Thursday, 19 February 2015
In memory of my Mum who would have been 90 today !
My mother was born and spent her early years in Oldham, Lancashire. She remembers the extreme poverty all around of the late twenties and early thirties. She was christened Gladys Mary Fanning, named after Aunty Gladys, who was rather well off, in the hope that the venrable Auntie would smile on her. Mum hated the name Gladys, and when she was confirmed, hose the name Celia, which became her name of choice for the rest of her life. In Oldham in the 20's and 30's the great depression was hitting hard, no welfare then, even items such as shoes were viewed as a luxury. At some point in the thirties, the family moved to Kentish Town in search of work. My mother was a bright student and got a scholarship to a grammar school. Sadly her education was interrupted when she contracted diptheria at the age of 12. These were the days before immunisation and thousands of children were killed. My mother was in hospital for several months and vividly recollected how girls would turn up in the next bed to her and die a few days later. She would ask the nurses "Where is my friend?". They would smply reply "She's gone".
My mother recovered and shortly after the war started. She was evacuated to Kettering with her sister Audrey. My mother did not have fond memories of the experience. She tild me that despite the poverty in her house, her mum always filled the house with warmth and love. In Kettering, there was none of this and my mum had to watch out for herself and Audrey, who was much younger. Whe she returned she was determined not to go back again. She completed her education at St James School in Burnt Oak, where the family had moved. Her first job was in a Ladies outfitters in Bond St. She told me the lady owner had big plans for her, but the shop was destroyed by a German bombing raid. Her next job was as a switchboard operator in Barclays Bank head office in Lombard Street. This was the start of my mothers love affair with London, which she believed was the worlds finest City. She would always travel by bus, as she felt that travelling on the tube wasted the chance to see the city. She loved the 113 bus route, which then went to Oxford Circus. In 1943, she met my father. He was an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. He was a big, confident and handsome man. He flew Wellington bombers for 40 Squadron and was on a break from his tour when they met. Interestingly, my mother thought he was Irish when she first met him, as the only people she'd met with funny accents were Irish relatives. At the start of 1944, my father flew to Italy to return to his Squadron and tour of duty. In June my mother received a telegram to say that he'd been shot down in flames and was presumed dead. Shortly after, she received another Telegram stating he was a POW in Bucharest. My Father wrote every day. They exchanged coded letters, which my father cunningly used a special code to evade German censors "It is nice here, nearly as nice as Burnt Oak in December" was one example. My father was only a prisoner of war for 68 days, leading a mass breakout and being repatriated to the UK by the USAF.
As he was shot down on his 40th mission, he'd completed his tour and so resumed a UK based role. My parents married on October 28th 1944. They had their reception at the Hunters Horn in Mill Hill, which is now the Good Earth restaurant. My father ended up based at Moreton in the Marsh RAF base as an accident investigation officer. He was discharged from the airforce in 1946. He worked at various jobs, before getting a job as chief pilot with John Howard Construction, working in the Middle East, on oil installation construction. He left my mother at home in Burnt Oak with three small children, living with her mum. Eventually my mum had enough of this and joined him in Beirut. At the end of 1950 my father, at mums behest, quit the air industry and returned to London. He set up MacMetals, a crash repair business in Bunns Lane works. My mother worked as his secretary, building up the business. I was born in 1962. The late 50's and early 1960's were difficult times for my mother. My father suffered from chronic ill health. He had an ulcer and I also believe he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress from his wartime experiences. My mother had to hold the business together during his lengthy periods in hospital. This was not easy with six children.
By the late 1960's the business had grown and my fathers health improved. Just as things seemed to be going well, disaster struck. My mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. In 1970, she had a total gastrectomy performed by the eminent surgeon Phillip King. Dr King privately informed my father that she had zero chance of surviving more than five years, even if he removed the tumour. Without a stomach she'd slowly starve to death, as it is not possible to get enough nourishment into the body. He advised my mother to eat day and night and to drink as much Guiness as possible. She did. Both of my parents were fesity and people of faith. My mother confided to me that once she'd had the tumour removed, she never doubted she'd survive. She'd take biscuits to bed and tuck in every couple of hours. By the end of the 1970s, she was up to eight pints a night. Dr King advised that three or four would be sufficient..
In 1976, my father took my mum to Australia for the first time. She was amazed when she went to Queensland, where my Dad came from. It had never occurred to her that this suave handsome, worldly pilot, was a country boy from the middle of nowhere. She did however love Australia.
My mothers experiences with illness in the 1930's and 1970's confirmed her lifelong commitment to socialism and the NHS. She was passionate about immunisation, having seen the effects of the diptheria pandemic first hand. She'd always have flu jabs and always did what the doctor told her. In 1978, my parents bought the freehold to their business in Bunns Lane. A year later, they encoruaged me to start the business which is now Mill Hill Music Complex on the site. They did this mostly to rid the house of the army of obnoxious punk rockers I was hanging around with.
