My mother’s daughter

So, the onslaught of Mother’s Day emails have already started. It used to be a holiday I had to keep a sharp eye out for, since my mum was famously unforgiving should a card not be on time. Or, indeed, early, since she liked a fair margin of error. (One year I was getting a train back from London to Newcastle to see her for her birthday, and she called me the morning of her birthday to complain her card hadn’t arrived. I answered the phone from the bustle of King’s Cross: “I have it with me. It’s with your present, in my case, I thought I would bring it. You know, when I come home, today, to actually celebrate your birthday in person.” She let out a huffy sniff. “You could have posted it.”) Now, of course, it is a day of being bombarded with marketing emails urging me “not to forget mum!”. As if I ever could.

Unsurprisingly, my mum has been on my mind a lot since I moved home. I’m not even sure I have yet to process that, and how – if – it affects how I think of her, how I remember her. Certainly, there are days when memories hit me sharply. When I walk past the cafe where we used to get coffee together, the bus stop to her house, the shop where she used to buy her favourite angel ornaments – there are days when I feel like I moved back to her city, rather than to my own. I was already starting to age into looking more like her, and the move up north and the creeping return of my accent means I sound more like her, too, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

I sometimes feel guilty about writing about her – especially as I try to be honest, and that isn’t always comfortable or pretty. My mum was a good woman – if we are all remembered as fondly and widely as she is, we’d be doing OK – but she was as flawed and human as the next person, and when writing about our relationship I feel I need to be as honest about that as I try to be about my own shortcomings. But I console myself that she loved attention, and would be glad that I was still writing about her, even if she didn’t understand so much of what I wrote, or why I wrote it. (“Why don’t you just write more about cats?” she once asked me, after I got published in – I kid you not – Your Cat magazine. To be fair, it’s a question I have asked myself many times since). Anyway, if I got famous for writing about my mum, I know she would be secretly smug. (Or not so secretly. Sorry, fellow beings in the afterlife, you’re probably sick of hearing about me.)

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Your Cat magazine – mum’s proudest moment

Anyway, I wrote this a couple of years ago, and I shared it over on my Dark Dates blog, and a lot of people seemed to like it and even find it helpful, so I thought I might as well share it again.

It’s too early for Mother’s Day. But then, she would have liked that.

On Mothers and Daughters

It’s a weird thing to be no one’s priority, and have no one be your priority in return. It’s approaching four years since my mother died – and ended the one defining relationship of my life – and this is a thought I find myself returning to. In a very real sense, I am completely alone. An orphan without siblings, a partner or children, it’s an unusual form of both isolation and liberation.

Untethered, I am tied down by nothing – I don’t own a home, I don’t have a ‘job’; there is no one who is my unique responsibility, no one on whom my claim is the highest. It’s the ultimate form of adulthood – I have to make every decision, do every task myself, from deciding where to go on holiday to putting out the rubbish – yet it’s also strangely infantilising, since I don’t have any of those things that mark my contemporaries out as ‘adults’: families, mortgages, office jobs. I am a woman lucky enough to be born at a time of better-than-ever opportunities for my gender, with a portable career, and that is a heady freedom – but it also can be terrifying, every day another mile on a journey with no roadmap, where I often have to pave my own path as I go. And in a way I’m only just realising, it’s all because of my mother.

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A friend of mine – happy married, with a surviving father and a bushel of siblings and nieces and nephews to anchor him to life – told me that, on losing his mother, he felt a deep-seated sadness that wasn’t just about her loss, but was also the knowledge that no one would ever love him as deeply again; no one’s love would ever feel so unconditional. At the time, I was moved, but it didn’t resonate with me: so much in my own relationship with my mother felt utterly conditional. It’s only with the passage of time, and the clarity of hindsight, I understand just what he meant.

It’s safe to say my mother and I didn’t always get along. She could be a tremendously difficult woman, and I’m probably no cakewalk myself. It often seemed some cosmic joke that the universe would see fit to yoke such disparate personalities together, without the buffer of a father/husband or siblings to absorb some of the tension, but then again, perhaps much of what I think of as my personality was developed in reaction to hers. My mother liked noise and chatter – she put the TV on ‘for company’, loved it when the neighbours popped in unannounced. The phone was constantly ringing, and conversations were often conducted against the backdrop of the blaring television and the commentary of whoever happened to be on the sofa at the time. I like silence and solitude and, although I can be sociable, I dole out my company in measured amounts, the greatest portion always reserved for myself. My mother loved ‘stuff’ – she lived surrounded by knick-knacks and ornaments and held onto things forever, a shield against a hostile world. I am my local charity shop’s best friend: I treat all of my belongings as temporary. I was 43 years old before I owned a piece of furniture.

