This is for my mother on her 80th birthday, because, as befits her increasingly pragmatic world view, I thought she’d appreciate me writing a little homage to her before it’s too late for her to read it.
And, by simply surviving for so bloody long, I think she deserves nothing less. Particularly as she assures me regularly how much she gets a kick out of being mentioned in my blog ravings. “My vicarious pleasure,” as she puts it.
I don’t like to tell her that I mention her in my posts because she’s such a rich source of comedic inspiration, because she might take it the wrong way.
Rosalind takes pleasure (vicarious or otherwise) in many curious and charming ways. Shocking people is high on her bucket list. She recounts with relish her now-stock response to telemarketers’ greetings of “And how are you today, Mrs Feldman?” with “I’ve got caaancer” in pathetic, reedy tones, just to hear the embarrassed pause at the other end of the line. She says I should give it a try because it’s a handy way of getting out of signing up to a new phone plan.
She’s not lying, though. She does have cancer. But she’s not pathetic, nor reedy.
Terrifying mostly. Just ask the people whose Facebook posts she comments on, or anyone who messes with her in the supermarket car park.
She moved here from the UK four years ago, for reasons we’ve not always been clear on: according to her it was for me; according to me it was for her. Still, over this time I think we’d both agree that it’s worked out to be for the both of us; but what it’s been, we’re still not sure.
Still with me, Mudther?
Granted, there were a number of exploratory visits here before she made her massive leap of faith to live here permanently – not all of them pretty – to test the waters. And plenty of prodigal returns by me over the course of 20-odd years, too, of equal intensity – each fraught with the anticipation of arrival, the brevity of the visit, the dread of departure.
This has been her biggest, bravest adventure, despite the fact that, rather than living it large in a chic, minimalist apartment in Potts Point, as she’d have liked, she’s living it safe in a little Jewish retirement village full of tiny, attention-deficit deaf ladies in Rose Bay. “The village of the damned,” she calls it. But her flat is still perfectly Rosalind – chic, minimalist and embellished with her own and others’ paintings and artfully arranged miscellanea.
We’ve had a few adventures of our own, she and I, not least the fire and brimstone of our love-hate relationship through my early teens. But I’m comfortable enough in my skin to admit now that, yes, Mummy Dearest, I’m sure I deserved you throwing that wooden tennis racket holder at me; just as my sister, Belinda, deserved the jug of orange juice being poured over her at the dinner table. We were always a family of sudden, incandescent rage, as well as violent affection (being chased up the stairs as little’uns, screaming with gleeful terror at her threats of bottom-biting).
We’re from the era of the Good Hard Smack. Hasn’t done me any harm, has it? Well, nothing that you can actually see.
Our first expedition as adults (of sorts) was when we were both newly single: she after 24 years of marriage and two children; me after three years of de facto-ness and one small dog called Eric. We travelled to Rethymno in Crete, where my freshly minted London flatmate had booked us a ‘room’ at a place dubbed ‘Rent Rooms Michael’. I use the word advisedly, as our abode was more like a scene out of Midnight Express, only with (albeit grubby) soft furnishings. We made the best of it, walking gingerly in tiptoe over the grimy floor, then booking out the next morning to flee by hire car to Agia Galini. I was designated driver – as I’ve been on our adventures ever since, despite her still-formidable driving skills – my first time in a manual right-hand-drive along a highway that would occasionally yawn into a pothole the size of a putting green.
It was her first trip ‘roughing it’. Our 1960s middle-class family summer fortnights had been spent at good hotels on the Continent, with pools and beach lounges and cheeky waiters. Hell, Dad had to get some sort of break for the grinding decades of work in the rag trade he hated so much.
Much later, I took her to Paris for a long weekend – a very hot long weekend (I’d walk in the sunshine; she’d walk in the shade – “sorted”). We did a runner from a snooty, touristy café after we’d sat with our pre-dinner drinks there being choked by car fumes and deafened by car horns, and didn’t really fancy staying for the touristy meal we’d ordered. We raced off, shrieking with laughter, across the Place de la Concorde, with a garçon in bemused pursuit (we’d left money for the drinks, so he didn’t try too hard).
That became our Thelma & Louise moment (without the cliff, obviously). It was when she could still race, more or less.
Nowadays, we move at a slower pace – she, pain-racked from her “bloody, bloody, bloody” arthritis, with the aid of her father’s sawn-off walking stick; me, anxiously trying to curb my stride without appearing to do so. Still shrieking with laughter, but.
Doing a runner just isn’t an option anymore, although we’ve been tempted on a few occasions at our many coffees and lunches in the worst cafés in town – any town. I have this knack for picking ’em. It’s my food-writing curse.
We’re also from the era of Things Matching, an era she has clung to like a limpet, and one which, despite all my rebellious attempts to extricate myself from it, still lingers with a heavenwards-rolling-eyed, guilt-inducing nag in the dim recesses of my sartorial decision-making.
Indeed, so dedicated a matcher was my mother, that in the 1960s, when Gossard Wonderbras made their buxom debut, she would dye them along with her knickers into matching sets – lemon, mocha, turquoise, lilac and god knows what other colours besides. She and my father, something of a dandy himself, had the dubious honour of being among the first to stock these saucy undergarments in their mod boutique in London’s Bayswater. She was also the first in the known universe beyond the Paris catwalks to wear a herringbone maxi-coat. Bless her matching cotton socks.
And so we come to today, her 80th birthday (although she’s a little miffed because, in fact, we should be celebrating it on Sunday, in keeping with her Northern Hemisphere origins).
“Whatevs,” as she would say. Yes, really. And “totes amazeballs”. She is the latest early adopter of the modern vernacular – texting in strangulated abbreviations I struggle to comprehend, commenting on Facebook with often bewildering abandon, forwarding un-PC email jokes, Skyping with her wig off when she lost all her hair.
She is a rapier wit and a wily wordsmith, a consummate piss-taker, a jaded TV and film reviewer, an evil mimic, a cryptic crossworder and stalwart friend, no matter what she says about you behind your back.
She is my most fearsome critic and fierce defender. She is my hair-monitor, my travel companion, my coffee mate, my eye-catcher in awkward social situations, my blog censor, my eagle-eyed proofreader and my clothes-shopping regulator.
I just wish that we could grow old and cranky together. It just won’t be the same without her.
So this is for you, Mum, with my love.
And sorry, in anticipation, for any typos.