I now feel really sorry for my parents, having me as their last child. By this time my father was in his 60's and he was faced with an angry, arrogant teenager, who lacked respect for everything. My dyslexia was undaignosed, to my parents I was just thick and bolshie. They dispaired at my school reports. All of my brothers and sisters have post school qualifications. We have a teacher, a nurse, a barrister, a rocket scientist, a boffin and me in our family. I was the punk rocker, who simply moped around picking fights with everyone. Reading my Mums diaries from the time, I realise just how awful it must have been. My siblings are all a fair bit older, so I was hanging around the house like a bad smell, whilst my elder siblings had kids nearly my age.
I moved out in 1981, moving to Sweden. I didn't even bother to tell them what I was doing and they didn't really seem too bothered. They went off to Australia. When I moved out, we started to get on a lot better. Sadly, for them, their luck was not to last. I got seriously ill and had to come home. My parents bore this with long suffering grace, but eventually we had another bust up, I moved out for good and we didn't speak for a year. Eventually in 1986, established in a rented flat with decent money coming in, we mended our bridges and started to get on well. My parents had retired and lived off the rental income from Bunns Lane works. They had an idyllic life, going on regular holidays and enjoying each others company.
Sadly it was not to last. In 1987, my parents were on holiday in Florida, staying with my sister, who is a US citizen, married to a US doctor. My mothers eldest sister died of a heart attack. My parents flew back and the day after, my father also died of heart attack. My mother was bereft and heartbroken. My father was such a larger than life character, that she couldn't see any way that anyone would fill the gap. But as I mentioned, my mum was a fighter. She wasn't going to mope around. She developed a love of going on cruises and took up painting. Eventually in the mid 1990's she met Mike, a new friend on a cruise. Mike moved in with Mum and they were happy. Mike was a diabetic and mum kept and eye on his insulin levels. They both enjoyed a Guinness. We all saw the millenium in at my house in 2000, with high hopes for the new century. Less than a year later, disaster struck again. My mother had a major stroke that robbed her of her youthfulness and her speech. She lost her confidence. She became dependent on her children, which she hated.
The challenges we had with the local authority, when it outsourced its meals on wheels contract and with the NHS for my mothers treatment, are what has inspired me to write this blog. I saw so many terrible things. After all of my mothers hardships, I was enraged to see how the elderly are treated.
Despite all of the challenges, mum still managed to enjoy life when she could. We went on holiday to Lourdes with HCPT several times, having some good times. We shared a Guinness every single evening. We shared a laugh and a joke every evening. Despite all of the difficulties, for a while she made a steady improvement. We thought one day she may have got completely back to her old self. Then another disaster. She fell and broke her hip. This nearly killed her. Whilst recuperating, she was sent to Finchley Memorial Hospital, where there was an outbreak of C-Diff, which nearly killed her. My sister Val, who is a nurse, came over from the USA and sat with her 24 X 7 attending to her needs in hospital until she was free of the bug. Then she started suffering from spinal fractures caused by Osteoperosis, a side effect of the Cancer treatment she'd had in the 1970's. Then her eyesight started to deteriorate, so she could no longer read. This she told me was the final straw.
To my amazement, despite all of this she decided to accompany me to Lourdes with HCPT in July 2008. To be honest, she was not happy and was quite unreasonable for the first few days, refusing to engage with the group and generally being awkward. Towards the end, she chilled out. On the final ful day, we did a tour of the basilica's and she said the Lords Prayer with a large group from Oldham. My mother said that if things had worked out differently, she may have been part of that pilgrim group. She then said it was a fitting way for her last visit to Lourdes to end. I told her not to be so silly and that her health was improving. We returned to London and I jetted out a couple of days latter to Los Angeles for a holiday with my wife and children. Three days later, we got a call to say Mum had had a massive stroke and had hours to live. I was devastated. Shortly after the phone went, she was dead.
It took me a long time to come to terms with her passing. It was funny that during my teens I had a terrible relationship with my mum, but by the time she passed away, I thought the world of her. Every evening we'd talk for hours. I'd pour her a Whiskey to take to bed and make sure she was OK. Despite her problems with speech, after a guiness, she'd become extraordinarily eloquent and told me all manner of stories from her youth. Although I hated the fact she had the awful experience of the stroke, it brought us very close together. Perhaps the moment that I had most respect for her, was during our first trip to Lourdes in 2004, following her stroke. She'd been depressed and been awful to be around. One evening we were having a few beers on the terrace and she commented about the other handicapped in the group. She said that they'd made her realise how lucky she was. She wasn't in a wheelchair and she had lived her life before she was afflicted, yet her friends in the group were making the best of it. She told me that it made her realise she was lucky and she was determined to not forget this ever again. In her final years we often discussed that realisation. She urged me to enjoy my life, not waste it and make sure I did all the things I wanted to do, before something happens that means it is impossible. That was the greatest gift she gave me. The realisation that we are the masters of our own destiny.
Wherever you are mum, Happy Birthday. Have a Guinness for me.