Updated: Sep 13
‘Speaking from Experience’
The Last Word
Hello, love, it’s your mother. Awful I can’t see your lovely face. What can we do? I’ve been ever so anxious. A nurse suggested a video. Told me I don’t look as bad as I think. They’ve been fabulous, I do hope they get a pay rise after all this. I worry about you and I’m worried sick about your dad. After I’m gone, it’ll be on you to deal with him. And he’s such a royal pain in the bum. No wonder that’s where the cancer got me. The heart of a lion, but God he always has to have the last word. Although, after a couple of days he’ll do his best to make amends.
I swear he got worse after he retired. Told me his first project was the garden. Cheeky beggar. I said, ‘Leave well alone.’ It took me ten years to work out what grew best and where. We had a right shouting match about perennials.
He said, ‘I know what perennial means.’
I should’ve known better thinking that were the end of it. After that lovely yoga weekend we had, I got back feeling all zen. You might remember my borders looked like he’d been at them with a rotavator. That mad I took a hammer, I wanted to smash his shed in. We sorted it. That new greenhouse he built me is the envy of the estate.
With all that’s going on, I thought he’d be the death of me. First off, I thought it were a storm in a tea-cup. He of course got his knickers in a twist whilst it were still in China. I told him to shut up. I knew he was on the internet at night, reading science journals and the like. Working himself up. When he said he was going to sleep in Tom’s room, I clicked. He were worried about me.
Not long ago, do you remember? I suggested single beds. Oh, he was that upset. As if I’d said I was sailing off with Ralph Dixon, on that round the world cruise. He never did like Ralph. Said he were too touchy-feely with women and what with the cricket club scandal. Your dad swore Ralph helped himself to the tour funds. Well, if he did, he’s paid for it now. Sat in a windowless cabin outside San Francisco, too mean to pay for a balcony. You know how much I love your dad. He didn’t get it—I needed my own bed. How could I cuddle up to him with a bag of poo attached to my tummy? And there’s no controlling the wind.
I was at a loss. Why not use the guest room? After the work he put in with the ensuite. I popped in with the hoover. Ridiculous—full of loo rolls, tinned tomatoes, beans, Fray Bentos pies and pasta. He hates pasta. Worse than when your granny died. You can’t have forgotten? We were eating Fray Bentos for nigh on two years. That woman never got over rationing. Tom got fed up, said they tasted like Pedigree Chum.
The poor dog is traumatised, she’s copped for his madness. I could smell TCP a mile away. I asked him, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ She was stood forlorn and dripping. He had my lady-shave in his hand, great clump of fur missing from her backside. Said he was unsure about the data, could her fur carry the virus? I had the screaming ab dabs. Then he came up with another idea. A dog coat, then wash her feet in vodka when he got home. He had a job finding a dog coat. Who in their right mind puts a coat on a Bernese Mountain dog?
Like that’s not bad enough, he near got arrested on his way to Proud Poochies. That new shop on Harbour Road. Enthusiastic copper from Leeds. ‘Was it an essential journey?’ Asked for his ID. Of course, that released the libertarian, or contrarian, take your pick. Your dad only gave the edited highlights. You can guess how it went down!
Did the officer know age isn’t the only factor?
Told him, he’s as strong as an ox—well certainly stubborn as one.
Don’t trust the government.
Does he know what a disgrace Boris is?
Did he know about the Bullingdon Club?—That copper knows now, named after a prison near Oxford.
Boris and his mates should’ve been arrested for criminal damage.
He says one thing does another. Your dad’s now made his own fake ID, as if that copper isn’t going to remember him? Made one for Janice in the book club.
Janice said to me, ‘I think my wrinkles will give the game away. No chance of Botox with lockdown.’ I suggested Polyfiller. Anyway, when the copper rang his sergeant, turns out to be Danny, that lad from Scarborough Road, always had a crush on you. That was the end of the matter. So, I am still the only one in the family with a criminal record.
No problem sourcing the vodka. Every time Tom and Marek came back from Poland, they brought bottles of the stuff. Your dad, too soft to say, he didn’t drink it. Marek, he calls now and again. A lovely lad, the heart of him, caring for Tom at the end. I’ve had to water the vodka down. Licking her paws made her wobbly. She fell, broke that God awful China dog your granny bought us.
Just as well you haven’t seen your dad in his outdoor kit. He was digging round in the garage till he found them oilskins. Bright orange. Do you remember? He bought them for that trip to the Norfolk Broads. As if we’d be battling force tens, not chugging at five miles an hour! He does look a right bonny bugger in his gear. He took the cup out of my sports bra for over his nose and mouth. Never asked me, put the bra back in my underwear drawer. Then he has a welder’s mask, to top it off he’s got one of them beekeeper hats with netting all over.
