This narrative is a continuation of my week long vignettes relating to my recently deceased mum. Bearing the same writing format of part fiction based on fact running throughout each essay, all of these monologues are edited amalgamations of prose previously published on my website strachan.blog .
A piece penned on 29th March 2020……
During this morning’s telephone conversation with her youngest son Ian, my mum felt moved to advise him her capability of coping under this dark COVID-19 landscape was enhanced by the fact she was a wartime baby. Her birthdate, one year into WWII, apparently providing her with a resilience and stoicism of which we 1960’s baby boomers (my brother and me) were largely bereft.
Bizarrely delivered with receiver held to her lug, despite the speakerphone loudly relaying our kid’s telephony fed profferings, Maggie embarked upon a tongue in cheek cliche riddled rant about us kids (we are both in our fifties) not knowing hardship ever in our lives. A verbal tirade including the timeless generalisation of “You don’t know you’re bleeding born!”
Elaborating further that minus this existential whiff of the workhouse her two middle-aged boys bore resilience issues when confronted by major life imposters. Subsequently, she opined our Ian and me wouldn’t the backbone to deal pragmatically with worldwide pandemics, pestilence, along with worries Leeds United will be deprived promotion by prejudiced football authority edicts.
Whilst sitting diagonally opposite mater while she chuntered away to our kid, I couldn’t help but smile listening to her groundless accusations. Yours truly humoured by her whimsical diatribe, despite concluding her generalisations were a tad harsh under the circumstances.
After all, I’ve just spent a week undertaking the following chores on her behalf:- Gardening, cleaning the garage, jet blasting the patio, sprucing up rooms and kitchen cupboards, shredding documents; not to mention risking my own health leaving the home to acquire her provisions…… As I inwardly chortled at her ‘words of wisdom’, GJ Strachan concluded that it appears hell hath no fury like a woman who doesn’t understand the concept of speakerphones.
As I could hear the full aural exchange, it became pretty clear our kid, was similarly amused by mater’s generalisations over the metaphorical garden fence. Not bearing his elder brothers penchant of hastily dashing for plateau cynical, Ian (as is his want) politely humoured mum throughout her polemic.
However, being a master of wit and repartee, his elder sibling ‘hilariously’ retorted to their mother’s controversial utterances with a swift and cutting “You can go bollocks, mum!” A suggestion which briefly took the wind out of her oratory sail, before she recomposed herself to enigmatically counter “You would say that, wouldn’t you!!”
I’d not a clue what Maggie’s mystifying response actually related to. I suspected it was an admonishment of sorts, however unlike this vague ticking off (if indeed it was one), ordinarily Mrs S senior’s reprimands leave you in no doubt of her chagrin.
For one thing, her berations always include at least one, or more, of the following colourful words:- arse, bleeding, bloody, tithead and bugger…… None of which were included in the old ladies six word sentence…… With my ingrained lack of inquisitiveness, though, I couldn’t be bothered to seek clarity from the familial matriarch as to the locutions meaning.
After mum ended the conversation with our Ian (I’d already spoken to him), she hung up the call, almost immediately relaying to yours truly “Bloody hell, the volume on that phone was loud!… Could you turn it down on the handset for me, Gary?!”
“There’s nothing wrong with the volume, mum!…. I put it on speakerphone when speaking to our Ian earlier!” I assured her.
“Oh, I’d not noticed it was on speakerphone when you were talking to your brother!” she uttered, looking a tad embarrassed.
“You’re joking aren’t you?…. I’d the receiver on the chair arm and you could hear him as clear as a bell!….. Did you think he was just shouting at me?!” I questioned in bafflement.
“I did wonder why you didn’t have the receiver pressed against your ear!” she confided sheepishly.
“Anyhow, shush, mum!….. I want to listen to this update on how UK support teams are currently coping under COVID-19’s wrath!” I agitatedly pointed out.
“Ok, ok!….. Calm down!….. I tell you what, it’s a good job those NHS lads and lasses haven’t got yours and our Ian’s flawed patience and resilience.” came the old ladies observation, claiming the last word as usual.
A narrative written and published on 29th March 2021…………….
It’s taken as read COVID-19 self-isolation isn’t an ideal situation in which to spend ones existence. Consequently, for one day only, I’ll not spout about folks disenchantment at deprivation consequential of coronavirus lockdown edicts. A literary strategy which’d deservedly expose me to criticism of condescension and ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ from accusers.
