Being removed from the cancer ward for shouting at my mum was not one of my proudest moments. Oddly, though, it’s now one of my fondest memories of her. As long as we could have a row, she was still there. Even though she was dying.
Her energy was strong even though she was skeletal. As were most people on the ward.
“That one over there has his eye on me,” she told me, gesturing to some grey, bony man. She was the sort of woman who thought all men fancied her. As a result, they mostly seemed to.
Though extremely ill, she was still holding off from marrying her devoted boyfriend in case someone better came along.
“I’m not marrying someone just because I’ve got cancer,” she said. “That’s so morbid.”
They’d met when she was on some kind of blind date at the local pub. Apparently her date wasn’t up to much.
“He bought me a drink that didn’t even cover the bottom of the glass.”
This was my mother’s description of a single.
Mike was over the other side of the bar. “I’ll buy you a proper drink.”
And that was that. He loved her and was a decent man. But he did not excite her. She liked to go places, but when they went for a drive, if he got too far out of Ipswich he used to veer off into a lay-by, unable to cope. She was always looking for something else. He was always looking for things to stay the same. Yet the something else that I was dismayed her.
I’d gone to tell her that I was going to meet the editor of the Guardian about a job.
She was deeply unimpressed. “I’ve never heard of it.”
I was wearing a leather jacket that had cost me a fortune.
“You’re not going like that, are you?” she said.
“No one will give you a job looking like that!”
“Mum,” I said, “they don’t employ me because of what I look like. It’s for what I write.”
She had no truck with that and never would.
It was a familiar attitude to me. Whenever I bought paper from the office supplies opposite where I lived, the man in there would say, “Just doing a bit of typing, love?”
When I did go home and read a lot, my mother told everyone I had post-natal depression. How else could all this reading be explained? The thing people don’t understand about class is that it functions as an open prison.
In the hospital, though, she was driving me mad.
“You really need to make more of yourself.”
“For God’s sakes, Mum.”
At this point two nurses came over and told us we were upsetting everyone.
I left in tears but awed at her life force. In her eyes I never did make much of myself, but I know that what I’ve made is made from her. And somehow that is more than enough.
This article appears in the 21 Oct 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The 18th-century Prime Minister