Listen With Mother

It had sat in that same corner all my life – beside the window chair in the living room – my mother’s sewing box – and yet I had forgotten about it.

When I was a child she often gave me the sewing box to tidy, and I genuinely believed I was helping rather than – as seems more likely now – being kept amused. I remember sitting on the floor surrounded by cotton reels and cards of press-studs and hooks and eyes and being full of my own importance. I was helping. This goes back to the time before things went wrong, before Mum started lying on the sofa and crying for most of the morning instead of dusting. The time before Nan started coming along to help, and Mum started taking two aspirins every four hours for most of many days.

In those days we would listen to Listen With Mother together on the radio. She would sit me on her lap and I would start twiddling a lock of my hair in sheer anticipation. What would it be today? See-saw Marjorie Daw or the one about the four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie? We had to have teddy with us. The radio lady always asked us if we had our teddies with us, and whether we were sitting comfortably.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

But back to the sewing box. I think I took it all rather seriously. I not only sorted out the cotton reels but wound in every loose end and secured it in the little notch at the top. I not only tidied the button box but threaded the buttons into a long string using one of Mum’s darning needles – little buttons at one end, all the way up to giant coat-type buttons at the other. Duffle-coat toggles were a bit of a worry…

I had to go back there about a week ago – I think I wrote about it – to remove Ex’s paintings as the house is now being sold to pay Mum’s fees. I was dreading it, and it was pretty dreadful, in some ways. Arriving half an hour before the removal firm man, I sat on the doorstep for ten minutes unable to go inside on my own. When he arrives, I thought, I’ll usher him in first and he can confront the ghosties! But then the neighbours started making casual passes back and forth. I realised they didn’t know who I was and assumed some sort of Bag Lady. Maybe they were about to call the police and have me removed… so I plucked up my courage and went in.

I busied myself packing Nan’s blue half-a-tea-service, which I had promised Mum I would save, and which nobody else seemed to want. I remembered the tea service from Sundays with Nan and Grandad. When first Nan and then Grandad died the half-a-tea-service (presumably my uncle had the other half) moved along the road and took up residence on a Welsh dresser in Mum’s living room. I had brought newspapers with me, and carrier bags.

Take anything you like, my sister said. The house clearance man was coming to take the lot. Probably been and gone by now.

I found a little album with a few random photos in it, of Mum and Dad and me maybe fifteen years ago, exploring the local chalk-pit that had been turned into a tourist attraction (or that was the idea) by the addition of wooden walkways and stairs. I have no photos of Mum and Dad – indeed, no photos at all of any part of my life – somebody else seems to have had them all at each step of the way, so I put that in the bag. I found a grubby old “Knitting Patterns” album containing not knitting patterns but recipes – all Mum’s favourite recipes in her familiar handwriting, recipes torn out of women’s magazines and annotated. Little interjections, mostly with her favourite exclamation marks

Delicious!

I substitute sultanas for mixed fruit!

360F, middle shelf!!

I thought I might share a few of the recipes with you, in occasional future posts. A way of Mum living on and in a small way contributing to the future, if you see what I mean.

And then I spotted it – the sewing basket. It was very, very heavy but I brought that home too. It sat at my feet high up in the removal man’s van. You need to be a veritable mountaineer to get into one of those things, and I all but landed in a heap trying to climb down out of it at the other end.

And then there was the dilemma. That evening I sat with Mum’s sewing basket on my knees and shed the few tears I ought to have shed a year earlier, at the thought of Mum to all intents and purposes gone. Mum in that home. Mum not at home. The house I grew up in not my home now. Everything off with the house clearance man to be distributed, no doubt, among charity shops.

But what should I do with the basket? Part of me wanted to sit on the floor, take out a whole lifetime of bits and bobs, half-cards of bias binding, folds of orange ribbon, samples of hessian (whatever did she use that for?) and of course the button box which, when I was a child had seemed a huge and magical container and now seemed to have shrunk to a hexagonal toffee tin with pictures of rabbits and 1950s postmen on the front.

Part of me wanted to leave it exactly as it was, so that the muddle inside should be Mum’s muddle, her memorial, a little bit of her practical, creative mind. In a way I wanted to keep her boxed, rather than bottled.

The dilemma continued for some time. Should I use the sewing box – as she would probably have wanted – or leave it undisturbed? After all, they were not really magic, the rusty tin of pins, the darning needles rusted into the tartan pincushion… I remember her teaching me to make a version of that pincushion for my Brownie sewing badge. They were just old things.

And then today I decided to design something to sew. Now, don’t laugh. There is a reason for it but I haven’t got time to go into it right now. I designed a Sad Cat Hat, taking the pattern from a sunhat I bought at a market stall on a recent visit to Canterbury, cutting out paper pattern pieces from the front cover of the Radio Times and pinning them onto an old pillow case for my “trial version” of this unlikely object. And then I thought, I no longer have any dressmaker’s shears and the kitchen scissors are too blunt. Maybe Mum has some?

In the bottom of Mum’s sewing box was a perfect pair of dressmaker’s scissors and – and this is the strange thing – left handed ones. Now, how does that happen? Mum was right handed. I’m left-handed.

