Perhaps this will distract her from the fact that I couldn’t afford a decent present.

A relative once told me that she and the rest of the family always knew that my mother would never stay in Egypt, that she would leave for good. I remember feeling surprised not by the fact that she wished to cleave herself from the bosom of her family and homeland, but that she actually managed to organise herself sufficiently to do so.

Her life has always been a chaotic whirlwind – if a whirlwind can occur extremely slowly that is. This is because her journeys – whether from bedroom to bathroom or London to Cairo -are always encumbered with an unlikely and baffling array of items. It is her version of an outdoor survival kit and includes: a radio of some variety, wet wipes, hand cream(s), tongue wipes, 89 toilet seat plastic covers, at least two newspapers one of which will date from last month, mountains of Kleenex, various printed off email jokes, cuttings from newspapers, chewing gum, plastic cutlery, wipes for spectacle lenses, a pair of glasses, an extra watch, occasionally a plant, and a life-enhancing gadget of some variety such as a portable inflatable lumbar back support which she will leave on a bus within ten days of purchasing it. Note that the forgotten door key rarely figures amongst these items.

Since she is essentially a mobile chemist/newsagent she was always very useful to have on trips. The problem is that all the above items must be transferred to the particular handbag she is using each time she leaves the house, a process which generally takes 15 minutes and which usually begins after the time she has told my father she would be ready. This results in my father isolating himself and his rage in the car until she arrives, when he will put on his driving gloves in a marked manner.

He does occasionally get his own back though, by deliberately developing a sudden need to commune with nature in a seated way just as she is doing her seat belt up.

She thus never travels light, neither in the literal nor metaphorical sense. Around every corner lurks a disaster of some variety, in response to which she claims to have developed a sixth sense that ‘something awful has happened/is going to happen.’ It is uncannily accurate – but only by virtue of the fact of it being permanently switched on. Luckily this permanent pessimism about life is usually offset by her sense of humour, which is of the best kind – scathing and cynical. She is always willing to help anyone out in any way she can, but thoughtfully informs the person in question that this is on condition of my mother still being alive in the morning, having not died in her sleep. When my father’s desire to watch a BBC adaptation of Bleak House interfered with her Sunday schedule of Songs of Praise and Last of the Summer Wine she posed the insightful question of, ‘why do we need to watch a bleak house if we live in one?’ She will also ‘joke’ about her entire life going downhill after the ‘black day’ she met my father – though this is usually after he has just requested that she gives him her receipts for that week. We still all recall with fond memories the time that we and some friends of hers celebrated her birthday in a Thai restaurant, and during consumption of the slightly odd, glutinous desert, she loudly declared that it was ‘like licking your own knickers.’ How we laughed!

My mother comes in two flavours, hilarity or newspaper-reading silence, there is no middle ground. While my father complains that she lacks ‘a sense of decorum’ (to which my mother replies that he himself is ‘stiff’), she is never dull – except when describing in nauseating detail the latest events in the Big Brother house. The silence does however come at inopportune times, such as during a school trip to Liverpool, which she spent buried in a newspaper while the other mums warbled on about packed lunches and daytime TV. But rather this any day of the week because of the compensation of the humour – even if at heart it is predicated on a sense that life is a series of unmitigated disasters waiting to get her.

She is equally black and white in terms of energy levels, and can survive on virtually no sleep when for example preparing for a trip (during which the packing is of course, formidable.) She unfortunately subsequently makes up for this with approximately 72 hours of continued unconsciousness which begins on the plane. Her sleeping habits in any case drive my father to distraction, since she tends to come alive at night, at approximately 9 p.m. Suddenly super alert, she develops an urge to tickle my dad who by that time is catatonic. The interesting thing is that both of them have the same remarkable ability to be asleep and snoring and yet detect activity of a channel changing nature.

My fondest recent memory of her dates from last year, when we went to visit my grandmother in Dorset. An auntie was visiting at the time and it was proposed that lunch be taken in a pub. My mother protested vociferously of course, since her suspicion about levels of cleanliness anywhere other than in her own home has apparently persuaded her that chefs stir soup with their genitals. We eventually convinced her to go by promising her that she wouldn’t actually have to consume anything.

Once there my father rubbed his hands together and asked everyone what their poison would be. While she spread napkins on the table to lean her elbows on my mother told him that she would have a VIRGIN Bloody Mary – her tipple of choice for as long as I can remember. My father proceeded to the bar, where I saw him convey the orders to the barmaid. At one point he cupped one hand behind his ear which is a sure sign that a breakdown in communication of some nature has occurred, and sure enough there was the faintest sound of a car stereo going past on the road 1000 miles away which no doubt impeded his hearing entirely. He brought back a drink of something red and gave it to my mother who took a sip and then paused thoughtfully, before voicing her suspicion that the drink was not, in fact, virgin. I took a sip and tasted vodka levels of a strength to strip paint and, predicting a scene, offered to take it back and swap it. Upon attempting to take the glass from her I found it secured in the vice-like grip of her clammy hand. Snatching the glass away she chucked it down her throat while mumbling something about it being a shame for things to go to waste before holding the glass at a 90 degree above her head in order to ensure that she got every last bit of hussy Mary. She spent the rest of the afternoon red–cheeked and jolly.

Happy birthday, mum, and may you always to be a beautiful mixture of bonkers contradictions. See you later.

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5 Responses to Perhaps this will distract her from the fact that I couldn’t afford a decent present.

  1. nousha says:

    what a sweet birthday wish :-)

  2. Forsoothsayer says:

    i think we must spend too much time together, as i already knew all of the above (and as i said before i think the story about the bloody mary would make a hilarious stand-up routine what with the gestures and stuff).I had in fact succeeded in erasing the comment regarding knicker-licking from my memory. it’s awful – reminds me of my mother.
    see u next week.

  3. ZeRoCoOl says:

    What a thoughtful daughter you are ….

  4. Basil Fawlty says:

    Knicker-licking comment made me throw up in my mouth a little…it’s 10 in the morning here, woman. Have you no sense of decorum….Oh, right:)

    Your mother has the ‘look’ about her: three parts iconoclast to four parts mischief. As for the energy level, its all about stimulation: if there’s something interesting going on, she’ll be alert, otherwise don’t bother. Sherlock Holmes was like that…it’s a kind of manic depression. And I should know.

  5. Forsoothsayer says:

    the weird part is, she has a very lively sense of decorum. i often say “cock” around her for this reason, more than it actually…comes up.

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