She awoke early the following day to find the sun shining. She jumped out of bed, folded her blanket and eiderdown back, washed and dressed in her dark blue school pinafore and a white blouse. It was a bit big for her as it was a hand-me-down from her mother’s cleaner at the café. Her polished but worn black Mary Jane shoes clickety-clacked down the wooden staircase. Her mother was in the scullery preparing their breakfast of porridge oats. Miriam sat down at the small yellow and white Formica table squashed into one corner of the tiny room. They didn’t have a smart dining room like many of her friends had in their houses. Her parents couldn’t afford anything as posh as that.
Her mother put a bowl of steaming oats in front of her. Miriam was grateful for this, as she hadn’t had a proper dinner the night before. She blew puffs of air from her pursed lips to cool off her breakfast. Having finished it, she took her empty bowl over to the sink, gave it a quick wash with the brush and dish soap under the cold tap and put it on the already heaped-up draining board. She could hear the noises of her father getting up just before she left, just briefly hearing her mother shout up, “are you only just getting up, you layabout?” before she slipped quietly out of the front door, ensuring she didn’t bang it shut and risk another telling off.
As she walked to school, she felt sorry for her dad being shouted at so often by her mother, and she thought about how much she loved him. He never shouted at her, even when he’d had a lot to drink. He often took her out for a walk around the nearby Shoreditch Church and let her walk along the walls surrounding the flowerbeds. Miriam was cautious not to tread on any plants but loved being up high and holding her father’s warm but rough hand to ensure she didn’t fall off. They’d go and look at the gravestones, too. Miriam wasn’t scared even though she knew it was where dead people were buried long ago. They stopped to look at several stones, and her dad would tell her stories about the people under the ground. She didn’t realise, at that age, that they were made-up stories, but she enjoyed hearing about these people’s lives and imagined what their families were like. Her dad said it was time to go as he had to go to the Spar corner shop to get some bread, milk and a packet of Stork margarine.
School Days and the Teacher (Part Three)
Before she knew it, Miriam, who’d been daydreaming about her kind father, arrived at the school gates. She was only just in time before the bell went, signalling the start of the school day. She hung her brown coat on a peg in the cloakroom and walked quickly to her classroom. Her teacher, Mrs Miller, was an amiable lady and had a soft spot for Miriam.
The first lesson was English, which Miriam liked, but the second was maths, a subject she often had difficulty with. She was okay with adding up and taking away but found her times tables hard to remember. Mrs Miller always came over with encouraging words and hints about recalling these tables. The class often recited their times tables in a song – “once two is two, two twos are four, three twos are six”, and so on, and Mrs Miller reminded the child of this song.
Shortly after that, the bell rang again for dinner time. The children filed out of their rooms and queued up in the dining room to eat their sandwiches. Miriam picked up her lunch bag, rummaging inside for her lunch, but much to her dismay, her bag was empty. Her mother must have forgotten to pack any lunch for her. She was so disappointed, so she had to sit at one of the tables watching everyone else eat. Silent tears ran down her face, which she kept wiping away with her white cotton handkerchief so that no one would notice her crying.
Looking through teary eyes, she spotted Mrs Miller walking towards her. When her teacher asked her to return to the classroom, Miriam thought she must have been in trouble for some reason. From experience at home, she was used to being yelled at for this, that and the other. The teacher accompanied her back to the classroom, Miriam waiting for the telling-off she was sure to get. Her head hung down until Mrs Miller gently lifted the child’s chin as she looked into her eyes. The teacher smiled, opened the drawer under her desk, and produced two sandwiches. She gave one to the very surprised child and started tucking into the other. Miriam, feeling hungry, took a big mouthful and found it was her favourite filling – ham and relish, something her parents could rarely afford. After eating their lunch, Mrs Miller said she could go out to the playground to play for a while to get some fresh air before lessons began.
Miriam didn’t like going out into the playground, as she had no friends and nearly always stood quietly in the corner, hoping and wishing that someone would come and talk to her. Most of the children were playing catch and skipping rope games. She looked on as the children with their ropes were singing, ‘” Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around; teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground.” Miriam longed to join in, but no one seemed interested in including her.
After fifteen minutes, the bell rang again, and it was time for each classroom to form into queues before being let into their classrooms again. Back at their desks, the children settled down to do some reading. Miriam pulled out of her bag her favourite book, ‘Rabbit Hill.’ She was on chapter three now and thoroughly enjoying the story. Mrs Miller walked around the classroom to check that each child was concentrating on their reading books.
