Discerning readers may have noticed that I was little less active on this blog and social media for a few days recently. I took some time out from campaigning because of the death of my mother.
I want to say a big thank you to all those who sent me such kind words, many of them very moving. And so many! It was a great comfort to receive such sympathy, and to discover that social media sites like Facebook are not at all inappropriate for that. Although I have now returned full-time to the campaign trail, my thoughts are still with her.
Mum was born into a world the current generation can scarcely conceive of: just 3 years after the end of WW1, before the age of television, of commercial air travel, or of mass car or telephone ownership. Being born in 1921 meant that her teenage years were during the Great Depression. And when she had just turned 18, WW2 broke out.
Already, the earliest years of her life had been tough. Her father, James, was a migrant from western Ireland. Her mother, Adeline, had grown up in an orphanage. She was the last of 7 children born over a 21-year period between 1900 and 1921.
Her family never had two pennies to rub together, but they were closely knit and helped each other out. Above all, they valued education. School was central. Her sister even won a place at Oxford, but she couldn’t take it because, in those days before the Attlee government, working class families simply couldn’t afford it. My Mum too did well at school, later passing the civil service exam.
But most important of all was that she developed a love of reading, of literature, of history. Indeed, this was one of the great traits of my mother: right up until the last, she could quote reams of literature and poetry, often challenging us with a “who wrote that?”, leaving us all to make wild guesses that were usually wrong, with her tut-tutting about how poorly educated we all are! When it comes to literature and history, she was the most widely-read person I know, and not just English literature but French too, from the historical novels of Troyat to the poetry of FranÃ§ois Villon.
She continued to read right up until the end, but also began to write. She in particular tried her hand at haikus, inspired by Herman Van Rompuy, with whom she exchanged her works. (A haiku is a short poem form invented in Japan, consisting of 3 lines with, respectively, 5, 7 and 5 syllables.) So perhaps it is appropriate to end with two of her haikus.
The first one is her reflection looking back on her life:
My golden moments
Seem to be all in the past
Yet are with me still
The second looked forward, courageously, to the end:
Let me know, will you
When it’s time for me to go
I shall be ready