Yesterday, having seen a number of entries in Facebook where people were celebrating the joy of their mothers and the happiness of the day I put an entry of my own lamenting the passing of mine and exhorting folk to treasure what they had. On following reflection I decided to remove it labeling such a point as ill timed and, perhaps, slightly self indulgent. Nonetheless, after a dream I had in which I was getting ready to tell a congregation about my own mother’s influence during her life on this planet I decided to do just that. Being the self-effacing person she was I know she wouldn’t approve. This isn’t the first time in my life that I’m going to be disobedient to her instruction.
Ten years ago Mum passed away- and it wasn’t peacefully. Neither was it a happy release- although I convince myself she is in a better place now.
In 1973, after a long fostering period having been given up after birth, Mum and Dad chose to make me their second adoption. This against a warning from an unnamed source that such adoptions always spelt trouble. What was noticeable during my childhood was how she always stood my corner despite my continuous behavioural issues. Although very passive in nature, I was very hard work with a penchant for deceptive and cunning behaviour. I was a “little rogue with a heart of gold”. Her, perhaps rather subjective, words. Although I fear any exaggerated trace of that precious metal has somewhat eroded in the years since- even if the rogue has since disappeared.
It was the affectionate bond that sealed our relationship. Mum had always stood up for the underdog (although having had the good fortune that befell me in such an adoption my then vulnerable nature still doesn’t seem worthy of that phrase). When I arrived in Brighton I was described as ‘backward’ something that she wasn’t having. I was taught at school and taught at home. The label didn’t last long. Even when one family member, unwittingly within earshot, suggested I was the source of all trauma and discord within the family and that they should “never have had him” she wouldn’t listen. The headmistress in my infant school rarely called Mum to inform her of my regular visits to her office. She knew she couldn’t win.
This was Mum. A selfless individual who knew nothing but kindness and altruism. She, as a childminder, was familiar with youngsters. She did this to ensure that the extra cash that came into the house meant Christmas and holidays. It is a deep source of regret that I didn’t recognise this earlier. But then I guess most of us don’t.
Mum’s attention over time turned to the plight of the elderly. She had been a dedicated church goer all her life, one of the proper faith in action Christian types, and she frequently organised outings and also ran a club for older folk on Fridays at the Holland Road Baptist Church. All this was conducted against a back drop of frequent illness (as Dad’s diaries allude to), agoraphobia (she couldn’t go out on her own) and diabetes. Just for good measure I’ll throw in five miss-carriages over a ten year period and you can see that this selfless image I am creating holds a true likeness. In short she was a credit to this planet and was served a great injustice as reward.
In 2004 Mum showed the first sign of Alzheimers. Dad having kept this from me until it became apparent on the Christmas Day when I turned up and felt a clear indication that something wasn’t right. When Mum sat at the table she looked at me and said “Where’s Mum ?” I looked at Dad and he explained “She says that sometimes”.
What ensued over the next four years was an affliction that causes me to question the purpose of life itself. Mum’s condition deteriorated to the point that she almost became a shell that spoke repetitive and unintelligible words and clearly lived in constant distress. My father, unlike myself, was a constant beacon of shared suffering. One day I asked him how he coped effectively alone in a shared environment with the woman he had loved for over 40 years. “When I took the vows I said till death to us part” he responded. If you’ve got this far just read that again. Can you feel the frisson and the emotions that arise ? Dad and I hadn’t always seen eye to eye. From that moment on we did.
There was talk in the final days of putting Mum into a nursing home for a little while to give Dad some respite. Something that was dismissed out of hand. Dad was going to see this through to the fast end that was approaching.
In early July 2008 Mum caught a chest infection and the option was given to treat or not. “What happens if we don’t treat her ?” I remember asking the doctor late that evening. “She’ll probably slip away quietly during the night” he responded. He had already mentioned that there wasn’t long left and I looked at Dad thinking that it was his decision to make without influence. After all, I had felt cowardice at not being able to handle Mum’s plight and being the anchor I should have been. It wasn’t for me to make the ultimate decision. Dad chose to issue treatment. A recovery occurred but only temporarily.
