Mum’s the word.

My Mum turns 80 this week, I did a speech, she hasn’t disowned me. Here it is.

So, Mum, Mummy, Mother, Your Mother, Grandma, Grandma Sonia, Grandma Shortbread, coooee, ala, orange juice, root canal….

I have a number of thank-you’s before we get started. Mike and Work in progress for coming to play today, Mum for inviting us to Tanya’s beautiful home and garden. Tanya and Carl for hosting today and trying to hire the marquee, and Natasha stepping in at the last minute to provide a pair of her pants for the marquee. Marquee.

And thank you all for coming today to help celebrate Mum’s 80th Birthday.

Back to Mum.

Just so you know, this speech covers happy times, good times and possibly sad times, but bear in mind that most of these stories and recollections have at least a smidgen of truth attached. And, the speech was okayed by Mum’s big brother, Uncle Andrew….

One fact is, Mum has expressly forbidden me from talking at her funeral, her reasoning being that I would be too upset, which shows remarkable confidence on her part.

Anyway, I would much rather Mum got to hear what I think about her in person.

Sport has always been a big part in Mum’s life, whether it be avoiding getting involved in all the team sports when we used to go and stay with Uncle Andrew and Auntie Rosemary, watching Pat Cash’s thighs at Wimbledon, engaging in marathon matches of table tennis because she refused to be beaten, watching Pat Cash’s thighs at Wimbledon, thinking what a lovely son Johnny Wilkinson would have been, or watching Pat Cash’s thighs at Wimbledon.

She was also an avid supporter in my younger days.

From the sidelines I would hear her shouting “SHHOOOT”, which was fine, but she shouted it at the opposition when I was in goal. Or rugby matches where her refined voice would holler “kill him”, again, to the opposition when I had the ball.

Even today, when I take Sprout to see his Grandma Shortbread, and I suggest that maybe, just maybe, he has had enough shortbread and pizza crust, she will say, jokingly, I think, “Shut your whole mouth up. Or I will punch you in the head. With a knife”.043

We bicker, and, from the outside, we do say some rather unpleasant stuff to each other, but we do make each other laugh. Hopefully. And that, to me, is Mum’s greatest attribute, her ability to laugh and make me laugh. She has known some very sad times, namely when I asked, at the age of 35 if I could move home as I had decided to give everything up and go to college and become a gardener. She didn’t bat an eye, and said of course and supported me to do something I wanted to do, or at least until she could persuade Nancy to take me under her wing.

On reflection, I was always going to be a gardener, and it was Mum’s doing. On the odd occasion that I misbehaved at the dinner table, I would be sent to the top of the garden to think about my behaviour, I was up there for hours sometimes, looking at the butterflies on the Buddleia, rubbing the Stachys or bunnies ears between my fingers or just trying to remember why I had been sent up to the top of the garden.

She has given me my love of nature – the tree colour in Autumn, the ever changing scenes of the sea, climbing Helvellyn – which has scarred us for life- and picnics on the beach; she used to take us to Saltdean beach for breakfast from Tupperware containers before school.

Her culinary talents have been mentioned and again those are some of my favourite memories, Mum and food – meat and potato pie, shepherds pie, fondues, Christmas cakes and puddings. And her contribution to French cuisine, that not many of you will know about.

I was 6 months old, she had a Rhodhesian Ridgeback puppy, Jamba, so naturally Mum and Dad decided to have a French student. When he went home, he wrote a letter thanking them for their hospitality and complimenting Mum on her culinary skills – particularly the cornflakes.

Mum is very proud of the fact that she doesn’t have favourites, and that isn’t because she dislikes us all equally. She has a huge capacity for love and to make us all feel loved, no matter how little we may feel we deserve that love at times.

Tanya and Natasha, you may have gathered, come from the more refined side of the family and would like to distance themselves from anything scurrilous said.

But it was Mum’s guidance that made Natasha the lady she is today, Natasha once said to someone she was frightened to go home as Mum would be cross. On hearing this, the friend said, your Mum never gets cross – Natasha, aged 10 replied, she does, flames come out of her nostrils and smoke out of her ears. When this is the threat, you learn to behave very quickly.

Tanya, has inherited Mum’s kindness, shown by letting her move in whilst she moves house. Mum hasn’t told Tanya that the sale has fallen through and she will be here permanently.

Mum must be the only person who, with 80 approaching, decides to move house, to a bigger house, with a bigger garden. There fact that it has no bath or downstairs toilet leads me to think she is returning to her Northern roots. But we all hope that you will be very happy in Lindfield.