Instead, yours truly will concentrate on the positive elements lockdown has introduced in my life. Admittedly, these episodes significantly less prevalent than the negatives borne from COVID house incarceration; nevertheless times when personal growth’s manifested from that quarantine.
For instance, amid lockdown I’ve learned I can sort of draw. My caricatures improving to such an extent that soon viewers won’t need prompting as they ponder the identity of the etched subject. Unearthing this skill manifesting solely through boredom last August, after deciding to procure a sketch book, along with a set of coloured pencils, from Amazon.
Apart from throughout schooldays, which concluded four decades ago, I’d never drawn, or had the slightest interest in drawing until last August. Although late to the artwork party, I’m pleased to say GJ Strachan got there eventually, bringing with him a particularly splendid sauvignon blanc.
It’s fair to say, I’m absolutely loving the challenge of creating pencil cartoon depictions of selected subjects. A cast of hundreds sketched; predominantly actors, musicians, philosophers, sports stars and academics.
In the coming week, I intend to undertake some small decorating tasks and major garden maintenance for my mum, which for too long I’ve deferred through apathy, procrastination, or binge watching daytime TV show Homes Under The Hammer.
In particular, I need to repaint the untiled areas of wall in my mum’s bathroom. A black smudge residing upon the magnolia coloured emulsion on a plasterboard partition for weeks. My eye drawn to it every time I visit the loo. My resolve to obliterate this stain boosted by concluding it’s toyed with my OCD for longer than acceptable. Consequently, it’ll shortly be enveloped with fresh matt paint.
With regards my mum’s garden, I plan to jet blast the rear patio and Yorkshire stone wall, both lovingly constructed by my late father when moving into the property in 1989. My old man enigmatically laying the patio overnight after a late night visit from his mate Spats McCalliog.
Footnote – McCalliog didn’t actually wear spats, but demanded to be known by the pseudonym. A decision taken after deeming Shoe Laces McCalliog as too emasculating a nickname for a hard man who physically assaulting individuals for menial misdemeanours, such as misspelling his surname with just one ‘c’.
Eventually, dad cut ties with McCalliog. I’ve no proof to back this up, but It appears after laying our garden’s 36th patio in four weeks it must’ve dawned on the old fella his building work was risking a spell behind bars for aiding and abetting.
Incidentally, when referencing my old man ‘cutting ties’ with McCalliog, I’m of course referring to pater severing all contact with the local mobster. Not that he and habitually of walked around the place like a latter day Harpo Marx defacing peers neckties with a pair of scissors.
Talking of using time in lockdown effectively, a friend informed me yesterday she intends to use her new found ‘hobby’ of COVID sourced hermitism productively by writing her second book. When I pointed out she’d not previously written any books, she cryptically and somewhat bafflingly, responded “I know, I’ve decided to pen the second book first!”
Anyhow, I can’t procrastinate here any longer, I’ve gardening maintenance to undertake. Actually, I can’t be arsed to do it today!…… Now, where’s that Homes Under The Hammer boxset?!
Prose from 13th May 2020………
Yesterday afternoon, I skimmed through ten decades of family photographs. These snapshots incorporating footprint’s of both recent familial existences, along with images of my earlier paternal and maternal line forebears.
Included within the monochrome memories a photograph from the 1920’s taken in Leeds Town Hall, showing my great grandad as toastmaster at an event where Winston Churchill (then a young Member of Parliament) was lead speaker.
Another image I unearthed was from the mid-1960’s. This vision showing the occasion when my mum’s siblings, her father and me (as a toddler) stood alongside TV cop show Z-Cars actor Stratford Johns. In the days before selfies, getting a photo with a celeb was rare indeed.
The picture taken with Stratford Johns manifested from my mum’s youngest brother winning a car in a quiz of some sort. As he was only 16 years old, my uncle Gerald sold the car he was presented by Johns.
I possess a number of knowledge voids about the event; these include why my uncle entered a competition to win a car he wasn’t old enough to drive. I’d also like to know what the hell my mum was feeding me at the time. I resemble a two year old Mr Creosote in this snap.
Kudos, though, to mater for actually being able to lift me from terra firma. Although, as she was pregnant with my brother Ian at the time, in this contemporary era of more stringent health and safety doctrines, her lifting of yours truly maybe viewed by some as wantonly reckless.
