman who seemed for a while in the late 50s and 60s live quite a bohemian life, hung out with artists and musicians and frequented coffee houses, went to Nat King Cole & Everly Brothers concerts and hung around the stage door to get Johnny Mathis’ autograph.
I am left wondering why and how she became the woman I knew in her later life, and I am sad that I never really met her or saw a spark of this young woman in her lifetime. And why she made the decision not to share this part of her life with her family.
Questions that we’ll never have answers for. I think I like what little of that person I see coming out of her papers. I wish I could have known her better.