“I think I’ll go in to the park and frighten people,” my mother chuckled wickedly, then grasped her chest. “I look like an old hag!” She giggled but her body stopped her. These were her last words.
Imagine being on the edge of poverty in the African bush, suffering with a debilitating condition not yet treatable, with no support system financial or social, looking after your two uncontrollable ‘wild beasts of the bush’, as she called us. Ostracised by white society at whose pinnacle you had been simply because you divorced your violent, uncaring aristocratic husband. Unable to buy shoes or clothes for your children - what a contrast. You had been schooled at home by a governess, you went on to be Glasgow University’s Student Union first woman President, you controlled the top secret radar team which helped make the actual dawn and day of D-Day feasible. They called her the Duchess, our neighbours, our builders, our friends, for my mother had grace and depth.
“Beware!” she called as she stepped out of the taxi. Clutching bags of the first new clothes she had bought in a decade, my mother laughed, “the rich bitch has arrived!”
Wearing clean but threadbare clothes this woman with poise and presence had, a week previously, moved in to our home we divided to give each of us privacy. Until then she had no money to buy anything at all, but, after years of inviting her to live with us, she had just sold the house I had renovated from a wreck to give her a comfortable retirement.
Tooting old organ pipes, playing frying pans, Mum danced around the block each year as we marked New Year singing ‘Auld lang syne’. She partied at all our parties, she joined our dinner parties, at her funeral the chapel was filled with our young friends who loved her. Friends who would drop in for breakfast, for tea, young people who would freely to chat to this woman who had transliterated Shakespeare for the African bush (Wangai being Lady Macbeth and Hamlet being Kipkili). This wonderful woman who I think about today, was one of a kind, feisty, yet wise, calm yet always teasing and she never complained, despite having had a really tough life.
How frail our lives. A powerful, yet humble, quiet woman such as her gone in a second. Twenty eight years ago this hour, this day. All that life, that vital history and extraordinary character, gone. Never to be any more. This is our fate yet we live as if we have eternity on our side, eternity chewing worms, more like. This moment is precious and what a morning with the frost being melted off the terrace upon which I did Qui Gong this morning in a rare moment of sunshine.
Time flies, one minute you are a bouncy thirty year old, then suddenly you are old. How did this happen? Next year I will be the age my delightful mother reached, which at the time seemed such a distant and ancient spot to inhabit. Yet here I am, having flown through the years, having loved five women who broke my heart before I met the intelligent, loving and exceptional woman who has enriched these past thirty four years almost to the month. My friends, outstanding characters, all tell me how fortunate I am to have Camilla.
My life has been graced by the intimate company of two wonderful women who have held their own amongst the greatest, yet are incredibly humble, witty, enlivening. Quelle richesse.