I’ve just returned from seeing Mum. She seemed relaxed and less agitated than I sometimes find her. Sad to say, but I’ve almost given up trying to find anything we can converse about. None of the reference points from the past have any meaning these days and though I tell her about what I’ve been up to, it has no value beyond the sound of my voice. I’d taken in the latest copy of “Worcestershire Life”, a magazine made up of society pages, houses for sale and general adverts, with a few features on villages or towns in the county. We played our regular “game” of “Fantasy Housebuying”, deciding which house we’d buy from the glossy pages. Many are priced at over a million, and most top half-a-million – hence a real fantasy – but Mum plays along:
“That’s the one for us Mum. Six bedrooms, a stable block and three acres. It’s a snip at two point five million. Loose change to the likes of us.”
She always laughs, bless her, however lame my comment. The sound of her laughter transports me back to far, far happier times. I recall her peals of laughter punctuating my childhood. It reinforces in me how lucky I was to have such a happy childhood, which is no bad thing in the melancholic hour which follows a visit. I remember being a little embarrassed sometimes because Mum’s laugh, in contrast to her speaking voice, could be quite loud. Hearing it now, softer and much, much rarer is still precious. “Fantasy Housebuying” is almost the only way I can make her laugh these days but I’m not sure I’ll make a fortune out of my invention.
As I said, I talked to Mum about the last few days, about our village’s Beer Festival over the Bank Holiday weekend – don’t talk to me about Sarah Hughes’ Dark Ruby – about my wife’s niece coming to stay to revise for her university finals and about my best mate and his two daughters joining us for a couple of days. Normally, Mum says “yes” and “oh” in all the right places and sometimes I even get a “how lovely”. Today, though, all I got was an uncomprehending stare. I found myself staring back, my lips frozen. The stare seemed to last for minutes – in fact it was probably no more than about ten seconds but suddenly, my heart had doubled in weight. I know that much of what I say means little or nothing to her but sometimes, she does seem to recognise a name or a place. At the very least she pretends she does, but not today. I can’t get that stare out of my mind and I can’t really find words to describe its impact.
I’m sitting here looking at a photograph taken at my wedding, with Mum and my best woman – oh yes, nothing as traditional as a best man for me. The photo is one of my very favourites. It isn’t posed and is an entirely natural image which perfectly reflects a very happy day. For the first time, I’m really struggling to connect the person I visit with the radiant lady in the photo. And that hurts, a sucking pain inside. But you know what? In spite of that, she’s still my Mum.