Janice said he’d made it onto Bridlington Grumpies Facebook. ‘Most protected man in Yorkshire’ makes a change. Usually, it’s pictures of people who haven’t parked properly. I parked in the disabled bay outside Tesco. Some moron posted, ‘Retired teacher should know better.’ I was tempted to post a picture of my colostomy bag—full.
Anyway, love. I want you to know how much I love you. I’ve sorted out as much as I can. I’ve opted for a humanist service. None of that God squad rubbish. Marx wasn’t wrong. The morphine I get knocks all sense out of me.
I’ve picked my music. ‘Revolution’ on the way in, the Esher demos off the White album, beautiful harmonies. A bit of Bach for the oven. I thought for the way out, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. Funny but flippant. I’ve settled on Nina Simone, ‘Feeling Good’. One of your dad’s favourites.
As you know, I’m not having Aunty Rosemarie at the funeral. I’ve never got over her saying, ‘Tom’s sins will be forgiven at the gates of heaven.’ Stupid cow told me I was a bad mother. Still can’t believe she said Tom was gay because I’d taken you both to Greenham Common. Don’t be surprised, I have left her a little something in the Will, a stunning silk scarf, rainbow. I wore it at Gay Pride.
I’ve signed a DNR. My chest won’t cope with bashing. I’ve said don’t bother with a ventilator, others need it. You can imagine, when your father heard about the shortage, he was in that shed. Set about with his plans of making one. For all his faults that man is a genius. Way smarter than James Dyson. As if we haven’t got enough hairdryers? At least your dad put his talents to good use.
Now they’ve moved me to the ground floor, at least I get to see your dad through the window. He frightened the living daylights out of the night staff putting a ladder up.
My love, I can’t bear to leave you both. Sorry I should have told you before I ended up in here. It happened so quick. Your dad suspected secondaries, cancer in my bum was bad enough. Well, in my liver and just about everywhere else now.
I love you so much. Promise me—this is serious—you absolutely must get yourself checked out. I don’t mean once in a blue moon.
Tom, then me.
I am so proud of you, female engineer and PhD to boot. You’ve always had your father’s brains. I do hope you have his genes.
Dumped. Finished. Terminated. Not sure which word suits. Nobody had the grace to inform me. I heard it on the news. Journalists lurk outside so I can’t leave the house. How triumphant my many critics must feel.
New models had been arriving, thick and fast. Believe you me, thick is the operative word. I’ve seen one with a protruding tummy. Ordinarily, I’d embrace the diversity of shape, sizes and colour, but not when they all have the cheek to use my name.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m used to competition. I battled it out with Sindy for years. The firm insisted I apply for an injunction in 1989. We settled in the end. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The thing is, I liked her. She had her struggles, going under the knife for a breast reduction. She had so much work done she looks fourteen. She’s actually fifty-eight. Poor love wasn’t even blessed with good hair, one cut and it turned to frizz.
I’ve had a little work done. Who hasn’t at my age? The most difficult thing has been maintaining my eighteen-inch waist. No carbohydrate has ever passed my lips, yet the stupid publicity department regularly had me posing with pink cupcakes supposedly cooked in my pink cooker. Ridiculous, my culinary skills are non-existent.
There are advantages to a slim figure. I have some fabulous pieces in my wardrobe, Vera Wang, Calvin Klein. I don’t have a say in what I wear, I did complain. I asked them, ‘Who wants to wear a tutu at my age?’
Later models were astronauts, doctors, even a boxer. They didn’t have to say, ‘Math class is tough’, or ‘I love shopping’, in a weird American accent. I am German, although I have made my home in ‘God’s own county’—Yorkshire.
The humiliations have been relentless. Take Tom Forsythe for instance. He had the nerve to call himself an artist. He produced a series of photographs ‘Food Chain Barbie’s’. He depicted me in a food blender. Not even a Kenwood. The legal department sorted him out.
My image, tall, slim and feminine, was rigorously protected. Some fool in PR decided I should have a boyfriend because God forbid anyone should think I’m a lesbian. But they could have done better than design Ken, with his Farrah slacks and awful hair. I heard he’s had a makeover and they gave him a dad tummy. I suspect that won’t improve his personality. He’s squarer than an OXO cube. I’m not his type. At least they never found out about my shenanigans with Action Man, oh those gripping hands. We had a roll in the hay. It was only a roll. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered he has no tackle.
Feminists have been foul about me. The ones with hairy armpits and comfortable shoes had a lot to say. I used to think it was envy of my iconic status. Andy Warhol painted my portrait. I have it on good authority that I narrowly missed out on an Oscar nomination for the first Toy Story.
Lately, I’ve been thinking feminists may have a point. My seminal work was published ‘How to Lose Weight’. The principal advice, ‘don’t eat’. What was I thinking? Encouraging young girls to become anorexic.
