26 Fruits


Mum’s the word

My mum died 45 years ago last month. I’ve thought about her every day since – she’s stayed with me. This year I’ve thought about her even more, while writing my part in the Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum (the book proofs of which I read last week).

My character, Richard, doesn’t like much about life but he did love his mother who had just died. In writing Richard, I had to reconnect with my own feelings towards my mother. Before writing the final chapter, the fictional mother’s funeral, I visited the crematorium where my mum, dad, brother and many others in my family are commemorated with small plaques fixed to the kerb stones in the gardens of remembrance.

I wandered around, looking for my mum’s plaque. It had been some years since I’d visited and I wasn’t sure of the exact location. After a few minutes I noticed a dislodged plaque, face down on the paving ahead of me. I stooped down and turned it over. It was my mum’s plaque, discarded it seemed, so encrusted with the natural grime of decades that it was hard to read.

IMG_1844Upset, I picked it up and found a gardener going about his work. I explained what had happened and said I was  going to take it home with me. The gardener was sympathetic and gave me advice on how best to clean and polish the plaque.

When I told my family they were all sympathetic too. My daughter Jessie – named after my mum – said “I think she was saying ‘Take me home’.”

So that’s what I did. The plaque now rests on the mantelpiece in my study. It means that the novel, with its title Keeping Mum, has an added resonance for me.

By another coincidence, last week was the launch of the 26 Words exhibition. Looking around the exhibition, the piece by Neil Baker and Mark Noad almost had me in tears. By random selection, Neil had been given the word ‘Hearse’. He’s been unable to attend the word-choosing at the Betsy Trotwood because his mum had suddenly died that day.

Neil bravely chose not to seek another word but to stick with the grim fate of ‘Hearse’. His response, a perfect combination of head and heart, is a palindromic poem that is brilliantly clever and profoundly moving. I show it here but you’ll appreciate it more if you visit the 26 Words exhibition at the Free Word Centre before the end of January.

One final twist of fate – the photographs of exhibits that appear in the 26 Words catalogue were taken by my daughter Jessie.


2 Responses

  1. bigbrandjohn says:

    Thought provoking piece. I came to the comclusion many years ago that when someone does something very well, it looks so simple that anyone can do it. But they can’t.

    A bit like the plumber who pops in and fixes the ballcock in five minutes after I have been thrashing and splashing around for hours.

    As you are a literary plumber I guess that means that I should give 26 Words a plug !!

  2. Neil Baker says:

    Ah John, thanks for those kind words. I’m glad the piece that Mark and I made moved you. As for “almost” cried – I’ll get you next time!

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