Helen was born a few years later, and somehow, our parents managed to scrape enough money to buy a house where we spent our time growing up. We had no car, so we went everywhere on foot, and I would drop off Helen at her school on the way to mine. I was lucky enough to go to boarding school, and effectively left home at the age of 11 as I joined the Navy direct from school. Our parents divorced in 1966, and Mum then took care of us both. She had several jobs, one as a barmaid, and another taking in foster children. Often she would have 6 babies to care for, in the days before disposable nappies, so our washing line was always full of nappies and liners which were impeccably washed by hand - no washing machine!
There were several house moves, and she decided to take up a career in nursing at the age of 36. This meant studying at night school to gain the necessary O level qualifications and she completed her training in 1968. She soon graduated to be the sister in charge of the geriatric ward in Queen Alexandra Hospital. She was much revered and trained many young nurses and received many accolades.
At Christmas time her food and drinks table was the envy of the whole hospital, and every patient received a small Christmas gift, often delivered by me dressed in a Father Christmas outfit. She never forgot her nurses training, and often surprised the staff at Ashwood Care Home with her retention of knowledge.
Somehow in the middle of all this she managed to take care of her dear mother, Nanna. She would share this responsibility with Auntie Sadie, delivering Nanna to Manchester during which time mum became the darling of our Manchester cousins.
But how did she get about? Well, between us we bought a small scooter which I used when I was on school holidays, and Mum used when I was at school to get to work. During her driving test she managed to run out of petrol, and allegedly the test instructor helped her to push the scooter to a petrol station to top up. We are convinced that he passed her out of compassion and respect for her grit and determination. Transport was one of mum’s Achilles heels. Her small modest cars were easily recognisable by the bumps and scrapes, and were often seen carving up the roads between Waterlooville and various parts of the South coast and the Midlands.
She was a grafter, and not one for expensive holidays, though she did travel to Zambia, New York, Portugal, Paris and Vienna. I recall once she took her three grandchildren with a friend to Guernsey for a memorable holiday. She managed to pack everything into her 2CV which, with the headlights in the air managed to make the ramp onto the Guernsey ferry. It was with a stroke of luck that she set off with the three grandchildren and returned with the same number. Helen and I never got to hear the full story. But letting our precious kids go on holiday with her was an indication of how much we trusted her, and her devotion to her grandchildren. This devotion carried on to her five great grandchildren who she loved dearly.
Her generosity was always evident at birthdays, and Christmas, when she was always impartial ensuring everyone had equal treatment. Indeed, her Christmas present routine was worthy of a naval operation. Nanna’s bedroom was turned into a huge storeroom with wrapping paper and gifts straining to get out of the door. There were presents for everybody (including our animals), from her and her animals. Nobody escaped her attention and kindness. Often respectful of the fact that we were geographically widely spread out she would have “HER” Christmas some days before Christmas day, often at a well selected pub where she would arrive with her boot bulging with presents and her various animals on the back seat. It was always a special occasion and an enjoyable start to the festive season. One special Christmas was spent with Helen and Phil at their home in Locherly. We ate, drank, and exchanged presents on this wonderful occasion.
But what about her devotion to her animals? Sometimes Helen and I wondered who was more important. In her eyes we were all equal, but the animals more equal than others. They received special treatment, especially Sugar and Spice, two feral cats which she adopted and almost tamed. They had a luxurious life and lived for a handsome 19 years. Molly was of course her favourite, and went everywhere with her, and even had her special bowl in “Moka” cafe near St George’s Church.
Besides her passion for lacemaking, which brought her many friends, St George’s Church was mum’s lifeline for many years. She had her own parking space, took part in church activities and helped serve refreshments after the service. She was generous to a fault and presented the church with many gifts. When she finally relinquished her driving license, she would be visited at home by the vicar who would administer communion after which she would make a donation to the collection.
It hurt us all to see Mum’s health deteriorate in the last few years. She had been fiercely independent and managed to live alone in her tiny, albeit cluttered bungalow with its beautiful garden which was a picture in spring and summer. It was after a couple of incidents that she needed to move to surroundings where she was not likely to hurt herself, and she could be well looked after. She moved to be closer to Helen and took up residence in Ashwood Care Home. It was with great sadness that she never really accepted the wonderful care and conditions the home had to offer. In the early days she would enjoy “days out”, and until the last few months she always enjoyed visits from us all, particularly the effervescent Henry and her other great grandchildren. Sadly as her health and mental state suffered, she stopped leaving the home, and COVID made the last year almost unbearable for everyone with the home being closed to visitors, except close family.
As I said at the beginning mum was a fighter and grafter, especially so in her last month or two in this world. Despite all the odds and predictions, she clung to a thread of life until finally she succumbed to join her dear mother Nanna.
Mum, thank you for everything you have done for us, the generosity and compassion you have shown us all. The world, and our lives will be a sorrier place without you.
Born in 1930, the same decade as Her Majesty the Queen, Mum was one of the wartime baby generation. They were though, resilient, independent, compassionate and above all generous.
She was born into a humble Scottish family where they lived a frugal existence. Her father was a coal miner who worked under treacherous and appalling conditions. As a child their house burnt to the ground, and they were bombed. Not for her the luxury of a higher education, instead at the age of 16 she was working in a fabric factory as a loom operator. Married at the age of 18 she gave birth to me at the tender age of 19. Marrying so young meant she skipped an entire life experience of growing up, having fun, partying, the things most of us took for granted. Instead at the age of 20 she left her parents, her family and friends in Scotland and followed her husband’s work to Portsmouth where she knew no one, and hardly spoke the language. In those days the Navy did not recognise sailors as married until they reached the age of 23, so they lived on just one salary with no marriage allowance of tax relief in a small1 bedroom flat in Southsea. It was tough, but they qualified for a council house and mum moved to Waterlooville while Dad spent long periods at sea.