I’ve completely overrun Mum’s schedule, but I was never really terribly good at keeping to Mum’s schedule.

Hopefully, we’re going to have some cake and something fizzy now. So, on behalf of everybody here I would like to say : Mum, Grandma, Sonia we love you, you are amazing.

And that is really the truth.

Let’s see if publishing it gets me disowned….

Write, right.

My Mum has just moved house, this meant I had to go up into the loft and sort through the 2 boxes I told her I had up there. In fact, I had almost convinced myself there were only 2 boxes of my stuff up there. I was almost as surprised as her to find 6 boxes, 3 bags and a tray up there.

But, my goodness, there were some treasures: photos and medals from my Grandfather’s service with the RAF before, during and after the war.

granddad-medals.jpg

Photographs of my Father as a boy (bottom right) and even his blazer from King George Fifth School in Southport.

Dad school..jpg

A vinyl copy of Now That’s What I Call Music 4.

But there were also old school reports of mine.

I wasn’t a terribly good student, in fact, although I could read, I didn’t really bother until about the age of 12, when Mum and Dad had to go to a meeting at school about my lack of engagement, the rather inspired teacher knew I loved football so suggested they started getting Shoot!! Magazine. I have barely stopped reading since (although I have left Shoot!! behind), even a cereal packet will do, sometimes an operating instructions manual – just going to prove I’m not a real man, which man admits to reading instruction manuals??

Noting this lack of engagement (not laziness) I received some extra tutoring and then took the Common Entrance for Brighton College. No one was more surprised than me when I passed, so off I went. People tell me it has changed beyond all recognition and it is one of the best schools in the country now, which tells you all you need to know about how I got in when I did.

We weren’t a natural fit, Brighton College and I, some teacher’s engaged me and got the best out of me, I think it is no coincidence that they were sports teachers who also taught academic subjects. I think of Messrs Stainton-James, Silk and Orton as the best teachers I had.

So, up in the loft, I found my leaving report and the report from the English teacher was telling:

“Despite his obviously limited writing style, he should just do enough to scrape a pass”

Inspirational words. Oh how they have driven me on to succeed. I’ll show him I thought.

Actually, not a bit of it. I hadn’t thought about it again until this week.

I would love to be able to say that I have contacted this teacher to say that I have developed my own obviously limited writing style to a point where it actually seems people want to read it.

But I can’t, because I have no recollection of him, his name or even being in one of his lessons. And I couldn’t read his writing.

So, in this exam season, some will do well, some will do badly and some will continue to do their own thing all the way into adulthood and beyond with a gentle nudge from parents and loved ones. Everyone has their own style, some won’t have it knocked out by the educational system – we need poets, we need musicians, we need writers, we need free thinkers, we need kindness and putting others first. We need people who would rather get muddy and learn a job by doing it, not by being taught it from a text book. We need shelf-stackers who do that job to the best of their ability whilst learning to act or because it is the very best job they can do.

Sorry, I started to rant.

Anyway, I showed that teacher. I didn’t do enough to scape a pass. I failed.

I didn’t, I passed, but in the whole scheme of things, it has not affected my life one little bit.

I still read and I still write. I win.

On a lighter note.

I’m going to keep this blog a little lighter, hopefully less emotional and I have no intention of mentioning death at this stage, but where we end up is anyone’s guess. If this was in any way edited I would promise to cut it out at the edit, but then it wouldn’t still have the stream of consciousness vibe to it, would it. (Stop waffling –editor).

A few years ago, Flash and The girl etc etc had spent Christmas with their Father and were returning on Boxing Day. The Dancing Queen decreed that we should make the house look like a welcoming Christmas grotto full of wonder, and candles. I don’t like candles, I’ve never liked candles, they always smell synthetic and quite frankly, you might as well burn money.

But The Dancing Queen had issued the decree, so candles it was.

When she went to collect the children, I set to work. After another turkey sandwich and a mince pie or two. Ok, I calculated that it would take an hour for them to return so I sprinted around the house with a few tea lights after 50 minutes.

They returned to Santa’s grotto and we commenced the annual “See How Much Wrapping Paper Mungo could eat” festivity.

The kids were thrilled with their haul of presents and took them to their respective rooms to inspect more closely. The Dancing Queen popped to take the neighbour a mince pie.

There followed a series of events which, to this day, make me shudder and might give you an insight into the family life of a neuropathically abnormal family.

As I walked up the stairs I caught a glimpse of Flash flying through the air re-enacting a dive he had seen on Match of the Day – perfectly normal – he landed on the side of his brand new wooden bed which then disintegrated.

