Happy Christmas to Everyone! This Blog is a homage to my mother; my mother who died 26 years ago; my mother who truly loved Christmas. She wasn’t so much interested in receiving presents and the commercialisation of Christmas. She loved the build-up to Christmas: the decorations and decorating the house, buying a real Christmas tree, buying and wrapping presents for other people, writing cards, going up to London to see the lights in Oxford Street and driving to see the lights outside the Hoover factory in Perivale.
When I was young, we always spent Christmas Day at the houses of other relatives – grandparents, aunts and uncles. When I was older (and my parents fell out with all their relatives), we always spent Christmas Day at home, sometimes with Chris but usually just ourselves. Mum and Dad loved spending the day at home. She started planning Christmas dinner at the end of November, thinking up something different; she never wanted to have turkey. My favourite Christmas dinner was definitely the lobster; I can remember the beautiful lobster flesh in the shell, surrounded by salad and chips. I would have chips on everything. Not having turkey on Christmas Day is something I definitely inherited from my parents. I love to try something a bit different: pheasant, grouse, pigeon, guinea fowl, ostrich, buffalo… 2014 was a great Christmas Day – kangaroo burgers on a BBQ in Beacon Hill Park, with a cup of tea made on a camping stove, with mince pies and Christmas crackers.
After 26 years, I have adjusted to Christmas without my mum; I don’t feel it is a sad occasion but there is always a sense of something missing. In the spirit of Tea Towel Blogging, I decided to write about the tea towel I bought at Buckingham Palace in May 2016; this was the day I had Afternoon Tea at the Ritz, the day after Leicester City won the Premier League Championship (at 5000-1 odds) and Mark Selby won the Snooker Championship. I bought the tea towel after walking through Green Park, visiting the Royal Mews and circling Buckingham Palace, remembering October 1979 when I went to Buckingham Palace with my parents in order that my mum could be presented with the Order of the Britsh Empire (OBE) by the Queen. As the huge certificate says, which is framed and hanging in my spare room, in the twenty-eighth year of the reign of Elizabeth II.
So many memories! (A) I remember my Mum getting a letter on 16 June 1979, confirming that she had been awarded the OBE. I don’t remember the letter in May asking if she would accept the OBE, if she was granted one, because she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about that letter. (B) We travelled to Buckingham Palace in the mayoral car of the London Borough of Ealing. I remember driving through the wrought iron gates of Buckingham Palace, feeling very grand, and special. It certainly saved travelling by Tube and walking a long distance. (C) my mother received her OBE at the same ceremony as Cleo Laine. I remember mum telling me how they were instructed how to curtesy, and walk backwards, by the attendants. After that, my mother and Cleo Laine practised curtseying to each other. Both were precariously balanced on heels that were too high for curtseying which made it a dangerous activity. It added to my mother’s day, having those memories of practising curtseying with Cleo Laine. (D) recipients were taken to a back room to wait to be called to be presented to the Queen; my dad and I sat on tiered seating in what must have been the yellowist room in the world – yellow carpet, yellow seating, yellow wallpaper, amongst all the other proud relatives. (E) I remember that sense of anticipation, waiting for my mum’s name to be called, holding my breath in case she tripped, and that sense of pride that her work in the public sector had been recognised. (F) I remember telling people about that day, showing them the photos yet being slightly reluctant to talk about how she got her OBE. She was awarded the OBE, by Margaret Thatcher, in her first Honour’s List after winning the General Election in May 1979, for services to politics (or rather being the first woman leader of a council in England and Wales). My politics did not always coincide with my mother’s, hence the slight embarrassment . (G) the big lesson I learnt was when my mother died; people wrote to me about how she had helped them, how she treated people, how she supported her constituents, how apolitical she was for a leader of a political party. This is a side of my mother that I never knew at that time. I felt ashamed that I was embarrassed about Margaret Thatcher nominating her for an OBE; it was how she treated her constituents that mattered and, in reality, she didn’t even like Margaret Thatcher. (H) I remember that her award made the headlines of the Middlesex Gazette; I remember all the letters of congratulations that she received, which I still have. (I) because she was limited as to who she could take as guests to Buckingham Palace, we planned for a few people to celebrate back at home – Chris and Pam, Dave. It was nice to share this occasion with close family.
Every time I see Buckingham Palace I remember that day, that glorious day when she was so full of pride, as were the rest of the family. I still have her medal, and the miniature version she could wear on her lapel, on special occasions. I often wonder what will happen to it when I am no longer around but actually, maybe it’s like my tea towel collection, something for me not to worry about.
Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum