So at a tender age, I was already being filled with negative emotions. My father left when I was a few months old and his story will be told later. The house was a place of feminine conflict, where money seemed to be at the root of it all. Mum took over the family business and before I went to school I was looked after by a series of girls. Gran used to go in with Mum and just sit there all day doing nothing, it drove Mum mad. When I came home from school it was these girls and Gran who were there, while Mum worked.
The biggest change came one night – I really can’t remember how old I was, 7 or 8, maybe my brothers will correct me. I was woken by someone shouting what I thought was ‘Ba Lamb’, and went out of my room and found it was Gran lying on the floor in her bedroom. I woke Mum and was told to go back to my room. I was left alone terrified that something awful was going to happen and Gran was going to come and ‘get me’. I knew the next day she had had a stroke – she was a heavy smoker and drank. She was taken into Winchester hospital and we had to go and see her in the old people’s ward which smelt old and yucky. When she came home she was put in a ground floor room and I was made to go and see her every day when I got back from school. She had trouble speaking and when she walked eventually needed a stick. Her presence was ever in the background.
By 1970, the family business had gone basically bust due to under capitalisation and the huge house we were living in Christchurch Road had to be sold. I was never actually told, I just over heard a conversation with Mum and my brothers, which at first had me distraught then happier as maybe in the country I could have a pony. So we moved to Martyr Worthy near Winchester, to a lovely recently renovated cottage. Here the fights continued, Gran even one time going for Mum with her stick. She would go to bed about 8 o’clock and Mum and I would go through a rigmarole of saying what’s the time at which she would take the cue and go up. Once she had gone up, Mum would drink herself into a state of incoherence until she went to bed. If one of us dared flush the loo or make a noise we got complained at the next day by Gran– hence I now have an ability to move soundlessly in the dark! She would sit day in and day out with the television on, her foot twitching a hole in the carpet. The doctor now said she had mild dementia. She was devious, Mum had to put a phone lock on to stop her making endless expensive calls for which she wouldn’t pay. If we went out, she would be off doing stuff at a rate of knots, not the slow shuffle she did when we were about, and certainly had no trouble on the stairs. During the winter of discontent power strikes Mum made me go up the stairs in the dark behind her in case she fell!!! We found her cheque books after she died, at one end of the week she would get one neighbour to buy her a bottle of gin and another at the other. Eventually the doctor stopped her drinking because she was falling off her chair and we couldn’t lift her! She also had a choking cough which we put down to attention seeking, I don’t know now, as Mum did it sometimes too and I certainly have occasional coughing fits – a weak epiglottis? She would go through our drawers, until I started leaving extremely rude notes in them. A lot of the neighbours thought my mother cruel, but this was the 1970s and there was no support for either side. Mum had a boyfriend at the time and I bitterly resented when I was left on my own with Gran when she went out with him. She said later she didn’t marry him because it would have meant me going to boarding school – no one asked me, I’d have been off like a shot to escape home. In 1977 we eventually moved again to Hillhead, and the rows got worse. Gran had been in a Convent but couldn’t manage the long corridors – she was rampantly Catholic. Gran was constantly going to sue Mum , constantly bringing up all the old stuff, funny now I don’t even remember most of the content, just the form. I know Gran was probably quite a hoarder and at one stage had to be made by a solicitor to pay over money she owed Mum. Once when I dared to step in, they both later thanked me for taking their side, I could have wept in frustration. Finally when I was in Switzerland, Gran finally went into a Nusring home, and was made to pay Mum the money she had refused to pay her over the years so Mum could buy her own house. We visited occasionally, I wrote duty letters and she died in 1984 aged about 86. She had a further series of strokes one of which happened after a demented boyfriend of mine visited her and told her I’d sold all the jewellery she had given me – he’d made me skint! I wasn’t sad, and at the funeral refused to read the lesson in the service. None of us have visited the grave since.
What did she suffer all those years of loneliness? She did go and see some friends but argued with them and came back early, it nearly broke Mum’s heart. I wasn’t above using her for money when I wanted some money, and my brothers did too. The arguments and bitterness were the backdrop to my childhood, and even now, I feel absolutely nothing for this woman whose genes I carry.