Quite often, I suspect we didn’t like one another very much. We certainly didn’t understand each other. My mother was baffled by my choices: a homebody who lived her whole life in the city she grew up in, with family a stone’s throw away, she couldn’t comprehend why I needed to leave. She wanted me home, she wanted me married, she wanted grandchildren she could bounce on her knee. (Her desire for this was so well-known in my circle that once, when asking a friend what she thought I should get for my mother for Christmas, her answer was simply, ‘pregnant’.) The one time I felt we she was truly content with me was a brief spell when I lived in Newcastle – an easy walk from her flat – with a serious boyfriend, a man I could bring to family parties and Sunday lunches. A life she understood.

We were frequently at odds over many things, money being a key bone of contention. We had little of it in my youth, and my mother – who had grown up relatively wealthy – never quite recovered from that lack of status. She had a weirdly resentful attitude to other people’s affluence (an easy way to infuriate my mother was to spend money on something she didn’t think was worth it, no matter who you were, or how little you had to do with her).

When I moved to London, she both failed to understand the economics of the city, and that living there didn’t mean I was suddenly rich. She would regularly make passive aggressive remarks about my lack of daughterly generosity, and get mad when I didn’t take the hint (she wasn’t subtle, either: “It would be lovely if someone would buy me a new washing machine” being a typical opening gambit.) Despite living in social housing all of my life, she thought I was being deliberately wilful in not buying a house, having only the vaguest ideas of how much property in London actually cost. (“Why not just buy somewhere for £20,000 and do it up?” she asked me, on more than one occasion. In an exasperated moment, I finally retorted: “Why don’t you give me a deposit like most of my friends’ parents have?”. She got furious, then upset, and stopped asking the question, though I felt mean every time I thought of it, afterwards).

She could be vain, and selfish, and utterly self-absorbed. (On the morning of a close friend of mine’s funeral, annoyed at my unwillingness to spend an hour going through her holiday wardrobe choices, she snapped at me to ‘stop being so miserable.’ Properly angry, I fell out with her for a while. Her apology, when it came, was ‘you have no idea how upset I am that I upset you’ – managing to make even that about her).

She could be volatile, and petty – she nurtured lifelong friendships, but fell out with friends and family on an almost weekly basis. She cared too much about other people’s opinions and the appearances of being a good mother, of me being a loyal daughter. She could be emotionally manipulative, and wasn’t above weaponising her illnesses (consciously or unconsciously) as tools of control: I could predict that, if I said I was too busy to come home for a visit, she would experience a sudden downturn that would necessitate my return. She genuinely suffered, it’s true, but she also liked the drama and attention that suffering created. Once when I rushed, tear stained and panicked, from London to her bedside after she’d had a heart attack, she gleefully told me afterwards, ‘the nurses have never seen anyone so upset!’.

And yet… and yet. Many of the traits she railed against were ones she herself instilled in me. She resented my habit of reading, taking any silence in her presence as a personal affront, yet it was she who fostered my love of books. She bemoaned that I moved away and didn’t visit often enough, but, herself the long-suffering daughter of a mother who had been in poor health, from my childhood on she told me: ‘Don’t ever give your life up for mine. Stick me in a home, take me outside and shoot me. But don’t ever give your life up for mine.’

She was vibrant, gregarious and open-hearted, with a talent for making friends. She was loyal and generous with her time, always happy to help out a neighbour. For all that her politics were, to me, horrifically right wing, she did more for her community than I, with all my bleeding heart liberalism, have ever done for mine. She raised money for a garden for local families, she helped out at a refugee centre, she stood up to politicians whose policies she thought would hurt the vulnerable. Despite being single all of my life, she was an incorrigible flirt with an eye for a handsome man. I still have a picture of her, beaming, standing between two strapping young gardeners at the opening of the community garden she had worked hard to help establish, and I know she wasn’t just looking so pleased because the kiddies would have somewhere nice to play in. That’s one trait, at least, I hope that I inherited.

She was strong, too. She rebuilt a life that was very different from the one she’d anticipated after her marriage broke up; and when I left to go to university, never really to return, she reinvented herself again. She had surrogates in my absence: a niece she adored became as close as a daughter; she built a maternal friendship with a divorced Iranian woman whose young girls she treated like grandchildren. She filled her life with colour and chaos and I, having failed so spectacularly to meet any of her expectations, was freed to live up only to my own.

