“Oh no, I’ve left the iron on.”


Last night, as I was leaving my flat, I did something that reminded me of my mum.

I’d made the children their evening meal and it was sitting in a tupperware container in my bag. I was walking to meet my ex-wife’s car as she’d texted me to say she’d picked them up from playgroup.

I walked along the road to our designated meeting point and suddenly thought to myself:

“Fuck. I’ve left the hob on.”

And worse.

“Fuck. I’ve left the hob on. And on the hob is an empty pan. And, I think, a cork mat which I use to place warm pans on so they don’t burn a work surface. WHICH WILL CATCH FIRE AND BURN THE HOUSE DOWN”


In my head, in split seconds, I think the following.

1) Don’t be daft Spencer. You turned it off. As you always do. There’s nothing on the hob at all. You’ve never done it, you never will because, actually, you think about what you do. You washed up the pan, put it in the cupboard and all is golden.

2) Fuck. The house is going to burn down.

I walked quickly back to my flat just to check. I can’t be sure. I just can’t be sure. Oh, and bollocks this means I’m going to be late to meet my ex-wife on the corner and, oh heck she’ll be pissed off.

I RAN back to the flat to check. And I’m right. The hob is off and the pans put away. Nothing will catch fire as there’s nothing, NO THING, on the hob and the closest thing TO the hob is over a foot away. “Phew!” I say to myself, and put my hand to my chest.

This is the thing that reminds me of my mum.

When I was a little boy we’d almost always go through the following. We’d walk out the door and as the door closed she’d say “Have I left the iron on?’

“No mum. You never do.”

We’d walk to the top of the road and wait for the bus to take us shopping in Wandsworth or Clapham Junction. My mum is silent. I’m 8. The bus appears in the distance. Great. We’ve been waiting ages and it’s freezing cold.

“I know I’ve left the iron on.”

“Mum, you didn’t. You didn’t even use the iron this morning. It’s not on. It’s not been on since Sunday and today is Tuesday!”

It matters not. We’re walking away from the bus stop, away from the bus which we’ve waited 20 minutes for and back to the flat to check if the iron’s on. The iron that is not on. It’s not. It’s not on. It’s not going to burn everything down and cause a tragedy because, it’s not ON. But we’re walking back to check. My mum already has her doorkeys in her hand and her pace has quickened. I look behind me and see the bus drive past.

“Hurry up. I know I’ve left the iron on!”

She panicked a bit when I was growing up did my mum. She panicked and she worried. She got panicked, got worried, got sad and she got drunk. But mainly she worried. She’d worry about leaving the iron on, leaving a tap on in the bathroom and flooding the people downstairs. She’d worry, worry herself until her stomach was in knots and she’d pull THAT face, and we’d always have to go back and check.

To me she worried about these things but I know, I know now she worried about everything.

She’d check, and when it always wasn’t on she’d go “Phew!” hold her hand to her chest, and smile.

I loved that smile. Oddly. It was a smile of relief and she’d admit to being silly and we could get going again. Her mood would lift and she’d talk nineteen to the dozen. We used to play this game about us having bit parts in movies and on TV and we’d do this on the bus. She’d say she played a stormtrooper in Star Wars. I said I played a bar stool in Coronation Street. She’d say she was one of the Blue Peter dogs in disguise. The idea was to make each other laugh. I was a boot once, in Das Boot. That really made her laugh.

She still does something similar to the iron thing. When she’s out, or she’s staying over at my aunts she callsΒ  her home phone number. The reason? Well, if the answerphone kicks in it means she’s not been burgled. It means that she’s locked the house up properly and no burglars have got in and stolen her stuff. She does this maybe twice a night. Sometimes more.

This behaviour, going back and checking that the iron isn’t on and the house isn’t burning down is probably what could be termed Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour. It’s an OCD isn’t it?Β  This little thing niggling in your brain that makes you doubt all reasonable facts and evidence. Makes you doubt your memory and takes you to the less logical sections of your headbox.

