These drawings come from Cresswell Dale, a limestone valley near Tideswell in the Peak District. This is the place I associate most with my mother’s life. She lived here when she was the age I am now.
I have been remembering what she told me of her life as locations. She grew up in West London but was evacuated during the blitz to live with relatives near Hereford. Her father had broken into the middle class through patient hard work and night school and she was the first family member to go to university, the London School of Economics. She was made to live at home, I think. Her early married life and my childhood was spent in the ground floor of a terraced house, without bathroom or inside toilet, in South London. With £100 loaned by the bank, they bribed the previous sitting tenant, an all-in wrestler, to state they were family so his cheap fixed rent agreement could be transferred to them. On moving in, they found the inside of the wardrobe layered in used condoms. Later, we had a larger house in leafy suburban Coulsden, on the edge of the North Down, where her first dog was a fox-terrier who became progressively feral as he aged and one by one the family left home. Later she lived in Normandy in Surrey where her partner’s dog was an English pointer, Jake, then in Leigh near Wigan with a great dane, Kate, then Tideswell with her last dog Mushie the Weimaraner.
When she retired, she bought a small van and proposed to travel round the country and perhaps Europe, having adventures. Fear caused by wind vibration on a river-spanning bridge put paid to that plan. She had acquired a taste for working abroad as an external examiner in Kingston, Jamaica. She joined Voluntary Services Overseas, offering her managerial and public service skills to a non-governmental organisation running social services. I met up with her when she was living in Malawi. Her flat had a tree yielding fresh avocado in the garden. We went together to river camp where hippopotami nosed and bellowed outside our hut. Her first assignment came to an end when she exposed corruption rampant among its leadership. Later, I took my young sons to meet her during her stint carrying out a similar role in Macedonia in south eastern Europe. She had befriended a younger volunteer, Suzanne, who was running a children’s hospital. They worked, drank, smoked, laughed and played endless merciless games of Canasta. We all went to the highlands and skied for the first time. My son acquired his taste for baklava, the sticky honeyed pastries of that part of the world.
Her last location was in Kenilworth, opposite a castle famously visited by Elizabeth the first, now with a wall missing, mined in the English Civil War. Here she lived alone at first, until my sister moved in. My mother saw her through her pregnancy and degree studies, and was co-parent and co-conspirator for her grandson through his first eleven years. My sister saw her through health crises and the strokes and progressive blindness which took her ability to read and much of her independence. Her garden was her great passion in Kenilworth, the soil enriched because the house was built on the site of a market garden. The beds were densely packed, a seemingly chaotic riot of flowers, fruits and vegetables. She worked in her garden to within a day of her death.