Thursday, 14 November 2013

Here lies Eliza Gray

Today's work displacement activity is an unexpected telephone conversation with an old friend of my mother's who turns 80 next year. We are swept back in time, reminiscing about my childhood and my dear departed mama.

'How did you put it in your eulogy?' muses Aggie. 'She was a rock for us all...'

'She was, wasn't, she?' I say. 'She was always doing things for other people. She was the centre of operations for the whole family.' 

'I think she was one of those people who's born, not made,' says Aggie. 'She was an exceptional woman.'

'I cannot believe I'm my mother's daughter,' I say ruefully, looking around the room at the untended paperwork, the stack of baking pans that I can't quite get round to washing up. 'She'd have been preparing for Christmas by now. She'd have been making coconut ice and peppermint creams for the Christmas sale and we'd have been stirring the Christmas pudding in that huge pot and making a wish...'

'Oh yes,' says Aggie, 'she made Christmas puddings for all the family, didn't she?'

'Yes, and she'd make food parcels for all sorts of old people and we'd go round delivering them. Like Miss Mitty who lived up that steep hill in an old railway carriage... I was scared of her.'

'Oh yes, well she did look like an old witch,' agrees Aggie. 

I find myself recalling various episodes and vivid little vignettes that had until now been lost in the mists of time. When I put the phone down after an hour and ten minutes, I feel transported, buoyed. 

Dolly suddenly leaps to her feet and patters to the door, where she stands quivering in anticipation, tail wagging. Seconds later, Lily's key turns in the door. 'Hi Mum! What did you get up to today?' 

I tell her about Aggie and our reminiscences about my mother. 'I wonder what you'll remember about me when I'm dead and gone,' I add.

'Probably most likely the spaghetti.'


'When you used to open both ends of the packet by accident and the spaghetti fell out all over the floor. It was hilarious.'

Well there we are. My mother's epitaph:

Ann Gray: a rock for all, an exceptional woman

And her daughter?

Eliza Gray: opened both ends of the spaghetti packet

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Modern family

Lily and I continue to lead separate lives. On school days, she sets her alarm for 6.30am, way before my getting-up time, puts on her eyeliner, picks at a bowl of neat Special K Red Berries and heads out into the rain, defiantly anorakless, while I am still stumbling around in my dressing gown.

On Saturday, while I go to an event in Bloomsbury, she elects to get up leisurely, walk the dog and then catch the bus to Brixton to see Gravity with a friend. I am nervous about letting her loose, but apparently it's normal for 13-year-olds to be negotiating London transport alone.

At 4.30pm I am relieved to get a text. 'Back'

I call her. 'Everything all right, darling?'

‘Oh my God, Gravity was epic! But it’s totally put me off being an astronaut.'

I burst out laughing. ‘You’ve never wanted to be an astronaut! An astronomer…’

I return to my event, where I was chatting to an old acquaintance. ‘Love the wellies-with-little-frock look!’ I confide jovially, nodding towards her friend who has gone to get more wine, wearing a clingy green dress and blue sailing wellies. My comrade looks at me blankly.

‘Oh.’ I strain my eyes to study the diminishing figure. ‘They’re not wellies, are they?’ No, they are flat suede boots with crepe soles. ‘I thought they were those navy sailing wellies with white soles,’ I explain. ‘It’s because I haven’t got my sunglasses on.’

Oh God. What is wrong with me?

I get home - it's a miracle I can remember where I live - to find Lily glued to my laptop. 'So,' I sit down and take off my shoes, 'tell me about the film.' 

‘It's about this female astronaut doctor person,' she says, her face glowing a ghostly blue, 'who went up to space to fix The Arm and she was stuck on it and it got hit by an asteroid and this meteor shower thing... I don't think they actually filmed it in space - that would have been too dangerous.’

I stifle a snigger.

'Aaah, and it was so scary. George Clooney, I forget who his actor was...'

'George Clooney is the actor...'

'I mean his character. Basically, when the whole thing got blasted by all the meteors and things, George Clooney and the female astronaut person Ryan got split, and you know how like space is so big, and you cannot find each other in the dark, well they did, which is really stupid because it's basically impossible. But this is the really really really scary part, well it wasn't scary but it was really creepy, they got back to the debris of the station and they see all these things floating round, and this astronaut guy knocks into her helmet and he has this hole in his head that has been blasted right through and the shot lasts on that for like 10 seconds and I'm like can you please get away from that already?'

'Gosh.' I get up to put the kettle on. 'So, what are you watching now?'  

She grins. 'People post like these coming out videos on YouTube and I clicked on one and thought it was going to be just like this dude coming out of the house...'

We both laugh. I look over her shoulder. A boy with a gelled quiff is looking back at us. 'I'm finally ready to share with you guys, because YouTube and Tumblr and the internet are such a big part of my life and I just feel like I can't keep something that's such a big part of me from you guys...' 

'Seriously?' Lily pauses the video. 'That is quite gay. Not as in gay gay. Cos at school we use gay to mean stupid.' She taps 'chilli challenge' into the search box. 'Oh it was so funny at school yesterday, about five people had to go out of class because they did the Chilli Challenge at lunch. First of all Mrs Lott is like, I have no sympathy for you, but then she made them go and wash their hands. You have to eat as much raw powder as you can. We also have the Coffee Challenge and the Cinnamon Challenge.'

'What do they get for it?'

'Nothing - it's just a really retarded challenge.'

It really is a brave new world out there.