Paul Gascoigne was one of the first people in the public eye that I came across who mentioned having an OCD. He was being interviewed on TV and talked openly, and bravely in my opinion, about his depression, and his need to place towels in a certain way on the towel rack. The audience laughed. The towels had to be a certain way otherwise he’d get stressed. The audience laughed. He’d go back and check them. The audience laughed. They WERE the certain way he wanted them, all golden. And then he’d walk away, only to return 10 or 15 minutes later to check that they were STILL that certain way. And again. And again. Sometimes 20 times a day.

Looking back on it now, this was what it was.


My mum suffered, and still suffers from, depression and anxiety issues. But in our family this wasn’t something that was recognised, acknowledged or accepted. It still isn’t. I get on better with my family now, but at times it’s been tough to talk to about the depression I suffer from. They’ve thought, in the past, that depression is something the middle classes suffer from, something that comes with too much education and a bit of a snooty attitude. Normal people, working class people, people who live in council flats and come from a family like mine, just get on with life. We don’t suffer from depression. We don’t have anxiety issues. We just get on.

I talk about how hard it is for me to talk about the depression I suffer from. How hard must it have been for my mum?

The real reason we never talk about it is obvious. My family love me, and my mum, and always have, and they want it to go away as quickly as it came. We all want that for those we love. But sometimes talking, accepting, and listening even if you don’t truly understand, is what makes a difference.

I love my mum. I haven’t for long periods of time as she was a drunk for a lot of my life. But I do, and I always did. My mum is my mum. Depressed, lonely, sad, and has needed help she couldn’t get, because this wasn’t acknowledged. Nor sought perhaps.She just got on. She was still the girl that washed Sean Connery’s hair, got chatted up by Brian Jones and Rod Stewart and told Rod to fuck off ‘cos his hair made him looked like a chicken.

She instilled in me good values, taught me to write and read, worked her arse off to give me a great education, bought me a piano and let me play with the darn thing. And she gave amazing hugs. She still does. She’s smaller than me, by about a foot but comes in and grabs me like she never wants to let go.

I still tell her that no-one’s burgled her house. The iron’s not on anymore, and never was, but she still needs to check. And I know she needs that. Phew! Hand to heart. Big smile. We laugh.

I wish I could take her pain away. I’m sure she wants the same for me.

Thanks for reading.


32 responses to ““Oh no, I’ve left the iron on.”

  1. Ah Spence. I absolutely loved that blog. I smile and laughed through it as I do EXACTLY the same thing. You can ask my family, they are used to it now. They let me get on with it, waiting outside whilst I go back in the house to check things (windows, iron, hair straighteners, oven etc).

    What really made me smile was reading how much you love your mum & you understanding of her challenges with depression. She is lucky to have you, a lot of sons would have walked away & not looked back.

    Thanks for sharing x

    • I did something similar last night. Got into bed, cosy and comfortable, and wondered to myself “Did I lock the door?”
      Of course I did, I always do but I had to get up and check. πŸ™‚

  2. So glad I saw this one on Twitter. Brave post – says so much about the legacy of our parents, how we were raised – and also, how brave you are for naming it (depression & anxiety issues) so you can claim it and move on, and not pass this learned behavior down to your kids. Bravo, you.

    • Thank you. The key is recognising it, dealing with it and then you can work through life. Of course I worry that my depression is something I could pass on but, in reality, I know I’m strong enough to deal with the darker times and life can and will improve. πŸ™‚

  3. I don’t often comment but just wanted to say how much I enjoy your posts popping into my email box most days. You write so well, with humour and honesty. This post about your mum is so well crafted.

    I had a thing about worrying if I’d left my hair straighteners on. Unfortunately I usually had. Bought some recently that turn off automatically. Made life much less stressful…and safer!

