“How much?” Mum knew the tone of voice and the way I stretched Mum out to two syllables. It was my “can I borrow some money” tone. Sometimes, on dark moody afternoons when all is quiet and I’m sitting motionless in the strangled air, the voice will drift into my head. I will smile, grateful for the memory. I often dream of the old house in Wallasey. Mum and Dad are sitting on their chairs in the living room whilst I’m having some form of anxiety crisis around them. They never interfere. I wake up curious. Dreams are like that. But the vivid memory of Mum doing what she did best; not just lend me money, always gives me a smile. That’s her ghost.
I know it’s all in my own head but if someone has such a huge impact on your life, their spirit will linger on inside you.
On that beautiful bright warm October morning in 2005, I sat in the church stunned at what I was seeing. Inside that long slender, oh so familiar box was Mum. She was sleeping. Released from the indignity of dementia, she was to be celebrated and laid to rest. It was a powerful connection. I felt a deep sense of belonging. I couldn’t believe that the person who had brought me into the world, the person who had dedicated her life to me and my family had gone.
So when I think of my mum, it’s more than just a memory. For a very brief moment she is with me. Of course it was the same with my grand parents. Mum’s dad, Harold Hobson or Pop as we called him, had built a little world for himself in the back garden. It was his greenhouse. It smelled of tomatoes and paraffin. Above me hung two rows of vine. September was grape season. I couldn’t understand why people did not grow grapes. And not everyone had a greenhouse. Pop left us when I was ten years old.
Even when the greenhouse went four years later, I could still see him in there, singing his little nonsense songs: “Give me a nail and a nammer” “Our Stephen’s got a bunion and a face like a Spanish onion.” Sitting at the table in my nan’s house, I would catch a glimpse of his mischievous face. He loved playing little tricks on us. I can still see the toy garage he made for me out of orange boxes. It had such detail. I can more than see it; I can feel its smooth yellow paint and the feeling of my ear on the carpet as I looked through its doors into the dark interior.
I carried on going to visit my nan. I made an attempt to get the garden back to its former glory. My nan was a legend. I can’t say I had a special relationship with her because she had a special relationship with all her grandchildren.
In May 1980, she lost her fight for life. And despite all the setbacks of age she still loved life. Sometimes when I present myself with fried eggs, bacon and sausage, I see her at the famous table of 65 Harrismith. She’s talking about one of the neighbours. Then I see Uncle billy and his amusing little affectations. The last time I went to the house it had a huge extension. But I still saw Nan in the side garden. Both Mum and I were born in that house.
My dad’s mum, Nanny Mac lived with us for ever. Her last years were spent in the front room. She always had something to say. Some Sunday nights while she still slept upstairs, there would be a little gathering in her box room. My two brothers and I would find her on top form talking about the old days. She didn’t spare us. We had the truth. And the truth of her opinion.
The box room is now the shed. But when I look at its closed door, I can hear it all. “Do you want to come down now Nan?” I feel her delicate hand leaning on my right shoulder as we step carefully, one step at a time down the steep staircase; now too much of a mountain for me without the stair lift.
That’s the thing about the past. The older you get, the more you have and the more you can see how things change yet don’t change.
When I moved south, these memories intensified. Even though I’d started a new chapter, I was always reading the old book. Sometimes they merged. The north would come south. Mum and Dad visited many times. Some of my friends moved down as well. One of my firmest friendship was with the Shaw brothers. And there lies another ghost.
Kath Shaw or Auntie Kath was literally like another mum. The two never met but I often imagine them chatting for hours on end about their sons. We said goodbye to Auntie Kath in 2011. But I still hear her admonishing tones, exasperated at the indulgence of her sons and their friends. This mattered not a jot. We were all most welcome at the Shaw house. There was always tea, toast and Beryl’s chocolate crunch. And now when I pass by the side of Wallasey town hall, I can taste that chocolate crunch.
My last ghost is Bob. Albert Robert Wright, despite his many years down south he was a proud Yorkshireman. Between 1993 and 2003 Bob was my drinking pal. We would be seen in the bar of the Huntsman or the New Inn passing the time of day with earth changing issues and total nonsense. Bob had a full repertoire of one liners. And these are the things I still hear: Cash customer, room for a small one, Dick Turpin wore a mask, sack the juggler, a woman’s place is in the wrong…………. Underneath this brash machismo was a gentle generous man.
We had some times. Every Saturday and Sunday lunchtime we would be talking about the world and his brother with a pint before us. He was a brilliant brewer and once helped me make a barrel full of Young’s ordinary bitter. It was far from ordinary. My mum and dad came down the following week. After I’d dropped them off at Victoria Coach Station to go back home, I had a little notion of enjoying some when I arrived home. I pulled the tap and nothing came out. My dad had drunk it all.
Every Christmas I hear him:
“Condiments of the season.”
We miss him.
Thank-you for reading.