Whilst I was enquiring as to his health, I suggested he popped downstairs to watch some tv. He didn’t argue.

After 10 minutes staring at the broken bed and realising it wasn’t going to repair itself, I too went downstairs.

As I entered the living room, Flash was dutifully watching the tv. However, I couldn’t help but notice the flames from a tea light going up the wall on to the tinsel. When I calmly asked Flash why he hadn’t seen fit to mention the flames, he pointed out that he had been told to watch the tv and keep to himself for a bit.

I blew the candle out, except it wasn’t a candle, it was a tealight, so the liquid went up the side of the holder, against the wall. And onto my face.

I think I might have cursed, mildly, at this stage.

As I dashed to the bathroom, Flash pointed out the hazards of tealights.

In the bathroom, I doused myself with water and held a damp flannel to my face, whilst biting on a rubber duck to try and stop expletives being shouted.

There was a rather urgent knocking on the door, it was The Girl etc etc:

“Mark”

“In a minute”

“MARK”

“One second my love, I’m a little busy”

“MARK!!!!”

“Yes, The Girl, etc etc”

“Well, you know that new blind you put up in my bedroom”

“I do, isn’t it lovely”

“Not any more, I pulled it too hard and it fell off it’s runner and has fallen out of the window”.

This series of events lasted 7 minutes.

The Dancing Queen returned from our neighbour.

The bed was replaced, the blind was replaced. All returned to normal.

So, there you go, no death, just a mild singeing and an insight into an autistic household.

Just the same as having “normal” kids, but different.

 

A bit of kindness.

I always thought the word kind was a bit like the word nice, a bit of an anodyne platitude, a bit overused and, well, a bit dull.
A bit like writing a bit, a lot.

Gardening is cool.

Special, mental, not normal, weird, different, stupid, useless, disruptive, unteachable.

Labels, just labels, just nasty little labels.

One of my other jobs used to be teaching gardening at a school with kids who, at different schools, at one time or another, had one of these labels carelessly and unkindly thrown at them, and do you know what, those labels stick, and sometimes those labels don’t come off.

But there are some people who spend all their time brushing away at those labels, unpicking the glue they are attached with, be they parents, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language teachers, sign language teachers. These people have a label too, they are heroes, but so too are the people who are having the labels brushed off.

Gardening is therapeutic, be it the repetition of a task, the completion of a task, the fact that you get a physical workout or, in my opinion thinking about something else that allows one’s own anxieties to fade a little. Gardening can be done by anyone, regardless of age, gender, ability and it boosts confidence I don’t think these are trite words, I see it happen all the time:

The lad who can spend 45 minutes sowing onions. The girl who takes her time to find bulbs that have been forced out of the ground and replants them. The boy who will happily spend 30 minutes washing dirty tools. The boy who apologises before he speaks to you in case you think him impertinent.

My favourite used to be the boy and girl who approached their teacher, to tell him that he is cool and does he want to be in their band. Upon being told that the teacher is neither musical or tuneful they told him it doesn’t matter because it’s his trousers that are cool. For someone who has never been cool, I was thrilled my trousers were.

But my own favourite at the moment; my pal who is trying to come to some sort of terms with his Mum’s death who is creating a memorial garden for his Mum and chats endlessly about his Mum when he is focussing on planting sweet peas and Dahlias.

Dahlia.

Insightful, joyful, amazing, heart-warming, polite, beautiful, oh, and cool.

Much better labels, don’t you think.

Lady Q.

A friend of mine died on Friday.
I accept that isn’t the opening line you have come to expect from the nonsense that is my blog.
But she did.
Friendships take many forms, be they equal, unequal, intense, slowburners, social media based or real.

She was a real friend .
When I first met my friend she was staying somewhere I worked, her son came out for a chat and he enthralled me with his positivity and knowledge of Thomas The Tank Engine.
They rented a house locally and then bought a house and employed me as their gardener. They were one of that very special and quite small group that treat everyone the same: with respect and decency. When your job involves going to people’s houses and gardens regularly, it is amazing what you don’t see and hear. There is a relationship and the merest enquiry as to your health can make one’s day. Add a coffee, cake or sausage roll and you have loyalty for life. Yep, you can call me shallow, but rarely hungry.
Lady Q (a nickname, she didn’t need a title, she was a Lady) loved her garden and last year she asked me to redesign it, we brought in year round colour, we brought in symmetry and we brought in wallflowers and dahlias, sweet peas and gladioli because they reminded her of her parents garden.
When we got to her garden to work she would invariably be sitting at the kitchen table and she would call out to me to come inside and look at the latest plant porn on her computer.
“Mark, how many Dahlias shall we get”
“1,3 or 5, the choice is yours”
“I’ll order 15”.
She was generous and she was kind.
Invariably we got to chatting about educational needs for people with learning difficulties which she was passionate about and gave me so much advice. I also talked about life at home, particularly when I was struggling to fulfil my role as a step-father to our children who didn’t always do as expected. She was kind and never judged.
I will miss Lady Q deeply.
But not even minutely as much as her devoted husband and good friend of mine, The Lord Chancellor (yes, another nickname) and her two darling boys who will need a lot of love, help and support.
There will be tears but there will be smiles: the sweet peas were delivered on Saturday. I had asked for 12, I received 36.
2018 – the year of Kindness, Friendship and sweet peas, loads of sweet peas.