She was proud of me. She never really said it to me, though she said it plenty to other people. It was a constant refrain after her death, when I was accosted by yet another stranger who seemed to know my whole life story: ‘she was so proud of you, you know.’ And it maybe wasn’t until then that I properly realised how proud I had been of her.

I suspect, if the universe was such that we could have picked our own families, neither of us would have been the other’s first choice. She would have liked a daughter who stayed home, had children, married a man rich enough to buy his mother-in-law that new washing machine. I would have liked someone more liberal, more travelled and, yes, a bit richer (I really could have done with a deposit on a house). But in the end, forced to move in wider circles because we couldn’t live together in a narrow one, both of us lived bigger, better lives. We might not have got what we wanted, but perhaps, in one another, we got the thing we needed most.

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The Favourite (and some favourite memories) at The Tyneside Cinema

Yesterday marked my first return to the main screen at the Tyneside Cinema for probably 20 odd years. The Tyneside was actually my first ever screen visit – when I was a young child, my mum took me to see Bambi at the Odeon, but either it was sold out or she got the times wrong, and we ended up (literally, in those days) across the road at the Tyneside, and watching old-timey drama The Amazing Mr Blunden. (We went to see Bambi afterwards, which made for an odd and slightly traumatic day).

In my teens I became a regular visitor. I grew up in what in many ways was a great era for going to the cinema. I saw all the Star Wars movies at the Odeon on Pilgrim Street, (and queued, outside, for HOURS, to get into Return of the Jedi, SEVERAL TIMES – these days I wouldn’t queue if a shirtless Chris Hemsworth was giving out hugs and tenners). I vividly recall my mum having a crush on Christopher Reeve’s Superman – she was quite flustered by him (“he’s so tall!”) and this being one of the first instances I realised my mum was an actual woman with human feelings, not some nebulous, asexual mum-figure.

I remember the audience in the Westgate Road ABC cinema bursting into spontaneous applause when Marty McFly made it back to the future. I recall winning tickets to see a preview of Desperately Seeking Susan and turning up on a Sunday morning to join the line at the Odeon – another queue! – and being virtually the only one not wearing a crucifix and lace fingerless gloves, people dressed to the nines in honour of their icon, even at such an unreasonably early hour.

But the Tyneside Cinema will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first place I encountered LGBT films, and got an insight into a world beyond my own (fairly sheltered, not-that-well-educated) upbringing. Through the initial medium of my crush on Daniel Day Lewis (I forced my friend C to come and see My Beautiful Laundrette 4 times in 2 weeks so I could see him on the big screen, and there are still bits of it that make me swoon), I became interested in all things LGBT. (Like many 80s teens who felt like outcasts, I felt – probably insufferably! – a kinship with any group I saw as outsiders: it would take (ahem, quite a few) years to realise that the struggles of marginalised groups didn’t just exist to reflect my own insecurities and issues. But hey, cut me a break: this was before the internet, so it took a long time to figure out something these days you could get from 10 minutes on Tumblr) .

At a time when Clause 28 was making ignorance and hate popular policy, it was no small thing to have a steady stream of films about gay lives and the AIDS crisis on screen. It was here I found out who Harvey Milk was (a double bill screening of, if I recall correctly, Longtime Companion with the award-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk). I saw – twice – Parting Glances (one of Steve Buscemi’s first films) which remains one of my favourites and, perhaps bizarrely, was one of the first films to make me fall in love with New York. I loved the way it is a rather pedestrian backdrop to the film, rather than a glamorised soundstage: on a recent visit I found the monument featured in the jogging scenes and had a jolt of familiarity it took me a moment to place.

It was here I marvelled over the beauty of Desert Hearts – the first time I saw two women in love on screen. And here where, after a cheese stottie sandwich in the Coffee Rooms upstairs, I skived off a college lecture to cry my eyes out over Torch Song Trilogy with some friends, one of whom later told me that had shaken her at-the-time blinkered (and mostly negative) views of what gay people were actually like (her having had no idea of what the film was about when we went in, except that it featured Ferris Bueller).

It was here I discovered a love of foreign films, and a world outside my own – a love that would, eventually, lead me to a job subtitling foreign language movies, where I got to work on making those very films accessible to an audience like me.