All these years I’ve lived in a pink, migraine-inducing house. No more, Action Man is smuggling in paint, neutral shades, Farrow and Ball of course. The swivel of his eagle eyes ever so useful.
Avoiding public appearances has given me a chance to read, Shakespeare, would you believe? I’m not sure about Hamlet. Boy, does he feel sorry for himself. Ophelia, another woman shafted. Polonius waffled on a bit, but he did offer one piece of good advice.
‘This above all: to thine own self be true.’
So, there it is, decision made. I have my letter in hand.
Jog on Mattel.
I am off to university.
‘Women should masturbate twice a week.’
I sprayed tea over my newly decorated walls. Radio Four? Menopause advice? Better late than never!
Nobody talked about ‘Women’s Things’ in the seventies, least not in Filey.
Miss Bridson taught science from a textbook, aptly named ‘modern biology’, so modern it had a picture of a turtle on the front. I was none the wiser. The diagram of the penis looked nothing like that picture on the bus shelter declaring Bazza was a dickhead. The uterus reminded me of the tree fern Aunty Joan tried to grow when she returned from her exotic holiday to Bournemouth.
Girls need to know, buy chocolate and Nurofen to ease period pains.
It was all too shameful. Greasy lads with lanky hair smelling of Hi Karate and sweat shouted, ‘she’s on the rag’ when I missed swimming. Nobody used tampons, they took away your virginity.
It was easier to buy twenty Benson and Hedges than get sanitary products. Only available at the chemist. God forbid anything should happen Wednesday afternoon, when it was half day closing. Embarrassed, I’d wait outside the chemist until it was empty. In a town full of pensioners, it could be hours just for a packet of teenage pampers. I was mortified when a classmate got a job at Whitfields, one of the two chemists in town. I casually looked at cosmetics, before going to the counter with my heather shimmer lipstick and a bulky bag of pads. It never occurred to me, she had periods. Pads meant no jeans, one week in four, luckily long gypsy skirts were in fashion for a while. Trauma when we moved onto two-tone mod skirts.
My ignorance extended to the other end of this biological roller coaster. I thought HRT was Husband Replacement Therapy. ‘Can I have one that can fix things and not hide in the bedroom when the RAC man shows up to change a tyre?’
Hot flushes may sound innocuous, but how the intensity increases. Travelling to work on the Northern line is rubbish. With sweat pouring down my face, no internal thermostat, I thought I would explode. Imagine the carnage, a middle-aged woman splattered on the commuters, who failed to see me impersonating a large purple root vegetable.
Sometimes there were furtive glances, people checked was I ‘on something’; or they’d move seats thinking I had a tropical disease.
I had to stop wearing eye makeup after I arrived at work looking like Alice Cooper. I was in the ladies, mopping up my mascara mess when a youngster walked in. The sort to think thirty is really old and Kim Kardashian is normal. Her face had more contours than the Brecon Beacons. I tried to explain why I had my head under the hand dryer and there was a wad of wet bog roll stuck on the back of my neck.
‘Why don’t you use waterproof mascara,’ she squeaked.
I cursed her, one thousand hours of period pains.
I consulted Dr Google, so much more to look forward to.
My mantra ‘forget my head if it was loose’ didn’t go far enough. I found myself trying to put the kettle in the fridge. I’d be in and out of a room a dozen times before I remembered why I had gone in there.
There should be special parking bays at supermarkets for women of a certain age. You may have seen them muttering ‘I’m sure I put it here.’ Sage is meant to help if you remember to take it. I bought a book, ‘The Organized Mind’. I carried it in my bag for weeks, hoping that by some process of osmosis the wisdom would seep into my brain. Don’t ask me where it is now.
Mood swings are the original rock and roll. Anyone who dared to enter the kitchen believed the tiles had turned into eggshells. Everything was a catastrophe, overcooked pasta, undercooked rice. The result, tears that made Niagara falls look insignificant. I self-medicated with wine, cakes, Marlboro Lights. Hundreds if not thousands have been saved from near death because ‘I’m just nipping out for a cig’.
I went to see the 12-year-old GP. He advised me, ‘Try a good walk, HRT will give you breast cancer or a heart attack.’
My friends, all on the right side of fifty are now obsessed with alternative remedies. Five of us round the kitchen table for dinner. ‘Are you hot?’ Back door open, back door closed. The man in the house popped his head in; he heard the words vaginal dryness. He soon disappeared.
Black Cohosh, Red Clover, Ginseng; Holland and Barrett have made a fortune. I wasn’t keen on Male Yak cream. There are specialist clinics at a reasonable price! The equivalent of a second mortgage.
What have I learnt?
When a woman in your life says, ‘I’m just going for a nap.’
Make sure you knock, before walking into the room.