After the reading session ended, the children filed into the gymnasium for the last forty-five minutes of the day. Miriam gulped silently; she hated gym as her mother refused to buy her any gym clothes because they were too expensive. All the other girls wore short grey skirts and white Aertex shirts. Miriam was the only child who had to participate, wearing her vest and navy-blue knickers. She could see some of the boys in the class staring at her and giggling because she was in her underwear. She was so embarrassed and wanted the ground to open and swallow her up. After a while, the bell rang three times, signalling the end of the school day and that it was time to go home.
Excitedly, the other children packed up their school bags and ran outside to meet their mums or dads, who were waiting at the gate with smiles and sweets. Miriam felt sad. Her mother never came to greet her to take her home; she had to make her own way as usual. She had just started to walk across the playground when she heard a voice calling her. She turned to see it was Mrs Miller who summoned her over. As always, the child expected to be told off, although she had no idea what she’d done wrong.
As she approached her teacher, she was given a small package and a letter in an envelope. She looked surprised and asked in a hushed voice whether she could open them. Mrs Miller smiled and nodded, so Miriam carefully unwrapped the parcel and letter. Much to her surprise, the letter turned out to be a birthday card with two pretty cats on the front and inside the package was a brand-new book for her to read. It was called ‘Pippi Longstocking’ – Miriam was thrilled to bits as her teacher had remembered it was Miriam’s birthday tomorrow. The child beamed from ear to ear. She said thank you three times. Mrs Miller gently touched her shoulder and encouraged her to make her way home now. Miriam ran all the way so that she wouldn’t be late again. When she got home, she said nothing to her mother about her card and present and quietly sneaked up to her room to hide them under her blankets, ready to read them in bed that night. Perhaps, her ninth birthday wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
It was a grey cloudy afternoon in 1937 when Miriam trudged home from school, following the route of the 149 bus. She didn’t have any money for the fare, so she would have to walk as usual. It was her ninth birthday in two days. She sighed deeply as she wondered if anyone would remember. She thought it unlikely with her parents being so preoccupied with their busy lives.
Her mother and father worked in the Terminus Café by Shoreditch Bus Station, making tea and all-day breakfasts for the bus drivers and conductors as they finished their shifts. Her parents often forgot, so Miriam wasn’t expecting this year to be any different. She couldn’t remember the last birthday cake she had. She pretended she didn’t care, but she would have given anything to be like her school friends, whose parents always made a big fuss of them while lavishing them with gifts wrapped in pretty paper and tied with silk ribbons and bows. Miriam’s friends always invited her to their birthday parties, but her mother wouldn’t let her go. She’d shout, “do you think money grows on trees, my girl? We can’t afford birthday presents for other people’s kids.” Miriam knew best not to answer back; otherwise, she’d be in for a good hiding.
She was so deep in thought that she didn’t realise how slowly she’d been walking. She should have been home by now. Scared of being in trouble, she ran the rest of the way. She arrived home, out of breath, twenty minutes late, to be greeted by her mother yelling, “what time do you call this?”
“I’m really sorry, mum. I didn’t notice it was getting so late.”
“Well, if you think you’re getting any tea tonight, you’ve got another think (sic) coming, my girl. Go to your room, and don’t make a noise!”
Miriam ran up the stairs choking back her salty tears. She didn’t dare to make a fuss, or her mother would shout at her to stop her crocodile tears. She plopped herself down on the floor next to her bed, pulled the grey flannel blanket down and wrapped it around her slim shoulders. She grabbed her moth-eaten teddy bear, Peter, and held him close. He’d seen better days as she had had him since her first birthday. She loved him just as he was and knew she could tell Peter about anything troubling her. He would never shout at her as her mother did. She nodded off while clasping Peter to her chest and dreamt that she was in the middle of a birthday party her parents had organised for her as a surprise. When she awoke, it was almost dark, and she was very sad and disappointed to find that it was only a dream.
Suddenly, Miriam heard screaming and shouting coming from downstairs. “You’ve been down that bloody pub again, haven’t you.” It was her mother’s angry voice. She was yelling at her husband again.
Miriam’s dad always ambled along to the pub after working at the café. She often noticed that he had an almost permanent bright red, bulbous nose and smelt of cigarettes and beer. She liked her dad. He was always jolly despite everything. She wanted to go downstairs to greet him but thought better of it. She didn’t want to get into any more trouble. She heard him stumble into the front room and put the television on.
