Saturday, 13 March 2010

To My Mother

My mother gave birth to me when she was just nineteen. She had attended a convent school where she was taught by nuns. Her parents had controlled her life brutally and absolutely, and she had not been allowed to enjoy any of the normal teenage opportunities to explore her own identity. She didn't even know that babies cried at night.

When I was a toddler, she met a man and later married him. He adopted me and we went to live with him in a small council house in an uninspiring commuter town designed to take the over-spill from London. The dining room was covered in busily patterned wallpaper, typical of the nineteen seventies, and I can remember standing with my face right up close to it and staring until it made my eyes go squinty.

When I was at primary school my mother went to stay at a womens peace camp called Greenham common. Sometimes I would stay there with her. She would wear this huge brown heavy woollen kaftan, and I would snuggle up into it and watch the campfire, listening to the women talk and sing. Sometimes we were at Yellow Gate which was the main camp, and sometimes we were at Green Gate which was in a wood and had a tyre swing to play on. I got lost wandering around Green Gate once for what felt like hours - I can remember stumbling through ditches and shouting desperately at the sky - I thought I might never be found again. By the time I was eventually reunited with my mother I was tear streaked and wailing, but she told me not to cry because she had a surprise for me: we were going on an aeroplane. That night we flew to Germany on what I now know was a speaking tour for CND. Many things from that trip now stick in my mind. I can remember us waiting in a queue for a taxi in the dark - it was raining and our luggage was getting wet. The pavements were slick and shiny and dotted with the reflections of all the different coloured lights from the street. We stayed in lots of different peoples houses - in one house there was a boy my age who serenaded me on a little acoustic guitar and pronounced his name 'Michelle' which I thought was hilarious - but most vividly of all I remember my mother standing at a podium, speaking to a vast hall crammed full of people. There was a stand selling sausages and little telly screens up near the back so that the people there could look at them to see and hear properly what she was saying. I could tell that she felt nervous. She was talking about Hiroshima and how dangerous nuclear weapons were, and how we should get rid of them. It seemed to me then that she was the most important person in the world. Of course she was - to me.

My mother had left school without many qualifications, so when I was nine I think, certainly after she had moved completely out of our home and was living with a new partner in a different house and had had my brother, she decided she was going to study to become a solicitor. She had to get her maths G.C.S.E. before she could do her A levels and go on to university, but she hated maths and I remember her once throwing her maths book across the room in frustration. I also remember a ritual burning in the back garden of some of her more loathed study books once she had finally got through one particular set of exams. She studied for years - on a wall in her house there is a photo of us all together and smiling, my eccentric little brother still very small - on the day that she graduated from university. She did go on to become a solicitor. Now, at 53, she is re-training to be a psychotherapist.

What else? There is so much I could say, and yet limited space in which to say it. My mother curses like a sailor. She has a big laugh that is not altogether lady like. She's a talented singer and an excellent cook. She works hard. She enjoys travelling and adventure. She has trekked to Machu Picchu, gone white water rafting in Alaska (she bought my son a poster back from that trip that gave detailed instructions on what to do in the event of a brown bear attack) and most recently went on safari in Tanzania. She has also travelled all around South East Asia, and visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia. I encouraged her to write a diary whilst on her travels which she could then give to family and friends to read and keep for future generations. Her description of the horrors she saw at The Killing Field at Cheoung Ek - of the bones and tatters of clothing still pushing up through the earth as if determined they not be forgotten - reduced me to quiet shaking sobs. My mother is made of inspiring stuff. She is brave and wise and has helped inform and shape my beliefs and principles in a way that no-one else has. We are extremely close, and I fancy I can now see elements of her personality coming through in my spirited young daughter, which makes me feel incredibly proud.

I have never before shown her my blog, but for this post I am making an exception, because I wrote it for her really. It's my tribute to her on the day we celebrate our mothers. I feel as though there is a fine line to be trodden however, the last thing I would want is for this gift to descend into mawkish one-sided sentimentality. Firstly because I know she'd hate it, and secondly because it would not be an honest depiction of our often complicated relationship. My mother is as straight as a die and would always rather the truth be told. There have been times when we have made each other miserable. There have been times when she has let me down badly. I know that in my turn, there have been times when I have let her down too. But the love and respect we have for one another is I believe, bigger and stronger than past disappointments, and I know that come what may, it will always win out.

So happy Mothering Sunday mum. Have a good day. I'm sending you all my love with this post.

Your daughter. x

This post was also in response to the gratitude tag, sent to me by the lovely Fraught Mummy, whose blog Brits in Bosnia is one of the most interesting and informative reads in my blogroll.


  1. Thats beautiful Gappy, your mum sounds inspiring. Hope you enjoy your mothers day together x

  2. Wow! That blew me away. Greenham common, Germany ... Your mother sounds an inspiration and i'm pretty sure the majority of mothers/daughters have ups and downs.

  3. Your Mother sounds amazing, what an inspiration to you and your own children. A fabulous post, I was on that plane and excited with you.

    Happy Mother's Day Gappy!

    MD xx

  4. Your Mother sounds truly amazing. Happy Mother's Day :0)

  5. What an amazing Mum. Just wonderful stuff, Greenham Common, and such an example of what you can do if you put your mind to it - even Maths GCSE (I don't envy her that one!). Thanks for taking on the tag, it was such a lovely, marvellous inspiring post. x

  6. Thank you all for your lovely comments.

    My mum said that she was really moved by what I'd written and that it was the best present she'd ever had, which was so wonderful to hear.

    She also said that she thought it made her sound bigger than she really was, but I think she's just being modest, so who knows?

    I'm glad she's got this post to keep.