Jean Marguerite was born September 1st 1933. She was born to Charlie and Gladys. They lived in south London. Much of the south of London was built with sandstone bricks which over the years have become dirty; but the streets were clean. Streets were wide because there were few cars. Inside was darker, net-curtained and half-silhouetted; outside was wide, airy and yellow-bricked. Her mother was very house-proud when she was young and kept the house spotlessly clean: a polished table and a sparkling cut-glass vase. Jeanie liked to play on her tricycle but she would get grubby from time to time. She had no brothers or sisters and wished all her life that she could have. Her father would sometimes call her ‘Swank and Crackers’ because she would stomp around like a grown-up and mimic grown-up talk: half-stated and rhetorical.
twelve years since Mum died
a short lifetime
in a weekend
I gaze back at the Mona Lisa
who reminds me how
hard to meditate
wanting her life to have
I smile slightly
She lived near to the river: the air in the streets of South London is air which has been over the river, it doesn’t smell of the river and it is not wet, but it has been over the river and is clean. When she later married she eventually moved into a house up one side of Shooter’s Hill which overlooked the river; she worked in a shipping office and invoiced – in and out – the cargo of ships which docked in the river; she walked along the river when she was older and living alone; she left me a book of walks along the Thames when she died.
To my Mum who breathed deep the day she got a good set of saucepans
in her pantry in 1974.
To my Mum who walked the long tunnel at Woolwich to and from work
every day for twenty five years.
To my Mum who smiled on Plumstead Common when the white clouds
were on the horizon and the grey cloud seamless in all the windows.
To my Mum who ate chops and beans every evening to hold off weight
but who always wore smart coats.
To my Mum who was never quite sure if it was OK to laugh and relax in
the seventies as the possibility suggested,
- yes, it was okay,
and every time she did,
there were plastic raincoats in the evening high street,
there was Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach,
there were floorboards and wooden stepladders and wallpaper,
there were empty milk bottles on the doorstep,
there was a thin of snow on the housing estate under the green grey sky,
there were bowls of crisps crackers and twiglets for the Cup Final,
there were high sash windows overlooking the Thames,
there were phone wires in front of the skies where she would never go
there were car journeys on wet roads by deep green fields,
there were yellow streetlights of new relationships of new-found friends,
there were bulbous patterns of brown and green to match the seasons.
My Mum cried when it all went wrong but went to work anyway.
She married Alan Francis George Redford. He was straight out of the 1950’s. He was tall, thin, slicked-back hair, heavy-rimmed glasses and he played piano. In a band. I thought he played late at night in smokey clubs. He was shy and devastating and laughed a “yeah” when he was being sociable. She was fizzy, smiley and infectious. She wore bright blue tops. Neither of them were what they seemed to be. Really.
all the while
on a wall opposite
Mum’s flat almost
12 years after
a teen boy with a walking impairment climbs out of the aqua Corsa by
the newsagent PAYZONE
a young Asian black Corsa rear hub missing stops to let the thumbs up
arm up hand thanks man cross slowly with his stick
the 53 double decker patiently weaved around the Zafira parked too
close to the crossing island oneway nodding up and down
the maroon Vectra beeeped one ‘e’ too long top lip folded up teeth and
swerved but stayed behind the black Carlton turning moving steadily
a grey-haired probably 77 year old woman carefully turned her silver
in a dark coat bright scarf white trainers pausing after the road was
crossed pausing by the gate had made it to the newsagents then
started back but
I didn’t see where she went
They bought a three-floor house in Eglinton Hill, Plumstead. He worked in a company, wore suits, and came home with new company cars from time to time. Cleared room, floorboards painted black, dusty, wooden step ladder held open by two short pieces of rope; holding a paper scraper and somewhere – down a street, with fewer cars and tree-lined – drove a car. The walls eventually had red rose wallpaper, I preferred when the walls were bare with bits of wallpaper left and odd sections of dark colours – blue – the bareness and the black floorboards and the bay window opening out into the world and the Springfields playing on a portable record player again.
true to life
two days before she died
deep in the pain that would
swallow her unconscious
she said she felt sorry
who had left to find
away from the one he had
she left implicit
that he would never find one
had stayed with the rubble
the lino and the clumps of grass
true to her sons
true to her mother
true to her pain
On November 2nd 1967, my father left my mother. I think he did this to start his new life. I think he thought it was impossible to continue as he was. About four years later my mother fell down the three steps from the kitchen on her way to join us in the lounge. She didn’t get straight up, she just lay there awkwardly.