On the 22nd July I received a call at 7.30 in the morning. I had already had a premonition of the days events that proved correct. Mum had spent her final moments in Dad’s arms and left this rotten existence. She was 73.
Mum’s desire to make a difference, to care, and to place others before her, had always trumped any such personal affliction. This is rare testimony. One that is difficult to live up to and a source of crushing sadness to me in many a small hour. If I had recognised then what I recognise now I feel that such pain wouldn’t haunt me.
But this is the point, isn’t it? And the advent of Mother’s Day only goes to amplify it to the point that it needs recognition at a deeper level.
There is a harsh lesson that I have learnt and I would wish to spare others. This is the knowledge that mother’s will always do the best job they know how, make honest mistakes, love you despite, and leave you feeling proud. But sometimes the clatter of cultural madness we find ourselves in gives rise to an unintended ignorance. And for some the realisation comes too late. Like it did for me.
Whatever you take from this just remember Dad’s words and think about take note of my regret. I just wanted to say something even if it doesn’t make sense. I miss my Mum like all hell- just like all those opportunities to give more back than I did.
Look, your tormentors, your coastal Kings, the rulers from the edge of your eyes.
All seeing, all evil, our name means fear, our deeds much more….
Gazing, watchful, and ready- your comforting fare the exposed and mouth ready prey..
Our providers, our clowns, our culinary captives….
We were here before you, and will also be after. Our domain, our rules- harsh and without remorse.
Such desire for you, so unloving and cruel, from the stomach not the heart, from our twisted minds- but not our conscience.
So stay a little longer; for our supper is due, for our bowels are weak, and our warped gay abandon needs its subject…
There are still plenty of folk around in Brighton who have many a story to tell about life during the Second World War. For most of us though, the experience is missing. The conflict and its effects are limited to varied film footage that afford us images of the conflict unfolding, and often some very poignant pictures of its horrific effects both home and abroad.
Brighton, all these years later, seems to reveal little trace of the involvement of the townsfolk in those terrible years, aside of memorials to those who gave their lives in service. However, if you look closely enough, the evidence of the effects of the bombs that dropped on the town is still there. Two very noticeable examples can be found in White Street and Egremont Place, just off Edward Street.
White Street was bombed on the evening of the 18th September 1940. A few days after the biggest raid on Brighton had claimed, according to official records, an eventual number of 52 lives. In this raid 12 people died, 11 in White Street and 1 in the adjoining Baker Street. Of the bombs that were dropped, the heaviest damage was inflicted upon the lowest part of White Street. A picture from the time is shown below:
Picture Source: Unknown
So what of the effects as seen today ? Well, take a look at this part of the street now:
The houses shown are clearly new builds that would cause anyone to question as to how such constructs came about.
Another example of the legacy of random German bombs during 1940 can be found in Egremont Place.
On the 26th October of that year my late uncle was making his way towards Egremont Place when the bomb dropped. I’m not sure of his exact location, but a piece of sharp flying shrapnel landed just in front of him, some metres from the point of blast. He was probably spared by a few seconds of distance. The occupants of the houses were not so fortunate, two perishing in the blast. On this occasion there had been no air raid sirens, although a lone bomber, often a feature of these raids, had been seen crossing the town.
The buildings affected appear to be number 20 (destroyed) and number 22 (partially, but seriously damaged). There is a photo of the bombsite in circulation, possibly from a local rag at the time, but I am not able to show it here.
However, here is a picture of the site as it looks at present.
Again, above we see the legacy of the bombings, namely new builds that betray some sort of incident that necessitated their build, rather than a natural architectural progression.
There are doubtless many other places that show constructional anomalies in Brighton that folk could point out, and I’d be interested to hear them. But for now these images are the closest, and somewhat powerful connection, I can sense from the time. It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like for those who survived but lost loved ones.
Further recommended reading:
Target Brighton by David Rowland