November 10, 2010

I’ve brought something special to show Mum, who I’m wheeling along to her room so that we can have some time to ourselves. When we get there, I gently place today’s exhibit onto her legs. “Oh my God!” she shouts, “take it off.”

I hold the special thing aloft. “Do you know what this is?”


“Yes you do. Read what it says on the side.”

“Charles…” says Mum, squinting.

I take a step back so that the autumn sunlight streaming in the window falls on the side of the object that Mum is considering. “Try again,” I urge.

“Charles & Diana... July wedding.”

Actually it says, ‘Charles & Diana’, on one line, and ‘29th July, 1981’, on the line below, but she’s got the gist of it. In fact, Mum’s one step ahead with the wedding identification. I ask: “Do you remember its arrival at our house? When you told me the story at the time, you made me laugh, so I want to remind you of it today.”

Mum looks at me, expectantly.

“The postman delivered it. According to you, he was in a bit of a sweat as he removed the parcel from his bag. Apparently, he said “I don’t know what this is but it weighs a ton and feels like a brick.” And you told him that he was spot-on, it was a brick.”

I’m laughing. As when Mum first told me the story of the first class delivery of the heavyweight Royal Wedding souvenir. And Mum’s laughing. How could she not be laughing when faced with her son’s obvious amusement?

Mabel requests a toilet break. By the end of it she is sitting in her comfy seat from where she spots the brick lying on the floor under the window. She comments: “We have a brick like that at the house.”

“This is that brick!” I say, glad that, at certain times, she can still differentiate between the care home and The Beeches.

“I wonder how much it cost.”

“I don’t know, Mum.”

“It would say in my diary.”

“Ah well, that’s where you’re wrong. I scoured your 1981 diary for any mention of either the brick’s purchase or its delivery, but drew a blank. However, of the big day itself you wrote boldly: ‘THE WEDDING’, which you double-underlined. You then added that the T.V. coverage of the event was superb and that you and Dad had a meal with champagne and steak.”

Leaving Mum to mull this over, I get up out of my seat and take a particular photo off the wall. It shows Mum and Dad on their wedding day in the winter of 1956. ‘THE DAY’, double-underlined, is how Mabel’s marriage is commemorated in her diary. The entry goes on to reveal that everything went to plan and that Mabel and Ian spent the night in a hotel in Stirling called The Golden Lion. The entry finishes by saying: ‘It was cold outside but a heatwave inside!!’

In the wedding photo, Mabel points out ‘my’ moustache and makes the usual comment about it - that it didn’t suit me. Then, still looking at the photo, she asks me where the brick is. I point out, as much to myself as to Mabel, that the photo preceded the brick by 25 years. That’s to say, Mum was 31 when she got married to Ian; whereas she was 56 when Charles & Diana bricks and ‘Don’t Do It, Di’ badges were in vogue.

I’ve put the brick on the end of Mum’s bed now. Sounding slightly worried, she says something about it being taken away. I tell her that the brick will be quite safe where it is for a few minutes. Then I realise she is making plans for it to be ‘returned’ to Fernbank, the house Mabel lived in until the day of her marriage. She tells me she doesn’t care if sister Edith notices the return of the brick, ‘because she’s got plenty of rubbish already’. However, she is concerned about what two of her other sisters will think. Mabel suggests I put the brick in a brown paper bag, so that Meg and May do not notice the souvenir’s return to the house. It is decades since our family had any claim on Fernbank, but I think it’s best if I simply agree to Mum’s plan. So that’s what I do.

At the end of my visit, I help Mum back into her wheelchair and push her back to the main lounge so she won’t be left on her own. As I’m about to kiss her goodbye, she asks me what is in the cotton bag that I’ve placed on the floor. There is only one answer to this: “The brick, Mum.”

Mabel turns away from me, and, making eye contact with her nearest neighbour, says: “He seems to think more of that brick that anything else.”

Her fellow resident nods vacantly and replies, “Yes, dear.” But Mabel’s remark was really meant for me, and her message gets through loud and clear. During today’s visit I’ve been more concerned about my own amusement than I have about providing company for Mum.

But surely such a verdict is a bit harsh. Hasn’t she had at least one good laugh and a free trip down memory lane – taking in her own wedding and ending up in the house she was raised in? I’m not suggesting I should arrange to have ‘Duncan & Mabel’ etched onto the blank face of the brick. I’m just saying that, in my opinion, today, the brick has been worth its weight in gold.

 - 202
THE DAY ........................THE WEDDING.........................THE WORKS