Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Remembering My Mother - Long

The 6th of January would have been my mother’s 90th birthday… but I lost her in March two year ago. The other day I wrote about my father so thought I might write about my mother. It really doesn’t feel like two years since I lost them both. It feels like the other week. May be that’s because I have so much of their stuff here in my bungalow.

Mother’s Early Days…
My grand-father was a Vicar of a small parish in Sussex and he and my grand-mother lived in a large house called Walberton Rectory, near Heathfield. This is where I lived till I was about five years old. It was a lovely old place with farmland all around as old rectories used to have. It was huge and later in life, when I couldn’t sleep, in stead of counting sheep, I used to try and count how many rooms it had!
My mother was raised here. She had an elder sister Helen, and a brother Paul. I can’t remember where she went to school without going through a load of paperwork but it was a boarding school. But I know she had a happy childhood but I think she was a bit of a rebel. She was a party girl, of that there is no doubt! She was very attractive and had several suitors, one eventually became my step-father.
She met my father at a cricket match. He was a handsome dark haired man, but very quiet and rather shy. He was a well known cricketer and my mother fell hook, line and sinker for him. They married and I was born a year or so later in 1940. By now, my father was in the army and war had started. My brother Christopher was born in 1942 and my sister Patricia in 1944. So my father must have had quite a few visits home during the war! Sadly my brother died aged two of TB. I named my youngest son after him.

We went to join my father in German in 1945. One of the happiest times of my childhood was when we live in this large school where my father was a teacher and ran the sailing club with my mother running the riding stables attached to the school. I have happy memories of riding and sailing and swimming but none of doing any school work!
I think it was an exciting life for the adults too as I was later to learn! I better not name any of them as some are well known people but half of them appeared to be having affairs with each other and eventually my mother came back to England alone, leaving me in Germany with my father in the care of a nanny.
Eventually, my father and I came home to England too. It was quite a hard time for me as I missed my mother dreadfully. They divorced in 1952 or 3. I was sent off to boarding school.
My father remarried a woman who had been married to one of the other teachers in the school in Germany. I never got along with her. My mother married my Uncle Robbie whom she had known before she met my father and probably should have married the first time around! It wasn’t that he hadn’t asked her enough times. But Uncle Robbie was 15 years older than my mother, but had loved her since she was a child. They went to live in Malaya (now called Malaysia), and took my sister with them.
I found this time incredible hard as I hated my step-mother and wanted to live with my mother. I didn’t make life very easy for either of my parents. My father had custody of me, being the eldest, and insisted I went to boarding school and get a good education. I hated every minute of it.

My step-father ran several large rubber plantations. My mother lived the typical colonial life out East with the usual servants and it appears, a constant stream of social events. I have quite literally, hundreds of photographs of her time there. She and Uncle Robbie had two children: Joanna and then John.
Most years they came back to England in the summer holidays on leave with an Ahma (nanny). They rented large houses in Sussex and at last I was able to have a pony again, thanks to Uncle Robbie.
You may gather that I was completely horse mad all my childhood and being around horses was when I was most happy. Being with my father during other holidays wasn’t a happy time as I only remember one place my step-mother allowed me to have my pony with me. She didn’t like horses. Normally the horses stayed in Sussex with friends of my mother when they were abroad.

When Uncle Robbie retired, they came back to live in Suffolk. I had left home by now. He bought a large house with an apple orchard. They continued their life style of socialising and parties. Life was always exciting though I think they went through a lot of money as the orchard wasn’t the great success it might have been.
They sold up and moved into a small house. A lovely thatched place that was still large and had plenty of ground around. My mother got into gardening in quite a big way and started to cook as having a permanent cook around was no longer affordable.
Eventually she started a business of catering and organising parties for friends, often holding these in large country houses or Marquees doing all the food. She was very popular.
I am not too sure Uncle Robbie wholly approved of his wife ‘working’, even if it was for their friends. All her work was obtained by recommendations.
They moved to a smaller house in Needham Market, Suffolk. Mother had to take a job and went to work for the Executives of Barclays Bank in Ipswich, where she cooked them lunch most days.
By now, I had moved up to East Anglia and used to visit her at the bank sometimes. I had the most delicious meals there. She really was a fantastic cook… of chef might be the more correct word.
She also provided cream teas at Helmingham Hall at one time. Again, the owners were friends of hers, so I think she started this off for them when the owners opened the Hall and grounds to visitors.

