NOVEMBER is generally a bit of a miserable month. The weather is always poor. Feet are continually damp. Vitamin D supply begins to run low.
There’s my birthday to look forward to, but ever since my mum so callously chose the day before it to die, it’s never been quite the same.
The build-up to the anniversary of her death begins when the clocks go back. The dark afternoons are nature’s reminder that soon I’ll have to make the annual trip to Mortonhall Crematorium to look at an inscription in a book, put some flowers in a vase, then get out of there as quickly as possible. I find it a peculiar place in which to reminisce about someone who was always so full of life. It’s a waiting room where bouquets go to wilt.
It’s been 15 years since she passed away after five years battling breast cancer – a secondary tumour in her brain finally putting the seal on it. Yet there isn’t a day when I don’t think of her and what she – and they – are missing when I look at my children.
The columnist Matthew Paris wrote recently about losing his dad five years ago and how he’s never yet “got over it” and has come to the realisation that he doesn’t want to. And so it is with me. Why would I want to forget the sadness of losing my mother, the person who brought me into the world, who made me laugh, dried my tears when I was hurt, who instilled in me the belief that it didn’t matter where you came from, it was where you were going that was important – and that being female should never hold you back.
For surely if you forget the hurt of the loss, then part of you also forgets the person for whom you grieve?
So given that it was November and the mood was low (I’d already been quietly weeping at the Christmas TV adverts) I shouldn’t have been surprised at what happened last weekend.
My father’s loft was to be insulated, so the years of detritus collected in old blue bin bags were having to make way. While he and my husband did the heavy lifting, I went through every bag with the forensic skills of a Time Team archaeologist, rediscovering my youth and my brother’s.
There were toys from the 80s – an A-Team vehicle, Paul Daniels’ Magic Set – as well as some even older from my childhood: a Womble whose pull-cord had long rusted, rollerboots (still working, still fitting) and games such as Operation and Mousetrap, and even my chemistry set complete with the dregs of unidentifiable crystals.
Then there was an old suitcase. The kind you see in black and white films, flimsy in body but held together by surprisingly tough snap-locks. Opening this was like a memory hijack.
Inside were a handful of cards congratulating my mum on the birth of her son, a box with a silvery paper key and birthday cards too, all celebrating her 21st. There was a scrapbook full of pictures of cherubs and angels, more birthday and Christmas cards. There were certificates from school, from technical college, proving her skills in shorthand and bookkeeping. There was a jotter full of her beautiful copperplate handwriting, an aide memoir of grammar rules. A holiday photo of her in her early 20s, saw her perched on the back of a Vespa scooter, some Italian chap in front. She looked like she was having a rare time.
And then there were all the hand-made cards I’d sent her: Mother’s Day wishes, Valentine’s love, birthday greetings . . . all done on bits of scrap paper, with badly drawn pictures, the inside leaves written in childish handwriting, declaring how much I – and later my brother too – loved her.
It was like watching the edited highlights of her life. None of the stresses and strains of everyday life, just the good times and the love.
That is what remains even when the person has gone: your love for them. Theirs may be something you can recall in memory, but yours for them doesn’t stop. Nor should you want it to because, like the sadness of grief, it proves their very existence.
Finding that box has actually made this November feel slightly easier.
Team spirit is strong
WHILE rummaging through the bags of our family’s history I came across countless Hearts football match programmes, collected in the main by my brother. There were Hearts team photos ripped out of newspapers which once adorned bedroom walls and the piece de resistance: a small wall mirror inscribed with the maroon heart. A collector’s item no doubt.
It reminded me of how important it felt as a young person to follow a football team. To feel a part of a greater whole, a community where everyone literally sang from the same song book.
Home and away matches were attended (the bus from the Captain’s Cabin was an education), but eventually other things intruded and match days were no longer first on the list of things to do.
But support for your team never leaves you, and I have watched with some pride the actions of the more active and vocal support as they try and save Hearts from the wretched clutches of its current owner.
Here’s hoping this new consortium – which involves the incredibly smart businesswoman Ann Budge – can wrestle Hearts from Romanov and put the club on a sounder footing. The supporters deserve it.