In 1922 the BBC was born.
In 1922 my mother was born.
Happy 100th birthday to them both.
The British Broadcasting Corporation gave us the Home service. Terry Wogan, and The Goons.
My mother gave us chicken soup and 733 crocheted blankets.
My mother was born in the East End of London, married my father aged 18 and regretted it for the rest of her days.
The BBC started its life in the village and civil parish of Writtle, a mile west of Chelmsford, Essex, gave us Andy Pandy and Jimmy Savile and regretted it for the rest of their days.
Keep your ‘ands off Auntie Beeb torrid Dorries
The BBC served me for years, only today my brother asked me whether I still remembered working on ‘You and Me’ with the puppets Cosmo and Dibs. My first BBC job working with those puppets – early 80’s – was a lot easier than working with some of the actors I had to endure in the theatre. It was the beginning of wardrobe, makeup, lights and Acton.
Consequently I have far too many clothes, all of which are neatly hanging or folded in three different locations in the cottage; hidden amongst the coats in the attic I have the gym slip my mother wore whilst studying at Rains school for girls in Arbour Square, Stepney, London E1.
The gym slip is heavy, sometimes I hold it to see if I get any psychometric feelings. I don’t. I have kept one of her pink wooly jackets in the boot of my car, just in case I get cold, and a light blue silky cotton cardigan that hangs over the back of a chair in the attic. The chair was given to me by my first boyfriend along with a bean bag frog, a piece of bark to cover a waste paper basket and a copper saucepan in which I stand a Begonia Rex, a cutting that was given to me years and years ago by the daughter of Margaret, one of the first ever female presenters on the BBC wireless.
The plant has been propagated hundreds of times, my daughter has a healthy plant, as do many of her friends. I’ve sent clippings in the post throughout the British Isles to several green fingered friends. I’ve currently got three monumental versions of her. The one in the attic drips pink flowers that look like pomegranate jewels.
My mother died ten years ago. 2012 saw us spending an inordinate amount of time relocating her from her lovely little flat in Boreham Wood to a brilliant Jewish Care Home in Brighton.
In the final two years of her life she got Dementia. We tried to keep her and her carers in her own home but ulcerated legs and an addled version of reality meant she was incapable of being alone.
When we moved her we made her room as homely as possible, hung photos of her family around the room and moved in books and bits and waited for her to settle in. She never did. The received wisdom his that people who go into homes generally last nine months. In my mother’s case it was 9 months to the day. She never forgave us for taking her out of her own environment. I did wonder about the timing of it all. It takes nine months for a baby to gestate; apparently it takes nine months for a body to decompose, so it made sense that to uproot an ageing specimen would take 9 months for it to wither and die.
She accused the other inmates of stealing her brandy.
She accused the nurses of stealing her wedding ring.
She was accusatory and unlike anybody we had ever known. The Matron informed us that dementia did that. So we had to watch this woman who had been a mother and grandmother, a teacher and friend to so many, transform into a belligerent stranger.
She was taken into Brighton Hospital when her legs became too painful. I took my nephew – who was close to her – to visit.
‘Where am I?’
‘You always said that you wanted to live by the sea.’
The care home was 400 yards, in a straight line, to the rolling waves of the English Channel.
You could see “The Queen of Watering Places”, as poet Horace Smith called Brighton, from the top of her road. Novelist William Makepeace Thackeray referred to “Doctor Brighton”, calling the town the ‘Old Ocean’s Bauble – one of the best of Physicians’. If only.
‘Where am I?’ she asked again.
‘You’re living in a Jewish care home.’
There was a long malevolent silent and then she said
‘I fucking hate the Jews.’
I laughed behind my hand and my nephew looked shocked. It was strangely funny since it was so out of character.
‘Where do you want to be then?’
‘I want to go home.’
‘To Boreham Wood or the East End’
‘I want to go home.’
‘It’s not like it was when you were growing up.’ I offered.
She became racist, anti semitic and decidedly noisy in her answers. My little, old Jewish mum had been a card carrying member of the communist party until 1956 when she made a stand against the Russian incursions into other countries. She was a life long socialist and a woman of uncommon humanity, so when she said
‘I hate the Asians’ we knew that Mrs.R Barnett had left the room.
I asked her what she felt about black people.
‘I don’t mind them.’ she said flatly.
She looked at me and said ‘You’re black as it goes.’
And that was that.
Then in July of 2012 I was asked to host a quiz night in Ibiza for ‘The Groucho Club.’ I visited her before I left. She looked beatific as she sat up in her bed.
‘Can you hear the children mewing?’ she asked.
I couldn’t. I kissed her and reminded her that I would see her in few days, although she never remembered our visits.
Bernie Katz, The Prince of Soho, instructed me that when I got to Ibiza to look for a man in a vest who would drive me to Groucho’s swanky bolthole.
There were thousands of men in vests wandering around the airport, how I found the Spanish speaking driver is beyond me. But find him I did. He drove me to the most beautiful accommodation. I ate and drunk with media folk, aristocratic Club members and a gang of wealthy folk with whom I would never normally fraternise.
To bed at 3.00 only to be woken at 7.30 by my mobile jangling.
‘She died.’ said the sobbing nurse. “I gave her her coffee, turned round and when I turned back she was gone.”
That group of wealthy strangers got me home. I didn’t pay for anything, I don’t even remember buying a ticket. I had three days to organise a sunflower loaded send off.
Paul Young is a chocolate maker. There is a Yiddish expression which my mother translated as ‘Don’t throw me over the water like a teapot’ – dont ask.
Paul Young made me a hollow, totally chocolate teapot that looked and smelt divine.
We scattered her ashes in a part of the garden where we had planted a wonderful red rose for her. We put the rest of the ashes into the teapot and drove to Brighton
Four of us, me carrying the teapot, walked to the pier. Behind the dodgems and twisters we walked up a set of metal stairs. I took the lid off the chocolate teapot and as I poured the ashes over the edge we all shouted
‘Hock mir nicht kein chinik’
The ashes flew into the dawters mouth and the teapot landed in the cold grey water with a slap. The lid followed. My mother couldn’t swim and she would have remonstrated at the waste of food. May she be drinking tea somewhere in paradise.
We were heading for Hastings this week but were invited to Brighton at the last minute. So ten years on we were at the spot where my mother was scattered.
Next week Hastings eh?