Sad Times…
Uncle Robbie died peacefully in his bed one night. Mother was left with very little money considering how wealthy they had been.
Mother moved in with a friend of hers in Needham Market. It was a large house in the High Street. Her friend was one of the local GPs. This worked for a few years till the doctor retired and wanted to sell up and move down south near her daughters. Mother needed somewhere to live but no longer had enough money to buy her own place again.
My sister Patricia came to the rescue.
She went to live with Tricia in South Africa where her money went a bit further. Tricia had her living with her and mother was in her element again, with servants around to do the menial work.
But it wasn’t easy for Tricia. Mother wanted to run everything, as she always had, all her life. So Tricia bought her a ‘combo’ not far from her house. It was a bit of a come-down, moving from my sister’s large house to a small one bedroom place. But, with her ‘maid’, she was quite happy as she was getting older and there were no stairs to climb.
As mother’s health was beginning to deteriorate, she began needing medical attention, which has to be paid for in South Africa. Tricia suggested she come back to England.

Back to the UK…
Dave and I had moved up here to the Fens by now. We had a large Static caravan in the garden that Dave had plumbed into the mains. Mother came back to live with us. She loved it. She would sit in the van looking out over the garden and watch the wild birds or sit by the fish pond and watch all around her.
After about a year she wanted to move back to Needham Market where she still had friends living. I have to admit, we didn’t mind as mother had begun to try and organise our lives as she had with my sister in South Africa.
Mother could never get used to not having servants so she could be very difficult at times. She was now just sitting around expecting everyone to jump when she said jump! Dave especially found it hard at times. So we managed to get her into small place in the High Street in Needham Market. Here she could sit by the window and watch everyone walk by.

Badly In Debt…
What we didn’t realise was that mother, now with no money other than her pension, was falling for those scams. I arrived on a visit one day when she said that she was waiting for about a hundred thousand pounds to arrive. She’d won it on some lottery! Not long after this I saw a TV programme about elderly people being scammed. They were being asked to send cheques so that the winning money could be released!
We had her come to stay with us over the Christmas and New Year. This is when I found out how big a problem it was with mother. She had managed to get herself in debt to the tune of about £2,000.00 plus, by answering these mails.
I had given her a computer hoping she’d learn to email me and the rest of the family. She couldn’t get on with it so lent it to a girl who lived in the flat above. This girl did do the odd email for mother between buying things. She used to shop for mother, so had access to her credit card. A further £3,000.00 was clocked up. So mother was now in debt to the tune of about 5 thousand. My sister and I were very worried about this situation. A very good friend of ours agreed to help. He took over her account so mother had no access to it. It was the best way to do this as he lived near her. It was very worrying.
Eventually we found her a warden assisted flat also in the village. Our friend had managed to clear mother’s dept completely and leave her a little spending money. Her health was getting worse. She was in her 80s now. She refused to wear the emergency red button around her neck and eventually, after a couple of falls, we moved her to a nursing home in Eye.
After a while. Mother decided she wanted to die. Most of her friends had gone so she saw no reason to carry on living. She began to starve herself. I understood how she felt. She was now bed-ridden and unable to do things as she had before. She’d had a couple of small strokes and also radio therapy for a touch of breast cancer. She had always lived a full and active life so it was hard for her. I understood, but found it hard to deal with.
She was always a snob, so just refused to mix with the other people in the home with her. She never gave any of them a chance to get to know her. It really was very sad to watch her go down hill so quickly.
The whole family visited her regularly during the last month of her life. My sister came over from South Africa, as did her youngest daughter. Her eldest came over from Italy, where she lived. I drove down about every other day. My eldest son Danny, drove up from London a few times with his family.

Crufts Dog Show…
Crufts was looming ever nearer. I always went and had never missed a year since the mid 1970s. I go as a reporter and keep some of the dog press in formed about the Championship Obedience side of things. Mother said I should go and not to worry about her. She promised she wouldn’t die before I got back! After all, I’d only miss 5 days of seeing her.
I left the next day – a Wednesday – and drove to the hotel near the NEC in Birmingham. Thursday was the first day of Crufts. Thursday night I got a phone call from my son Chris. Mother had just died… but he was with her. The home had rung him and he’d driven straight over. I was in a state of shock. I didn’t know what to do.
There was nothing I could do, so that morning saw me sitting in a quiet corner ringing everyone including the undertaker and arranging her funeral. I know she would have laughed at that. It used to be a family joke that no emergency should occur on a weekend - or over Crufts - as we’d be at a dog show! And she had promised to hold on till I got back…
It has taken me till this year to actually write about her properly.
Happy Birthday Mother Darling… May You Rest In Peace. I miss you so very much.

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