COLUMN: November 28, 2013

I USUALLY write about minor calamities which have recently been inflicted upon me, most often by myself – encounters with disappointing soup, mysterious doughnuts on my front door, being trapped in a revolving door with somebody who doesn’t know how to use a revolving door, that sort of thing.

And I usually manage to string them out to 750 words so that there is not a blank space on this page, or, even worse, a column by one of my colleagues.

But I have had a major calamity inflicted upon me this week, and I find myself slightly defeated, and not entirely sure if writing about it is appropriate.

My mum died.

Writing that down in bald terms seems very odd, and provokes the same sort of puzzlement in me as if I had written “My shoes are made of olives” or “My unicorn is called Frank” or “They still call themselves Boyzone.”

It happened very suddenly, and it is still too big a concept with which to deal. Although, after the shock, I expect it is much the same for everybody when they lose their mothers, the same sort of feeling as on the first day of school when your mother lets go of your hand and you are led away by a smiling teacher with the knowledge that for the first time you are on your own.

So I will concentrate on small things. Family and friends were gathered at my mum’s on Monday, the day she died, pottering about and making tea in that strange atmosphere of tears and silence and laughter and “This is typical of her” comments, which envelops such occasions.

All of it was undercut with the knowledge that she was still “there”, in the next room.

And then the undertakers came and we sat together in the living room – the room of the living – while they prepared my mother’s dignified exit. It was so quiet, save for the odd gulp and muffled sob, as we sat and thought about her…


“Sorry,” said my brother. And he switched off his phone.

We settled back in to contemplation.


“Sorry,” said a friend of my mother. And she switched off her phone.

We settled again, and waited for the next one.

And so it was, that over the next 10 minutes there was an unwitting competition between the mourners gathered as to who had the most inappropriate ringtone for the occasion – twangs of arrows ranked up against monkey chatter, fanfares against farts.

I cannot swear that I was not laughing like an 11-year-old schoolboy, so I will not.

It occurred to me that mobile phones usually have an “airplane” mode, which quickly switches off wireless connections to prevent somebody tagging all their friends on Facebook and causing a plane to crash.

So why can they not also have a “funeral” mode, which replaces Outkast’s Hey Ya, cockerels crowing, or the sound young boys can make with a wet palm and their armpits, with a funeral march, Pie Jesu from Faure’s Requiem, or bird song? If they can auto-correct spelling, they should be able to auto-correct ringtones.

I left her home and went for a stroll through my past. My mother had moved from the house where I grew up years ago, so I traced the route we used to walk every day from my primary school to my old home. I stood outside for a while.

I was tempted to knock and ask if I could come in, to stand in the vestibule one last time, but there is a fine line between mourning in an honest and raw way and being a weirdo.

So instead I walked through the park she loved. And suddenly I felt very old. A man too old, at 41, to have a mother.

But as I emerged from the park, near some halls of residence, a pizza delivery man carrying some leaflets approached me. “Scuse me, mate, do you know where I can leave these?”

He thought I was a student! I’m not old, I thought. “Sorry, I’m not a student,” I was about to say, slightly lifted.

Then he saw my face properly, for the first time in the twilight. He was horrified. “Sorry! I didn’t…” he said, and scurried off. The sod.

I said at the start I wondered if it was appropriate to write a column this week. But the fact is I refused to let my loyal fanbase down.

Even though she’s died. Bye, Mum. x


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