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.”
“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 calls 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? 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.