A few minutes later, a voice shouted, “your dinner is on the table. Are you going to eat it, or are you going to sit in front of that bloody TV all night?” Miriam could smell the delicious aroma of minced beef and roast potatoes wafting up the stairs. Her tummy rumbled, but she knew she’d have to make do with her mug of water and the leftover remnants of her fish paste and now warm cucumber sandwich from her lunch bag. She carefully opened the brown paper wrapping and took a bite. The bread was stale now, and the crusts were hard and dry. She didn’t want to eat it but knew she’d only get into more trouble with her mother if she left it. She’d had enough of being told off today, so she chewed hard and swallowed it down with the now tepid water from her mug.
By now, she was tired and thought she might as well go to bed rather than dare to go back downstairs only to be yelled at again. She tiptoed into the bathroom to splash her face and clean her teeth and crept back to her bedroom. She climbed into her pink-striped pyjamas and pulled on the pale blue bed socks that her grandma had knitted for her last Christmas; it was always so cold in her bedroom at night. She didn’t even have the luxury of a hot water bottle to keep her warm. Nevertheless, she felt safe in bed and pulled Peter close to her. She could talk to him about her worries and fears without the risk of being told not to make such a fuss. She lay there covered with her grey blanket and her paisley eiderdown, which always felt so comforting. Finally, she drifted off into a deep sleep …
Firstly, I want to say that I know this post is a long one because I wanted to share my experience in full. I hope you can manage to find the time to read it. It would be much appreciated.
Over the last six years, I’ve shared several posts about my dearly-loved late Mum. I wrote at the time she had her stroke, and then, a couple of years later, I wrote a post called THE MISSING MUM YEARS. It explained how, because of my disability, I could not access my Mum’s house, and Mum couldn’t leave there because of her severe agoraphobia, so we didn’t see each other for several years. It was heartbreaking.
It was only a few weeks after Mum’s stroke that she finally left the hospital and went to stay in a stroke rehabilitation unit, where she had her own room, daily physiotherapy and a television. There was wheelchair access to the unit, so I could finally see her regularly. She was, understandably, becoming depressed there because she’d always been so active and was mowing the lawn two weeks before her stroke. Now, she had no movement down her left side and became increasingly frustrated. It was awful to see my Mum like that. She spent three months there before my sisters and I had to decide whether Mum could return to her house as she wished. It was impossible. Mum had lived in a big Victorian terraced house with many stairs, which she just would have been able to manage.
We had many meetings with the hospital staff and the social workers there and finally concluded that Mum would need to go into a care home. It was decided that she would come to a home near me, given that my sisters all worked and lived too far away. I went on the search to find a suitable place, all the time knowing that Mum wasn’t happy about leaving her home after being there for decades. I spent several weeks visiting care homes, but none were suitable.
Finally, I found one called The Lodge. The lovely manager showed me around. I noticed many elderly and disabled residents, some asleep in chairs, some watching TV, and some happily participating in craft activities and bingo. The manager took me to the room that would be Mum’s. I really wanted her room to overlook the garden at the back, but because of the urgency of the situation, the only room they had had a view of the neighbouring house’s roof and a few weeds growing out of the paving down the side of the house.
Her room was almost bare, apart from a bed and a wardrobe. Some faded pictures hung on the walls, and some artificial flowers in a jug on the dressing table. The manager explained that Mum could bring any of her belongings, like pictures, photos, ornaments etc., to make the room more homely. I tried to imagine Mum there, knowing she would hate anywhere I could have found her. She wanted her independence back, but that couldn’t happen.
I felt so guilty because my disability and having no car meant that I was limited in choices of care homes. I would be the only member of my family who would be able to visit Mum regularly. This home had, at least, very kind and caring staff. I went back a couple more times to make sure I thought it would be suitable, knowing full well that Mum would hate being in any home. It was heartbreaking to have to make that choice on my own. A moving-in date was set for the 10th of January, 2017, one day after Mum’s birthday.
When I next visited the stroke unit, I told Mum all about it, ensuring I pointed out all the positive aspects and tried to help her come to terms with her upcoming move. She wasn’t happy, but I felt I had no choice. I would have loved her to come to live with me, but the practicalities made this impossible. She was so unhappy, and it broke my heart to see her this way. A couple of days later, she caught a cold that went to her chest and caused an infection. Then, it developed into pneumonia, meaning she had to return to the city’s main hospital. I saw her frequently, but she wasn’t at all well. My sisters and other family visited her; one sister flew over from Australia. She wasn’t really aware of what was going on, but now I imagine this is such a common scenario; families all flocking around their loved ones’ beds. I can’t help but wonder if she knew why we were there.
