Dum de de dum dum, dum dum dum dum duuuuummmmm

Happy Easter everyone – I hope you are all having a lovely day – we are. In the best regulated families you will be sitting down following a beautiful meal and a bracing walk – a parlour game might even be in play. Or you may be like the rest of us, the children are full of chocolate and climbing the walls, Uncle Dick is drunk in the corner and Auntie Dora has just said something political……

It seems like the perfect time to share a little more of my childhood story. We left off with my desire for Mother to be a bit more ‘like the other Mummies’ – thankfully she didn’t oblige and I actually feel rather guilty now about asking her to conform.

She once came to my recorder recital (recorder recital!! – I was also in the Chess Club – is it a wonder I’m single?), wearing a full length scarlet wool cape, a Cossack hat and a sealskin muff. This was Larne in he 1980’s – people looked – it was scundering.

My Mother is a gifted shopper – I mean really gifted. There is no task too small or no purchase too obscure. Even before the internet she could find anything – anywhere. When I NEEDED (according to Mother) gold sugared almonds for my wedding favours – gold almonds were found (flown in from Harrods – they were minging).

She does however have one peccadillo – she is VERY particular about how her shopping is packed. Not in a ‘giving the charity bagpacker £2 and then do it yourself’ sort of a way. Oh no, I mean scrutinising the placement and ‘companion’ bagging of every single item.

Once, once, over 35 years ago one hapless assistant in M & S put a pair of shoes in with a silk scarf and it got plucked. Bear in mind, that at this time shop workers in Belfast wore a Pac a Mac clipped to their belts because they spent so much time standing in front of the city hall during bomb scares. The poor girl was probably too worried about getting blasted to kingdom come to consider the structural integrity of a bloody silk scarf. Ever since that fateful day Mother has been the scourge of retail assistants everywhere. Before a bagging transgression has even taken place her shoulders tense and there is an intake of breath. Sometimes, if an acceptable packing configuration follows a drama can be avoided. If an opportunity for substandard ‘bagging’ occurs, there is a little cough, this is followed by (in a faint, wobbly and high pitched voice), ‘ emmmmm, would it be ok if I had another bag ……..it’s just once I had a silk scarf plucked by a pair of shoes’. I think they must have pictures of Mother in all retail staff rooms with,’ For the love of God, give her two bags.’ printed below it in large letters.

TVA ‘silk scarf’ for reference – naturally the original silk scarf is much too plucked to be seen in public

Having said all that she’s great craic with a wicked sense of humour. We often go to social events together, and I get to some great outings as ‘Anne Guest’. One particular night comes to mind. mother was filming a TV series, and it was about half way through with all the prerecords completed (making a facial injury something of an issue). We arrived home very late to my house, possibly having spent slightly too long worshipping at the shrine of Bacchus. I went into the kitchen to pour a glass of water (Mother always needs a glass of water going to bed {for her pills}). All of a sudden there was a yelp, followed by staggering footsteps – this was accompanied by cries of ‘ NOT THE FACE, NOT THE FACE’. Then there was a thud, and silence. I sprinted into the hall to find her face planted at the top of the stairs.

In answer to my concerned enquiries about her wellbeing – she turned to me, grinned and observed, ‘ Don’t worry – my tits saved me!’

Naturally, many years later I asked my talented friend JL to create an embroidery to celebrate the event. Not sure how Mother felt about that.

In addition to their love, the greatest gift my parents gave me was the ability to find wit and humour of even the darkest of days. My Confirmation was a prime example of this.

In Catholic Primary Schools, Confirmation is the highlight of your final year. My time at primary school was neither happy or productive. Despite the heroic efforts of all my teachers who were gifted educators and compassionate women, my card had been marked by the Head Nun. I was the product of a ‘Mixed Marriage’ (my father was Presbyterian and my mother wore capes – I was bound to be trouble.) This unpleasantness (she actually threw the school choices form at my mother because a ‘non Catholic’ school had be picked for my post primary education), was combined with the fact that neither by beloved Father or Grandfather would be in attendance meant no-one was really looking forward to it.

Every girl in the class wanted a job for the big event – after all THE BISHOP would be in attendance. The big parts (the readings) were given to girls who had not passed the 11+ (did they actually think we wouldn’t notice??). I had no hope of a singing part – I can’t sing so that was fair enough. All that was left was the Offertory Procession. The announcement was being made, I held my breath, I was in!! I much have caused Sr. Marcella CP some sleepless nights – could you really leave out the ‘recently orphaned child’ on the other hand……? ‘ Pragmatism won (people would have talked) – I got the water the Priest washes his hands with – not the good stuff like the Bread and Wine – but at least I had a part.