Beach ramblings.

If I ever disappear, I will probably be in one of two places: either, under the patio having driven The Dancing Queen to despair at my constant railing against what I see as important stuff, or, and hopefully more likely, at Watergate Bay.

Watergate Bay. rocks.

We are just back from our annual visit to what is my favourite hotel, I don’t say that lightly, because I have been very lucky to stay at some fabulous hotels – Grenadine Lodge in Dalyan, Turkey and Muxima in Aljezur, Portugal also being amongst my favourites.

But I don’t want this to just be about me telling you why to go to such and such a hotel, because frankly, you can probably make your own mind up about where you want to go. And I want to be able to go when I want and not find them fully booked.

So I’m going to tell you about my second favourite walk at Watergate Bay – it’s the most amazing Cornish bay as well as a hotel.

Watergate Bay cliffs.

The walk itself changes every single time you do it, and the distance varies each time also, you can do the walk in the morning and do a completely different walk in the afternoon. In fact, being Cornwall, you can have four seasons in one walk.

So, the walk is on the 2 mile sandy beach, if the tide is in, it’s a very short and wet walk, but the tide soon goes out and exposes the golden sand. That’s when families start appearing with cricket equipment and buckets and spades and dogs, dogs being allowed on the beach all year round is fabulous- it never appears to get terribly busy – but we only go between November and March, so, as ever, I’m not a terribly reliable witness.

If the tide is out and you are going to do the full circle of the beach, you have to decide whether to walk into the prevailing wind first or last. I tend to turn left from the ramp and walk to the bottom of the beach with the wind behind me and then walk all the way to the other end into the wind to get the wind behind me for the last bit back to the ramp. But be a maverick, do as you wish, be a leader or be a follower.

Don’t forget, followship is as important as leadership. I went to see Ant Middleton (Him off the telly and out of the SBS) give a talk this week, what an inspiring man. I went with my pal Jon, who questioned me afterwards as to why I liked Ant Middleton when I normally baulk against over-confidence and overt Alpha Male-ism. The answer is, I baulk against people who think they are Alpha-Males and have nothing to back it up, whereas real Alpha Males command respect by leading by example and admitting to not being perfect, but work at being perfect. That’s what I think anyway. What that’s got to do with my second favourite walk at Watergate Bay is anyone’s guess.

I love beaches, the sea is a never ending source of calm for me, even when it is rough, I see patterns and hear noises that I find soothing. The cliffs at Watergate Bay are rugged, and crumbling and home to birds and, in the Winter, icicles. The rock pools that appear provide wonderful swimming pools for dogs, there are caves to shelter from the wind and spray and make echoing noises in.

Watergate Bay Icicles..jpg

There is a plaque on the wall of the cliff commemorating the crew and people who attempted the rescue of a Liberator aircraft in December 1943, which gives the walk a contemplative feel. It’s hard not to feel small and a bit inconsequential when you are dwarfed by giant cliffs and historic heroes.

As I age, I realise I’m turning into my Mother, which I hope isn’t as weird as it sounds, I mean I appreciate the colours and sounds of nature much more, I always remember her telling me to stop and watch nature whenever I could, as it’s a constantly moving picture of colours which you would never think possible. So it was great to have her with us on this trip and to be able to tell her that I was starting to understand her now. To which she responded that she hoped to understand me one day too. But I was speaking to her in Dutch.

Mum. Watergate Bay.

Time flies, I’ve got to go and see why The Dancing Queen is digging up the patio.

Go to Watergate Bay, it’s beautiful and the hotel is amazing – except in the third week of March, I hear its dreadful then – which just might be when we go.

Those of you who have managed to follow any of this blog, well done, but also, you might be asking why the beach is only my second favourite walk. Obvious really, my favourite is from my room to breakfast. Where I create a self-made 3 tiered waffle extravaganza, layered with bacon and maple syrup.