There’s a time-honoured tradition on my mother’s side of mother-daughter feuds.
Imagine, if you will, the post-war East End of London. There amongst the bomb sites, pea-soupers and bustling docks, somewhere in the shadow of the West Ham football grounds, my great Grandmother is letting herself in unannounced to my Grandmother’s house with a key that she has helped herself to. My Grandmother and Grandfather are in bed. It’s a good job that my Grandmother hates sex as much as she does- a fact that has rendered my mother an only child- otherwise an epic East End comedy of manners could have ensued. Instead, my great-grandmother just gets one of my Nanna’s legendary earfuls.
“Your mother,” says Great Nanna, addressing my own six year old mother later that afternoon, “is completely lacking the milk of human kindness”.
She may indeed have been lacking the milk of human kindness. She may also have never properly recovered from a full-scale nervous breakdown during the Blitz, a crisis for which she was permitted a mere two weeks off work with neither emotional nor medicinal remedy. But it was true; though to me, she was the most treasured and beloved rock on which I was repeatedly allowed to crash during my young life, she didn’t half hate a lot of other people. The following is a very small selection of the things that at some point were on the receiving end of her vitriol:
-All European nations excluding Holland and England
-Any nation outside of Europe
-All members of our family excluding her husband and her grandchildren
-The Welsh crooner (and apparent extrovert) Max Boyce
-Everyone who had ever lived above her, next to her or across the street from her, at any of the places of residence that she had ever lived in during the course of her life
-Women who enjoyed sex
-Everyone my mother had ever been romantically involved with
-Anyone who dared to criticize the Royal Family
-Anyone who laughed too loudly, sang in public or was given to a spontaneous outpouring of emotion in public.
Essentially, she had the same values as the Taliban, except that violence, in her case, was administered solely with a sharp tongue. You can see why my mother was so keen to get out of home faster than a premiership footballer fleeing a teenager's hotel room at the sight of a camera phone.
Sometimes I wonder if our mother's leaving us as toddlers wasn't just the inevitable climax of a story that was set in motion when Queen Victoria was still on the throne. I wonder if, when my mother learned the sex of her firstborn-me- she thought "Oh s**t. I think I know how this story will pan out. ABORT PARENTHOOD!" When I think about having children of my own, I often think it might just be easier to adopt to save them from what seem to be cursed genes.
But what is history there for, if not to learn lessons from? I try to channel my vitriol into shouting at inanimate objects, like hoover bags that burst open and grills that burn toast. I don't hate Max Boyce. I don't let myself into relatives houses unannounced. If that doesn't qualify me for mother of the year, I don't know what does.