On the morning of the service I got on my ‘outfit’ – petrol blue wool suit (think Margaret Thatcher miners strike chic), a ‘Lady Diana blouse, white tights and the most uncomfortable grey leather shoes in the world. The uncomfortable shoes (with a heel to give me a bit of height) contributed some stigmata style red stains to my tights – fabulous.

While we were waiting for the Bishop, every woman in the church was discussing the latest episode of The Thorn Birds. Everyone had read it and were now entranced by the mini series – what would happen on Matlock Island??????

As he made his entrance and our innocent voices lifted in song. ‘May is the month of Mary’ was joined my the low but insistent thrum of my Aunt Melwira chanting the theme song to the Thorn Birds (you know the one, Dum, de de dum dum dum dum dum dum duuuuuummmmmm).

It was a dark day – but we were smiling.

Next week you can hear about the walking course I thought was a good idea,

Give me a child until [s]he is seven……

Hello again, this week I have to begin with an apology. Last week something went wrong with the photographs and I may have come across as something of a ‘grape hyacinth’ freak. In the interests of clarity I’m including the missing pictures below. On the left are my school friends (I’m the one with the bad perm) and on the right is JY looking cerebral in a turtleneck.

So, as we know, all good stories have an origin narrative, where the personality of the storyteller is shaped. These are often set on a distant planet, mine was shaped in Larne! (Don’t worry Mother, this won’t be ‘Mommie Dearest’)

Picture the scene….

It’s sometime in the mid 1960’s and two people fall in love. So far so good. However, the ‘girl’ (mother) was a 4ft 11″ Catholic in her 20’s and the ‘boy’ (the irony) was a 6ft Presbyterian in his late 40’s. Way to go parents – no controversy there!

They did get married, and after a respectable pause, I came along. Their union would have been referred to in the 1970’s (and beyond), as a ‘mixed marriage’, because neither of them ‘turned’, this has to be said with the sort of sneer you would adopt when prescribing an ointment for a particularly embarrassing pustule.

So who were these romantic pioneers (it was pure Kevin and Sadie, love across the barricades)? They were a very glamorous couple and once went to a fancy dress party as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Mummy was all eyes and hair (not her own, well the eyes were, but not the hair) Daddy looked elegant in a safari suit and a brown silk polo. He was very fond of that safari suit.

They went to another fancy dress party as Maurice Chevalier and Gigi (which gave off a rather different vibe). Strangely – no pictures exist of that particular outing!

Daddy was a gifted raconteur. One of his specialities was sharing the fun fact that his wife ‘was the only woman he knew who could take her knickers off standing up in a Mini’. The fact that they were Mini owners at the time lent a certain veracity to this tale. I never did find out if this was true and since Mother has done in her hip she is no longer limber enough to try. He would mesmerise a room with tales of his time in the States, New York in particular. It was reminiscent of a County Antrim Jack Kerouac. This was especially entertaining to watch as he had never set foot on the continent of America. He was very bold.

Daddy was a very devoted parent, and much more involved that other men of his generation. The day the Marie Rose was being raised he wanted me to stay off school to watch it. He was persuaded that we would definitely be allowed to watch it in school – we weren’t, and he never quite forgave the Headmistress.

We would cuddle up on the sofa and watch all variety of programmes. My poor teachers and my extremely right wing, ultra Catholic primary school were subjected to a daily lottery of what I might reveal in ‘Our News’. Every morning after we heard that Shelia’s Mummy had had another baby and Kathleen’s Mummy had got a new vacuum cleaner, I might observe that I had seen a lion eating an impala (Wildlife on One), or a ‘great piece of satire, where a man goes into a restaurant, wearing only a tie’ (Not the Nine o’clock News). I was something of a pompous arse even then.

‘We three’ were happy as pigs in muck when very suddenly while I was ten, he rather suddenly and thoughtlessly died of a heart attack. Hmmmmmmm – now don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Frank McCourt – I did get to keep my Communion money. Our already small community had dwindled to two. Mother and I moved in with my recently widowed grandmother (oh yes! good times). Do you know something? After a while, it was ok – mainly due to the force of character and will of the two women raising me.

Mother is an incredible woman. For many years she juggled full time work, and acting career and raising me (who we will recall from last week was a little bit odd). Having said that she isn’t particularly conventional. When you are a teenage and ‘odd’, conventional is really important.

Next week I shall share with the story of the night Mother’s tits saved her……..