Now that we had a buyer for mum’s house, we need to plan the move. The building works on her bungalow we’re going well – I know, I know, famous last words – as were the legal details on the sale. ‘When do you want to move, mum? We should set the time frame.’
That’s me, ever the lawyer, trying to get one up in the negotiations.
‘Well I spoke to Mrs Gerund (our buyer) and she was keen on moving in September.’
We need a pause here. First I didn’t know mum and Mrs Gerund were in touch. I’d have tried to put a stop to it because it was a matter of time before she became ‘nice’ Mrs Gerund and my bargaining position became totally untenable. Second, September was ridiculously close.
‘There’s a lot to pack mum. It’ll take a while to decide what you want to take and what you want to get rid of.’
Do you know what ‘phooey’ means when used by a geriatric of sound mind and stubborn temperament? It’s the equivalent of my saying ‘I hear what you say’ to someone with whom I’m negotiating. No agreement, not even any semblance of recognition that I have a sliver of a point.
My mistake was to think it meant ‘it’ll take no time at all’. Mum always believed she could sort things out in whatever time was available. Like nature mum abhorred a vacuum (not as much as dad, whose antipathy to housework knew few bounds) and happily filled every minute with whatever tasks needed doing. While the males in the family flopped in front of the TV in those days when we all watched the same programmes, mum sat in her straight-backed chair and sewed, darned, ironed, peeled, papier-mâchéd, drew, salted, reupholstered and generally proved multi-tasking was her natural state – we did manage to vote down drilling and cake mixing as too distracting but those battles were hard won.
What mum really meant only became clear as we approached exchange of contracts on the sale which would give us a deadline to work to.
Let us first consider the facts.
1. Mum lived in a 5 bedroom Ed house with three reception rooms, a capacious roof, garage and several sheds.
2. Mum was moving to a two bedroomed, two reception roomed bungalow with small garage, limited roof space and no shed in sight
3. As a family we had lived in the house for 35 years.
4. Mum was temporarily incapable of throwing anything away. They called her ‘the make do and mend’ generation. More ‘make do and keep the left overs in case they come on handy sometime’. Once when, just after we bought our first house, mum extracted all the books I had ever had between birth and leaving for university which she carefully stored in the attic, dad studied the dozens of dusty cartoons and shuddered. ‘You know Barbs,’ he looked rather pained, ‘if we ever have to move and really empty the loft, the bloody house will spring off its foundations.’
We have reached the Event Horizon, with Silver Crest coiled and ready to spring. Meanwhile, I was to become the first human to enter that particular black hole that had sucked in every morsel of our family’s life for probably 100 years: every piece of correspondence Dad had had with the gas board, mum’s set designs for every WI (women’s institute) Christmas show from 1975 to 2000, shoes that represented both changing fashions throughout the second half of the 20th century and the increasing size of our family’s feet over the same period and a selection of 78 records that would do justice to a 1950s dance band caller, their presence made all the more remarkable for there never having been any gramophone in the house capable of playing them.
If I had had the time, money and inclination I could have started a museum with the contents of the attic.
What was it with the gas board, you ponder? Hmm.
With reference your visit of the 18th inst I wish to point out that when your engineer assured my wife that the new ‘natural’ gas would ‘blow her away’ she didn’t expect the gas pressure to be so great it blew the taps off our gas stove…’
I would like to thank your engineer for his prompt attendance at our property on the 24th ultimo when he sought to correct the ‘gas flow issue’. Happily that problem no longer bedevils us. However we now appear to have water flowing out of our gas stove. On close inspection that might be due to the feed to the washing machine having been erroneously attached to the stove. We assume this is an error rather than a particularly graphic example of how ‘clean’ the new fuel is….’
In another of those ambiguous conversations I had with my mother in these post-patriarchal years, I approached the need to rationalise with calm and consideration…
‘Mum, we really need to sort this stuff out now. We only have a couple of weeks.’
‘I know dear. Would you like scones or lemon drizzle?’
‘Mum, stop it. This is serious. I… er, did you say lemon?’
‘Yes, dear. It is scrummy. I trialled it on Marjorie and she positively swooned. And it slips down especially well with clotted cream….’
‘Right, yes. Clotted, you said? Well, ok. Lovely. But in the meantime, the attic?’
Pats my arm. ‘Why don’t you just move everything into the garage and we can sort it there?’
‘But the garage is…’
‘I’ll make tea.’
‘Nowhere is full if you use your imagination, darling.’
She dissembled and distracted and discombobulated and generally proved herself to be a dirty and duplicitous darling. If she’d worked in real estate she would have made a fortune. I had limited time to help. I could do the heavy lifting over weekends, as could the Archaeologist but we had to leave mum during the week in charge of the sort out. We did engage a removal man who provided mum with boxes to fill with whatever she was taking.
Mr Sodastream also offered a full service, including packing everything. He explained what they did in some depth. Mum listened with just a smear of a smile on her lips. He thought she was giving his offer due consideration. I’d seen that look many times, mostly aimed at one of the men in the family when we had been, well, dullards. There was no way she was going to trust a man to do the packing. Roughly translated the look said:
‘Don’t be a complete pillock.’
So I showed Mr Sodastream out, promised we would be ready in good time for his men to load a van and left mum to begin the process of downsizing.
What a grievous error.
I nearly forgot. A poem of dad’s. This one is rather political but even though written in the early 80s is still apposite today.
The Silent majority
We are the people of village and town
Of lane and city street.
We are called the ‘Silent Majority’
And we know how to foot with our feet.
We are the folk who stand in queues
And dutifully wait our turn,
And ‘They’ think we’re just a flock of sheep,
But ‘They’ have a lot to learn.
We prefer to live by the rule of Law
And not to argue or fight.
But ‘They’d’ be unwise who sought to impose
A doctrine of Might is Right.
In the pub, if we talk about politics
The argument seldom gets fraught,
And we don’t get too emotional
Unless we’re discussing sport.
But ‘They’ shouldn’t take us for granted,
For we are a stubborn breed
Who, if hard-pressed will remember
Our forefather’s basic creed.
That all are equal within the Law,
Exception is given to none.
That freedom of speech and freedom of thought
Are the rights of everyone.
Ignore these truths at your peril,
You subtle political men,
Be your seat of power in County Hall,
Or the shadow of Big Ben.
Be you rabble-rousing demagogue,
Or owner of half the shire,
Remember that when the People awake
They will recognise a liar.
For we it is who hew the wood
And draw water from the well,
And we will, too, in God’s good time
Your transient powers dispel.
And when the wells are all run dry,
And all the oak rough-hewn,
We who pays the piper
Will finally call the tune.
For England’s tale was ever thus
Which he’d be a fool to deride,
And at the final reckoning
The People will decide.