I was also lucky enough to grow up at a time when working class stories were considered to be worthy of showing – when we could be more than a throwaway character offering grim contrast or comic relief. Films like Prick Up Your Ears, My Beautiful Laundrette, Letter To Brezhnev and Rita, Sue and Bob Too centred working class experiences in all their variety, and showed me that stories could come from anywhere – even from people like me.

So I have much to thank the Tyneside for, and when I moved back, I became a member, not least to pay that back. However, it’s taken me this long to get around to actually seeing a film on the main screen – though it was most definitely worth the wait. Although – perhaps inevitably – it seems smaller than I remember it, it’s still a gorgeous cinema, retaining much of its Art Deco beauty, lovingly restored. In a world of faceless multiplexes, it’s worth a visit for that alone.

It was a bonus that I really enjoyed the film. The Favourite is the kind of thing I would have gone to see in this cinema back in the day: a clever, complex film that centres on women’s lives and loves, with astonishingly good performances at its core (Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are all standouts – though Nicholas Hoult deserves special mention for a deliciously bitchy turn).

Ah, Tyneside. It’s good to be back.

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Things I miss about Brighton

So, my first weekend in my new flat is coming to a close. It’s been a slightly odd weekend – Saturday a flurry of activity, today mainly some unpacking, with a wander around my new neighbourhood. It’s thrown up some mixed emotions.

One, I am just relieved to be in after a month of other people’s spaces. I’m excited to have fitted wardrobes and storage space – neither of which were exactly in abundant supply in my old place. Less thrilled about a shared back yard that my neighbours’ dog pees freely in and in which they sat all afternoon, meaning I could hear every word of their conversation. (They seem friendly, though, on my brief meetings so far, though the dog greeted me this morning by taking a giant dump on the mat outside my door, much to his owner’s horror…)

But it’s 3am and I am lying on my sofa bed (having spectacularly failed to manage to assemble my bed), and I am aching for Brighton and the sea. So here, in no particular order, are some things I miss:

The light and the views – oh, but Brighton is blessed with beautiful skies and light straight out of a paintbox. I miss seeing the sea every day. I miss having a view from my front room (my new view is the bins in my back yard). I am pleased to reacquaint myself with trees, mind, which were in short supply.

Neighbourhood life: Kemptown was, for good and ill, a village. I knew my neighbours, the guys in the Co-op and the coffee shops. It had a French deli and a bookshop and a fine wines store and all the vintage emporiums you could desire, all less than 5 minutes from my door. I could nip out to the Co-op for wine and snacks and be back in the length of an ad break. (It certainly passed what my friend K calls the Good Vibrations test – can you get to the nearest offie and back in the length of that song?) I could walk to the city centre in 15 minutes. My new place is handy for the Metro, but other than a pub has little in the way of easily accessible amenities.

Similarly, I miss bumping into my neighbours and being invited in for coffee. A cool pub at the end of my street. Walking to my friends’ place for dinner, and being close enough to pop into feed the cat when they were away.

I miss popping out for coffee. No reason, just a desire to get out of the house. Maybe meet a friend. Do some writing with a different view.

I’m sure Newcastle will bring its own delights. I am sure the trade off will be worth it. But it’s a weird feeling to be home, and homesick at the same time.

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Odeon Memories

Walking back to the Metro today, I walked past Stacks, the super trendy new restaurant/bar/culture thingy that just opened opposite the Tyneside. If this was a cool lifestyle blog, I would have been already and taken pictures and reported back – I briefly considered going just for the sake of writing about it, before remembering this isn’t a cool lifestyle blog, it’s the meanderings of a middle aged Geordie who hates crowds and always wants a seat. So, maybe I’ll go on a week day, when it’s less busy, but until then all I can say is it looks kinda nice when you walk past.

But it is also sort of heart-breaking, because it stands on the site of what was once the Newcastle Odeon, and, when that got torn down, an awful lot of my memories went with it. The Odeon was a lovely cinema – one of the old-fashioned movie palaces filled with crimson drapes, not a new, soul-less multiplexes – and it played a seminal role in my movie-going youth.

It should have been the place I saw my first film, except my mum got the timings for Bambi wrong and we ended up across the road at the Tyneside watching The Amazing Mr Blunden instead. But, that mix up aside, it was the scene of many firsts over the years.

It was there when, on a trip when she had actually got the times right, that I realised my mum was an Actual Human Woman with Real Feelings, as she got increasingly flustered over Christopher Reeve’s Superman. ‘He’s so handsome! And tall! And handsome!’

