Shortly after mum became housebound my sister and I decided that we wanted to try to capture her memories, so we both used to take our laptops over to her flat and encourage her to reminisce as we recorded her recollections of a time before we were born. We called our transcriptions Memoires du Maman because they were her experiences; now that it is nearly four months since she left us I find myself remembering her in many different ways, often triggered by the slightest of events and places. It is incredibly hard to resist the impulse to phone her up just to chat about such and such or so and so, and I have to remind myself that she is no longer at the end of the phone although I can hear her answering in her distinctive manner ‘6066’. She never said hello, but always gave the last four digits of the number.
Clearing out her flat wasn’t as painful as it could have been, although I kept recalling snapshot images of her sitting in her armchair in the lounge, or the more poignant memory of her lying in her bed after she passed away. I’ve also found myself remembering her in my armchair, where she sat when she visited, or sitting in our garden. I even see her face sometimes when looking in the mirror, especially as my eyes are like hers, and that reawakens the image of death that was present in her eyes in the few days before she died.
Walking around central London recently brought her back to life in so many places where I had been with her, as well as the streets and areas she introduced me to as a child and as a teenager. Wardour Street was where she worked in the film industry as a young woman in the 1940s, and where I later found employment. Berwick Street was where she shopped for fresh fruit and vegetables. I too used to buy from the same stallholders, although it is much changed now. The stall where she used to buy mushrooms is no longer there, neither is the pub outside where it stood. The fish and chip shop (the Chinese Chippie as we called it) is still in situ, but the food is probably fried by different hands now, and I have no idea if it tastes as delicious as I remember it.
Not for away in Marshall Street I came across the newsagent where she once worked, owned by Monty, who was also my employer at a gift shop in a Piccadilly hotel. I had to remind myself that I would not be able to pick up the phone and ask her ‘guess where I was today?’ We could have enjoyed some marvellous memories if she had been at the end of the line. Mum loved London and could travel around in her mind, long after her legs refused to carry her on and off the buses that she enjoyed using. She once told me that she enjoyed sitting on the top deck and looking into peoples’ houses, much preferring that mode of transport to the tube, where there was nothing interesting to see.
A recent walk across my local park roused memories of the summer Sunday afternoon when we took her for a picnic whilst we listened to a brass band. Switching on the radio and hearing Bryn Terfel singing reminded me of when I took her to the Royal Festival Hall for a live concert given by the Welsh bass baritone. Mum had always loved classical music and especially opera. As her legs weren’t carrying her very well by then I drove her to the South Bank, where the disabled car park was full. So I dropped her off with strict instructions to wait for me, or to go to the box office to collect our tickets. When I arrived back after parking the car she was nowhere to be found. I hunted high and low through the foyers before deciding to look for her upstairs. As the lift doors were closing I caught a glimpse of her and dashed back down the stairs before again taking the lift up with her. By then the concert had started and I also realised that our seats were in the auditorium, which would have been difficult for her to reach. Luckily a member of staff found us an accessible box, from where we had a marvellous view and she could enjoy the music in comfort. Sadly as her illness progressed she lost interest in music, including her favourite radio station, Classic FM, or Classical FM as she called it.
There are so many memories that can be summoned up with very little prompting. Listening to all sorts of music often takes me back to occasions when she made comments, such as how the Beatles were a flash in the pan and pop music was a load of noise sung by men who could do with a good wash and a haircut. I can still see her getting to grips with The Twist, although she preferred ballroom dancing and loved her Cha Cha Cha.
I will never forget her. There are too many memories to be carried into the future. Even now they are far less painful and I can talk about her and some of her expressions and idiosyncrasies and smile. She was never perfect, but she was my mum and is still a part of me.