And it seems to me that Mum – wherever she hides, inside that poor old grey head – was trying to get a message to me. Take the middle way. Use what you need but only when you need it, leave the muddle mostly, but not entirely, undisturbed.

Guilty Pleasures

So, what was I going to write about television? Can’t remember… Oh yes. It always comes back in the end. I was going to confess as to my strange and exotic tastes televisual tastes.

It’s just that… I hesitate to say it… even though I’m not a seventeen year old boy and don’t spend the whole day in the back bedroom of my parents’ house playing computer games… even though I’m female and… not-in-the-first-flush-of-youth, shall we say… yes, I will say it… I like watching sci-fi serials. Whew!  My friends don’t understand. We’re on the same wavelength about almost everything else, so can’t complain, but somehow Star Trek… they’re not even sure which one Star Trek is. How could a person live without Leonard Nimoy? My hero! Those gorgeous green ears! Those eyebrows!

Most of the ladies I know like soaps whereas I can’t abide them. I really can’t stand all that shouting and stupidity. How many times can someone get murdered and buried under the patio, then dug up and everyone’s surprised to find them? How many times can people be secretly having other people’s babies, caught shoplifting, thrown into jail and hammily sobbing over their plight, only to be released in a few months’ time? Why, I believe Tony Blair, Prime Minister at the time, even lent his Prime Ministerial support to a national campaign to ‘free the Weatherfield One’ i.e the interminably bleating Deirdre Barlow who had been incarcerated on a trumped-up charge. (Not wishing to speak ill of the actress herself, Anne Kirkbride, who died in January of this year.)

I will watch any sci-fi/fantasy serial/film I can find. Unfortunately I can’t afford to subscribe any of those new-fangled ‘packages’ from people like Sky. All I have is Freeview, but even that has quite a few channels on it. Being Freeview-limited does mean you have to rummage around the channels searching, searching, searching… till up pops yet another set of random repeats of Star Trek, Andromeda, Stargate Atlantis, Farscape, Heroes or The X-Files. They are often shown out of sequence – so you get part II before part I of a two-parter, or you never do get part II, or you suddenly find characters who were drained of their vital energy, zapped, phasered or incorporated into some mechanical hive-mind with tubes coming out of their ears, by Wraith, Daleks, Klingons, Borg or whatever two episodes back re-entering the plot, large as life, tube-free, and with no explanation or you find new characters suddenly there and you find yourself yelling ‘Who are you, for God’s sake?’ Although on second thoughts, maybe that’s part of the fun.

Also part of the fun are the logic holes and plot malfunctions. These do tend to leap out at people who write but somehow… it doesn’t matter. And the make-up. They can sometimes go too far with this, particularly the green stuff. There’s this race of seductive green women: they always wreak havoc among the menfolk. Apparently they give off some kind of pheromone that only Vulcans can resist. Vulcans can resist most things. Those women are just too green, and too thickly-green. I mean, they look sweaty. Pheromones or no, who in their right mind would want to entwine with one of those?

Then there are the films. Another item I can’t afford nowadays. The nearest cinema is, like, hundreds of miles away? (The interjected ‘like’ plus upward inflection is so catching, like, isn’t it?) However, stuff pops up on TV. The only trouble is, because of having no Radio Times and my own habit of random sitting down, tuning in and tuning out depending on whether I’m in the middle of writing something, I tend to miss the beginnings of films. But no matter, I watch the ending, then wait for the beginning, the middle, or whichever bit I didn’t catch. I must be the only person on earth who loved Waterworld. I watched Avatar in three non-sequential instalments (wonderful film, all those lovely blue creatures with tails… and the flying) and that one with Jenny Agutter, much younger and in an inadequate sea-green tabard and… whatisname, the blonde, Germanic-looking chap with a single expression throughout… Logan’s Run… I collected that in four or five instalments. The record must go to The Fifth Element, though. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched random bits of that and I still keep discovering new bits. I just love Bruce Willis in that orange vest. Bruce Willis seems to have been created especially for the vest. And those costumes! Jean Paul Gautier.

And then there are other guilty pleasures. Did I ever tell my friends that I watch every single episode of Ice Road Truckers I can get my hands on? Possibly not, but I have now. Did I confess to The Big Bang Theory (I am Sheldon Cooper’s biggest fan) or that animation The Snowman (every Christmas) and its twin animation The Bear (every other Christmas)? Did I ever confess to watching every single romantic, cheesy American Christmas movie ever made, sometimes several times over? If one of those appears of an afternoon, no writing is likely to be done.

And while we’re about it, Love Actually. I have got to the stage with Love Actually where I know most of the lines by heart. I am actually genuinely bored with Love Actually but somehow I can’t not watch it. And I still stifle sobs in the bedroom with Emma Thompson, when she discovers that her beloved Alan Rickman has bought her a Joni Mitchell CD for Christmas but an expensive necklace for the tarty PA. That must be one of the best bits of acting ever. And yes, I still laugh at a shot-away Bill Nighy’s multiple attempts to record a Christmas cover-version of Love Is All Around Us. Don’t you?