I’m fascinated by old family photographs. Like holding a vinyl music album, the touch and feel of these non-digital trinkets evoke a warmth of feeling I find bereft in images rendered to electronic devices.
Even the redolence of age emitted by these snapshots, although not one of roses, somehow adds to the viewing experience. A stale whiff that’s evolved over many decades while lain in drawers, wardrobes and lofts of owners who pass them generationally – They keeping familial memories alive, even after they’ve departed this vale of tears.
Whilst wading through hundreds of images, on occasion I sought maternal clarification of the pictures main protagonists. During one such episode, I queried the identity of the four women (aged in their 30’s/40’s) staring back from a 1970’s photo.
Mater enlightened me to the names of the three women sitting at a table, but was flummoxed by the identity of the fourth lady stood behind them. Her uncertainty leading to the following verbal interaction….. And this, unlike my oft embellished prose, is without a word of a lie:-
“I don’t know who that is stood up, Gary!” face screwed as she scrutinised the snapshot.
“That’s the only one I did know, mum!!….. It‘s you!” I exclaimed incredulously.
“That’s never me!” mater argued, prior to wandering into the lounge for her reading glasses.
On her return, with specs in situ, she took the faded colour photograph from my grasp. Scanned it for a few seconds, before again proffering “That’s not me, Gary!….. Whatever makes you think that’s me, love?!”
“Because I’ve the ocular wherewithal to recognise my mother of more than half a century!” I blurted sarcastically. Adding “Seriously mum, can you not tell that’s you stood behind Anita Preece?”
My mother pulled the image even closer to her puzzled looking visage. Scowling like a jeweller would when examining the quality of a diamond, she eventually responded “Oh yeah, that is me!….. I can’t remember ever having my hair in that style!…. That’s what threw me, love!”
While she was in the dining room, I showed her the photograph above where Stratford Johns stood aside family members.
“Ah yes, I remember that well…. Look, there’s our Joan, Gerald and my dad!” mum beamed, clearly warmed at seeing her late siblings and father in an image she’d not set eyes on in decades.
Thankfully, Mags didn’t follow up that statement with “I’ve no bloody idea who that is holding you, though, Gary!”
That being said, she did feel moved to point out “Bleeding hell, you were a right fat arse back then, Gaz!”
April Fools Day observations – 1st April 2020…….
As I plough on with these diaries chronicling life under the epee de Damocles hovering menacingly over the globe in the shape of COVID-19, my mum’s sitting opposite deriding an auctioneer on TV show Bargain Hunt. A dour looking fellow who she opines should display a chirpier persona, especially as “He’s on the bleeding telly!”
Listening to the old lady’s sneering at this bald forty-something chap, who admittedly isn’t the most chipper gentleman I’ve ever witnessed, I guffaw at her bombastic tirade which includes observations such as:-
“Look at him, he’s a right miserable sod!“; “Have you seen how big his nose is!!”; along with her trademark “He’s got a face like a slapped arse!“
This mischievous, forthright, opinionated side of my mum isn’t oft inclined to take centre stage. When it does, though, it’s entertainment gold. This facet of their grandmother Maggie’s character also loved by my two adult children (Jonny and Rachel). Particularly during times she admonishes me for deliberately antagonising situations with cutting broadsides aimed at stirring the pot.
Maggie only has to berate me with an off the cuff slight, such as articulating I’m a “Pillock!”, “S**t stirrer.” or whimsically dismiss the quality of my humour writing by affirming “If wit was s**t, you’d be constipated!“, and her grandkids are in clover.
Knowing the old lady doesn’t intend this mischievous derision and is merely playing to the crowd, I laugh as heartily as my offspring. Mum’s humorous affronts re-assuringly indicating, despite being six months shy of her 80th birthday and getting ever frailer, she still maintains a keen sense of humour and cognitive wherewithal.
Being in isolation, penning daily diary entries of a COVID-19 shaped life in a northern town isn’t the easiest of self-delegated literary remits. Inspiration for topics and essay content during interminable Groundhog Days brings with it a set of challenges. They’re not insurmountable barriers, though, and presently I’m succeeding with my objective of penning two essays, containing a minimum of 500 words, each day.