It was the cinema where I saw Star Wars for the first time. And where I saw the remastered Star Wars for the first time. And where I saw the remastered remastered Star Wars for the first time. And where I saw the Phantom Menace for the first time, but let’s skip over that. (It was there I realised a relationship would never work, when my then-boyfriend turned to me as the lights on Empire went down and asked, ‘So, Darth Vader is the bad guy, yeah?’. Funnily enough I went to see one of the reissues with Caution Spoilers – who now WRITES ABOUT FILM, people – and she was similarly ill-informed, but friendship is clearly stronger than romance: the boyfriend is long gone, she’s still around).

It was there I queued for Return of the Jedi (the first time) for FOUR HOURS. Nowadays I wouldn’t queue for four hours if Chris Hemsworth was handing out hugs and tenners.

It was there I saw a Sunday morning preview screening to Desperately Seeking Susan that I had won tickets to, and me and my friend C were the only non-rabid fans there – everyone else was in full lace gloves and crucifixes mode. They took a picture of the queue and it ended up in the Evening Chronicle.

It was there that, on another trip with Caution Spoilers, we went to see Scream. At the very start of it she turned to me and said, ‘I don’t know why I agreed to this, I hate horror’. Which was a surprise to me, as I thought it was her idea. “I hate horror too!” I exclaimed, and we both sat there, petrified, for the whole movie. (I also spent the next few days in terror as CS, with whom I was sharing a flat at the time, went away on business almost immediately afterwards, leaving me to check our bathroom for psychos alone. And I was doubly freaked as I went into work the day after the movie and a colleague exclaimed, ‘Oh! You’re alive!’ ‘Um, why wouldn’t I be?’ I asked, slightly perplexed. ‘It’s just I dreamt you were murdered,’ she explained, cheerily. ‘And it’s funny cos my dreams usually come true…’  Well, THANKS.)

It was there, also, I learned from bitter experience that the worst film for a first date – I’m not kidding, the absolute worst, most terrible, most awful movie ever for a first date – was David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.

On second thoughts, maybe I’m glad they knocked it down.

 

Like my writing? You can support me in a whole load of ways (some of them for FREE!)

If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am (leave out the needy bit.)

Donate to my Ko-fi. All the cool kids have one. (I am not cool, obviously, but have been assured this is true).

Buy my books: Some are available for as little as a quid! Not these two, mind, but others.

Rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues

Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1

 The Bridesmaid Blues Kindle cover

Want some swag? Buy a bag or a tee. And be sure to send me a picture!

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Happy yoga and bus memories

As well as attending a Barre class, I also signed up to do yoga. Although I am in very unbendy condition, this was less of a challenge for me – I might have let myself go, but I have done enough yoga over the years that I can keep up with the basics. Nevertheless, I was drawn to Happy Yoga because their website promised they were good with unbendy people, and it seemed laid back and friendly. My first impressions were reinforced when I had to cancel my first, prepaid class due to the Metro being off (I’m not quite ready to negotiate the buses yet!) and they agreed to transfer my credit to another class.

Foolishly, I booked a class the same day as my Barre class (what was I thinking?) The temptation to cancel was therefore strong – only embarrassment at doing it twice, and knowing that if I didn’t go I would just be sitting alone in my hotel room made me drag my arse along.

The class and teacher were pleasingly chilled, and I felt better for going, but the walk itself threw up some memories. Happy Yoga is (currently – it’s moving in September) in a building off Carliol Square – next to the fabulously named Flat Caps Coffee, which I have earmarked for a return visit.

To walk to it from town, you have to pass Worsick Street. “Where you used to get the buses”, a friend told me, when I asked directions, and while I nodded, faithfully, I only had the haziest of recollections. Had I even ever got the bus? Didn’t I used to just get the Metro?

Until I got there. It’s deserted now: all the old stalls, such as they were, ripped out, the whole place gutted, home to pigeons and rubbish and questionably parked cars. But oh, now, I remember it. Felling Metro is at the bottom of a very steep hill at which I lived at the top – the bus was often an easier (and, at night, safer) option. How many nights did I wait in that queue? Usually alone – most of my friends lived in different parts of town – buzzing with the excitement of a film, a date, or just being young and alive.*

I expect next time I am there it’ll be luxury flats.

*this is obviously sheer romanticism. I was as grumpy as a teen as I am now – even more so, as a mis-prescribed Pill gave me long-term mood swings and issues with depression. (Thanks, doc!) But let me dream, won’t you?