eleven years ago my scruffy-trousered pal who became my Mum one lifetime slipped out of this life of strange disappointment and occasional beauty:
flat shoes and bayed terraces by the common
grey skies and fresh shifts of wind over the common
sudden wide smile – incisors – by the Military Academy on the common
disinfectant footsteps through the tunnel under the Thames
cottage window looking back out along the Victorian rear extension
roof slopes at right angles and chimney pots 51 buses and steep hills
the kicked-in front door and the white shag carpet
the net curtains and the view of the River below blue skies
the last breath and the 16 year old face
Mum has gone from her body; that part of her is finished. I cry for that because I remember all the times I had with her. But now I am with her while she is going through the inbetween experience. This is different because I am never sure if she is ‘there’, if she can recognise me or know what I am thinking. I say mantras and prayers for her. It is only since she has died that I have realised how pretty she was. She was pretty even when she died; even though her face was sagged and her eyes were pointing apart I still saw her smile behind her face. While she was dying I took off my glasses a little and looked at her face and it looked as though it was 16 years old and she looked remarkably like John. She had a very pretty smile; I think I came only to notice her worried face or her annoyed face and had forgot her pretty face. I only noticed it when she was dying.
the bittersweet beauty
of the apartment block window
stood at any stage
up the face of the building
looking up further to the top
back from the main façade
stepped and higher
or dwarfed by yet another block
kept in place by its
everything kept in place
when I was young an image
of a building so many floors high
pinnacling to a turret roof
on the pink cover
on the blue cover
of the insurance policies
that my Mum kept
my mother is now dead
the policies came to nothing
I had a dream during Thursday night that I was chasing something flying through the sky, I suddenly turned ‘up’ through the sky (as if it were a ceiling) and I found myself somewhere which I understood to be heaven. I told Mum this dream as she was dying, I think it comforted her.
I have memories of her from years back, and I have the memory of her as she was dying in hospital and the two haven’t fully met together in my mind. In fact the memory of her while she was ill was also different from her when she was my Mum in the 70s. In fact all memories of her are spaced and seemingly unconnected.
part of a dream (14th/15th May 1999): I am approaching a place, an institutional place, over a bridge possibly, and yes, there is Mum, walking away from the place with a friend (a Witness, although I didn’t see who). She was short with her dark coat on and her hair cut short and awkwardly as if it was a wig. But the prevailing feeling for me was one of realising that she was coming home and the nonplussed feeling that she is coming home because I had thought she had died. I had the feeling that maybe I hadn’t really quite understood about Mum’s death the way I don’t understand exactly what is going on sometimes and really I’d got it all wrong. Mum wasn’t particularly noticing of me … is the interpretation that Mum has found a rebirth, that she has ‘come home’ to Woolwich, or even to Eglinton Hill? And the fact that she didn’t particularly remark me means that even if we did meet up again she is not going to recognise me?
part of a dream (18th/19th May 1999): I am walking with my Mum along what feels to be Shrewsbury Lane, early in the morning, part of a visit I am making with her. We are walking along and I say something along the lines that I am glad that we have had this chance to talk a little together. We feel close and friendly like we used to when we walked together in the 70’s.
It occurs to me that I did see her and talked with her closely and honestly the Wednesday before the Friday she died. Earlier on we had had tens of discussions where we talked honestly and exploratively. Those conversations were the gems in our relationship, they were clear and communicative, they were honest and compassionate. They had some wisdom in them. This is the strong summary of our relationship, the 39 years we spent together we lived together gently and with love and we talked closely from time to time.
dream; night of 18th-19th January 2001: I was in a city in the future, I was with a group of people – maybe my own family – who were sneaking through a backend part of the city to a forgotten doorway to the outside world. We let in some outsiders, they were supplying arms, but we were ambushed. We ran away down some steps, but we were actually walking away from the cinema screen where the drama was actually taking place, and anyway it wasn’t all that important because the screen was round the corner – in a sort of alley to the side of the large room – the audience was there but only those on the side of the alley could see down enough to watch the screen side-on. We sat at our seats, we were on the left hand side of the room. Then out of the corner of my eye I see Mum standing there, with her beige mac. I say, ‘what are you doing here…’ happy to see her again but thinking ‘given that you are dead?’ She explains – although not in so many words, I seem to understand what she means directly from her mind – that she is appearing to me because it is near to her being reborn again; she is in a womb. I ask where she will be reborn, she replies in ‘Bidlinton’, she thinks it is in Kent.