Darkly, one of the drivers for increasing my literary output is a morbid concern of contracting coronavirus. Despite realising I’m being overly neurotic, I don’t want to pass away while I’ve narrative epiphanies still residing within my neurological corridors.
Consequently, as a precaution I’m striving to get these notions out of my head and onto parchment pronto. I’ve hidden my skillsets for too long, foolishly hiding my light under a bushel. I’m utterly determined my employment legacy won’t be that of a man flying by the seat of his pants undertaking roles which didn’t play to his strengths.
These occupations included rotating shift roles. Employment depriving me of sleep, self-esteem and dignity. However, as they paid well, they were jobs I was loathed to leave. After all, this strategy allowing me to be able to provide for my family of four without my wife working full time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not seeking a medal for providing for my family. What I would like, though, is some appreciation. Not for one of the people who I made the sacrifice for to repay me by currently doing their darnedest to completely derail my existence.
Please stay safe!!….. I’ll leave you with the lyrics from Dream Academy’s refrain Life In A Northern Town. A much more active northern metropolis than any you’d find currently throughout the nation:-
A Salvation Army band played
And the children drunk lemonade
And the morning lasted all day
And through an open window came
Like Sinatra in a younger day
Pushing the town away, ah
They sat on the stony ground
And he took out a cigarette out
And everyone else came down
He said, “In winter 1963
It felt like the world would freeze
With John F. Kennedy
And The Beatles” (yeah, yeah, yeah)
The evening turned to rain
Watch the water roll down the drain
As we followed him down
To the station
And though he never would wave goodbye
You could see it written in his eyes
As the train pulled out of sight
(Words & Music by Laird-Clowes/Gabriel)
A chronicle penned three weeks later – 22nd April 2020……..
With the COVID wrecking ball’s Mexican Wave continuing it’s circumnavigation of the globe, life within this Wyndhamesque post-apocalyptic landscape lingers unabated. With the world bereft of a scientific counteragent, the pathogen making hay following its Faustian selling of soul to Beelzebub. A stark metaphorical pact granting coronavirus carte blanche to proceed with its grim agenda.
COVID-19’s insipid objectives aided by those obdurate global citizens ignoring pleas to remain indoors, along with social distancing edicts. As the bible observes “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.“
For the first time since lockdown incarceration, GJ Strachan has woken meandering a path of disenchantment at the prevailing coronavirus restrictions. Even prospects of waxing lyrical, gardening and a social distancing compliant wander, activities which ordinarily infuse some degree of brio, have thus far failed to lift my mood.
Let me say here and now, I deem myself lucky in that only real danger of contracting COVID-19 is during a daily 20 minute walk. Yours truly isn’t and won’t (hopefully) be exposed to the prolonged dangers of front line medics, or indeed anyone who can’t work from home. A situation for which I feel contrite and truly blessed.
My mum, witnessing my melancholic mood, endeavoured to lift my spirits by suggesting “Cheer up you miserable bleeder!…… In Africa some people have to walk 500 miles for a glass of dirty water!”
Her sentiments I should cheer up are of course not without foundation. After all I’m living in a comfortable home with a garden, providing the wherewithal to exercise, inhale fresh air and sun bequeathed vitamin D. I’ve also access to food and beverages.
I would argue, though, her suggestion that “…… In Africa some people have to walk 500 miles for a glass of dirty water!” is factually incorrect. I suspect the silly old sod is getting the actual walk distances to obtain water confused with a song by Scottish band The Proclaimers.
Actually, the idiosyncrasy of Maggie’s muddled adages does generally cheer me up. In fact, I actively encourage them by, during verbal exchanges, raising controversial observations hoping to prise out a comment of jocular gold from the old lady’s mouth.
By lighting the oratory blue touch paper, I can oft lever whimsical maternal observation like “I’m not paying that much for a new lawn mower!….. My a*** isn’t studded with diamonds!!”
Just one of many humorous sayings in her quotations locker. Sentiments which are oft given an airing/dust down to impart levity into the prevailing existential soundscape. Most of them I’m pretty sure she made up herself….. A conclusion reached as, during my half century on this planet, there’s several of the expressions I’ve never heard anyone else utter.
If truth be told, just thinking of these sayings and penning a few hundred words has manifested a perking up of my mood. After concluding this chronicle I’m gonna proceed with my day with a far greater spring in my step than when I sat down to write the narrative.