By the evening, the family had gone home, leaving just Mum and me. The ward sister allowed me to stay late, so I sat at Mum’s bedside, talking quietly and holding her hand. I sat with her for hours, talking to her and wondering if she could hear me as it wasn’t evident. A nurse came along to check Mum’s sats and said Mum’s oxygen levels were up a bit, and she seemed more alert. I was so relieved at the thought of Mum pulling through this horrible illness.
When I finally got home, feeling a bit more positive, I thought I would be able to see a lot of Mum now that she would live within my wheelchair-driving distance. I felt a little more reassured about the future.
And then, came the next morning and the phone rang very early. I hesitated before picking it up. As soon as I heard the sister’s voice, I knew it would be bad news. She spoke softly as she said my Mum had passed away about half an hour ago. I was devastated and put the phone down with tears streaming down my face. As the oldest daughter, I had the job of informing the rest of the family.
Looking back now, I’m almost sure that Mum had lost the will to live because of not being able to go back to her beloved home and having to go into a care facility. It was the 30th of December 2016, and only a few days before she was due to move to the home. I truly believe now that it was a blessing that she left us then rather than go into this care facility. She’d always been such a positive, independent woman, and this was her way of escaping the reality of her future.
My biggest regret that haunts me to this day is that Mum died alone in hospital with no one to hold her hand as she slipped away. I just can’t come to terms with this. Perhaps, I will do in time.
RIP, My precious and so much-loved Mum, 30/12/16
(I was prompted to write this piece after reading a post from Cindy Georgakas. Thanks, Cindy xx)
Last night, my friend took me to my first Gong Bath. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. It was just incredible and I felt all my problems, worries, aches and pains disappearing as the sound increased. Deep, deep gong sounds resounded through the room and through my body. I’ve added the video at the top of my post – it’s just under thirty minutes long, but I suggest, if you just want to have a quick listen to understand what I could hear, you could listen in for a couple of minutes from about twenty minutes through the video. This morning, I feel fantastic, relaxed and at peace. I can highly recommend going along to one of these sessions if the fancy takes you.
TRIGGER WARNING – mentions alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, eating disorder, self-harm, and emotional abuse.
My kind and excellent blogging friend and reader, Brian, published a post yesterday called ‘A Good Question‘ – it was about how other people cope with their feelings if they’re unable to write them on paper or screen. I’ve not always been able to write; I started after an awful experience working with an emotionally abusive therapist who had no boundaries. I became a wreck while I was with her, and she walked out on me the day my father died in April 2012. I thought I would never recover. From that moment, I began to write and wrote about that experience of what happened to me while I was, supposedly, having therapy with her. I wrote a poem at that time (one of my first posts on my new blog) called, ‘Killing Me Softly.‘ Please, could you take the time to read this, as it will help you make more sense of today’s poem? It’s only short (thank you).
This poem is the story of those years. I’ve never shared this part of my life, so it’s an extremely scary thing to do. I wanted to speak my truth, as I always do. I’m aware that I might be opening myself up for criticism and disgust here, but I now take responsibility and deeply regret my actions at that time and everything I put my family and friends through. Please, know that I’m not in this place anymore.
BACK IN THE DAYS
Back in the days when I couldn’t write and the pain lived deep down in my soul I had other methods to help me cope to fill up that vast, gaping hole
It was when I was seeing that counsellor when they all told me not to go I came out of there tearful and broken I’d never been so depressed and low
Back in the days when seeing her I found myself drowning in sorrow I got into debt with the landlord and more and I needed some money to borrow
I started each day with a bottle of gin kept it down by the side of my bed I couldn’t face coffee or breakfast just lay wanting death instead
Back in the days when I got into drugs and was out of my head every day I was literally living on benzos and weed and had totally lost my way
I stopped eating food; became so unwell I had anorexia; was all skin and bone I hated everything about myself I was down to under five stone
Back in the days, I’d knock back the pills I’d bought from the chemist as well and swallowed all my prescription drugs I thought I was living in hell
I woke up one day in intensive care all hooked up to tubes and wires It hadn’t occurred to me before that I was literally playing with fire
Back in the days when I started to cut I was trying to bleed out my pain I got treated like a timewaster and I tried to jump under a train
Today, I’ve totally moved on from that I’m grateful that I’m here at all I confess I caused so much trouble but now, I can stand straight and tall
Now, these days, I’m fit, happy and well Have been clean and sober ten years I’ve made my amends and changed my ways And I’ll continue to persevere.