My mother couldn’t be more unconventional. However, she has recently proclaimed that she wants to be “less conventional”. This is an impossible task.
We recently took a little early evening train journey to visit her cousin Donny who was visiting for two days from Rome. All trips with my mother can be quite fraught – but I looked to this one with optimism and hope.
The highlight of this particular one was when we were rushing to change trains and we had to charge up two flights of steep stairs to get to the right platform.
Mum carries the world’s heaviest handbag. Always. She likes to be prepared for every eventuality. I wouldn’t dare rummage through it but I have seen various things emerge which I’m fairly certain aren’t commonplace with most ‘conventional ladies bags’.
There is the usual array of dog biscuits, dog poo bags, glasses, sunglasses, various headache tablets, tissues, nail varnish, wallet, phone, kindle, mandatory self-help book (at least one), a mahusive bunch of keys (for properties she doesn’t even own any more) – and most surprisingly a large compass – she always needs to know where south is (from her days of property and wants to know where the sun will be). Then there is a torch, and another torch (in case the first one runs out), batteries (in case both torches die), usually a clipboard with the world’s largest to-do list. And pens. A lot of pens. Most of which don’t work.
Anyway, the bag was heavy and she looked like she was tired going up the stairs (and she has a bad back, a trapped nerve, a dodgy neck and a sore leg). So I offered to carry it. Just a normal daughterly thing to do – I thought.
“Mum, let me take your bag,” I calmly suggested.
“Get off, I’m not bloody disabled,” she said (quite loudly) pushing me away (quite violently).
“Come on mum, it’s heavy and I don’t want you to hurt yourself,” I pleaded (fairly reasonably I thought).
“I don’t need any fucking help,” she said (in a louder tone). She likes to swear. It’s part of her conventional motherly way.
“I just really don’t think you should be carrying something so heavy,” I tried again (very reasonably).
Suddenly there’s a glint in her eye.
There are a lot of people around. It’s rush hour in a south coast train station. And I work near here. I have a respectable job. My colleagues could be getting trains.
“I’m being mugged,” she yells.
What the hell?
“I’m being mugged, help me,” she yells (more loudly). And, to her credit, extremely convincingly.
There is clearly only one possible perpetrator of said (alleged) crime. It’s me. I’m standing next to her. No one else would dare get that close to her bag. I’m being accused of mugging and the evidence doesn’t look in my favour.
Passersby stop and glare at me and wonder if they should help her. Some edge towards us.
“It’s okay,” I soothe.
“I’m her daughter,” I add. Hoping they will spot a resemblance between us.
I expect the passersby to recognise my situation (surely this happens to most daughters at most south coast train stations). Apparently it doesn’t.
I expect knowing smiles of “we understand what you’re going through, my mother did something similar only last Saturday”. But not a single knowing look or empathetic nod. They look at me like I am a mugger. A cold-hearted miserable mugger. Scorn. Deep scorn.
Feeling perplexed (and actually rather annoyed because when she hurts her shoulder, she’ll be annoyed and sadly) I run to the top of the stairs.
As I do, I realise I’m making myself look more like a mugger. Oh God.
In fact, I glance around to see if there are police lurking and I’m about to be grabbed and questioned.
Anyway, free from police escort, I get to the top of the stairs. I look back down to check she’s okay. I try to do this without her seeing me as I don’t want her to know that despite her outburst I still care.
She’s doubled over at the side of the stairs, grasping the bannister for support.
Oh no. She has bloody hurt herself. I knew it.
I turn to race down the stairs, but just before I start running she turns to face me from her crumpled position at the railings.
She is in fits of laughter.
Her face is alive with mischievous humour and there are actual tears rolling down her face – not because of the mugging – but because she knows how bad she has been and she has enjoyed every single second of my embarrassment and horror. She cannot stop laughing. She is clinging to the railing to steady her chuckles. It’s that deep laughter when you almost can’t breathe.
I can’t help but smile. She is a bugger.
But she’s a bugger who knows how to have fun – and of course, she’s so bloody conventional.