  4. Brilliant post about your Mum. It’s good you understand what it is like to be her sometimes. And I’m sure she understands you too, but probably can’t tell you that…
    The boot in Das Boot… πŸ˜€

    • Indeed, she can’t tell me that any more. Her stroke a few years back has left her in a bad way, but that’s as a result of so many years of alcohol abuse. Her health is poor, and she’s often confused but, through this, we both know one thing. Love. I know she loves me, and she knows I love her. That has been clouded sometimes by painful memories and times but I know we’re doing okay now.
      Thanks for your comment, and for reading.

      • Taken some time to get there but love always shows through. Painful memories stay forever sadly, but we learn how to deal with them. Your Mum loves you, and knows you love her. You’re a great son and a brilliant father. Remember that. Always…. Xxx

  5. I always think you are brave to talk about depression so openly even though it is hard. I think most people are touched by mental health issues either directly or indirectly and talking about it can only be a good thing. You have also made me think about my own Mum and the values she instilled in me so thank you for that as well.

    On a lighter note I have a friend who always thought he had left the back door to his house unlocked. We had to turn around countless times so he could go back and check. One day he called me to triumphantly tell me that had gone home and it WAS unlocked. Although he was laughing, to him this justified all the unnecessary trips. Would it help you to be right one day? Or would that make it worse?

    • Thanks for your comment. Dunno really. Perhaps there might be one small triumph when you go back and check it was actually on. I guess it might make you feel it is worth it. πŸ™‚

  6. You know reading this, it was like you were writing about me. I’ve gone home from work thinking I’ve left the iron on. I’ve called my grand dad to make sure the hair straightners have been unplugged. Not just turned off, they need to be unplugged.

    I literally 2 weeks ago have been diagnosed with OCD and Anxiety and they are completely related. I can laugh to myself about it but if things go missing or misplaced I get myself into such a state. And when I turn the iron off? I have to ask my daughter to put it away so she remembers and then that way I know it’s off if I ask her. But even then the doubt is there.
    Brilliant post Spencer x

    • Thanks for commenting. I hope you’re okay. I guess it’s only a real problem if the behaviour stops you from doing things, or enjoying life but yes, as you say and obviously know, the anxiety and OCB can be linked. I hope things improve for you because you’re really rather awesome.

  7. It used to take me half an hour or more to leave the house as I had to check every plug, switch, window, door etc. I’m much better now but still get the odd moment. Nice to know I’m not the only one!

  8. Fab post as always! My friend suffers from OCD pretty badly. We used to joke about it as young adults as it took her ages to get ready to go out. She couldn’t leave plug-in airfreshners in, she’d check all plugs were off, oven knobs had to be checked more than once. At bad times she’d check the front door handle 9 TIMES! She still has it now to the point where she takes her hair straighteners in her handbag cos she thinks if she leaves them at home they’ll somehow plug themselves in and burn her house down. She’s never sought help for it and no pressure from us will help. Guess she’s got to do it herself.

    • Thanks. I’m sorry your friend has something like this as that can be tough on her and others around her. I hope she can seek some help, assistance and support. And maybe you can laugh about it again sometime. πŸ™‚

  9. I regularly have to go back to the front door after I’ve left the house to check I’ve locked it. Usually when I’m halfway off the drive or down the street.
    And I generally press the lock button on the car keys at least 4 times to be sure.
    I find it’s just cos it’s such a normal subconscious thing to do, I can never remember having done it!

  10. That bit. The bit where she hugs you like she never wants to let go is the most lovely and important bit. Made me all teary. Great post.

  11. Great post and thank you for being so open and honest. I’ve had depression and anxiety in the past and my hubby has OCD tendancies. I often have the worry that I’ve not locked the front door or left my straighteners on. Only once for each has that been an accurate anxiety. I think anxiety is a very under recognised condition and very symptomatic of our stressful lives with so much to remember.

  12. At the risk of scaring everyone, my husband and I once drove to a country pub a good half an hour away. We settled in with our drinks And half an hour later his eyes fell out of his head as it dawned on him that he’d left eggs boiling in a pan on the hob. Fuckety fuck. You have no idea how hysterical that drive was and how relieved we were when we saw the house where we’d left it. And yeah, the eggs were fucked.

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