Hanna is based upon my own wonderful mum who has sadly departed this life. So this is my tribute to a very special woman and a little touch of magic I will always harbour in my soul. Without wanting to sound hackneyed, it was a privilege and delight to have known her, albeit for too shorter time, a sweet memory I caress daily.
My mother was a curious woman and I never really understood her. She could be quite chaotic yet so very organised, so very funny yet often so secretly sad. She watched ‘Songs of Praise’ yet laughed madly at ‘Steptoe and Son’ and she cheated at cards. She loved to feed people, would migrate from the house to the shops like a bird with nestlings then return with bulging bags she could barely carry. Then she’d turn her kitchen into a whirling, buzzing chaos like a mad scientist’s lab, creating pies and cakes, tarts and buns, loafs and rolls, enough to feed a small town. Most of it ended up being fed to the birds and to this day fledglings hatch in a sleepy part of Essex with bent beaks evolved in consequence to her rock cakes! People loved my mum, those who knew her still do. Her life was her children and her grandchildren and her accepting disapproval of our antics.
I came to know more of my mother in the last year of her life than in the 50 or so that preceded it. By then she was a wrinkled old woman confined to her chair and not her flighty jaunts. She read ‘The Bible’ from cover to cover then over again as if she wanted to memorise it. It’s only after her death that I begin to understand her and that secret part of her she was determined to protect me from. I now know that, as a wartime nurse, she witnessed the consequences of unimaginable cruelty, of poor men and women who simply couldn’t survive because their spirits were broken, hence her sullen moods, her love for everyone except the Japanese and her need to feed anyone who came through the door as she saw them as some walking skeleton from a prison camp.
I could write another book about my mother, on how she was a secret snob, the plum in her mouth when she answered the telephone and how she sewed ‘Harrods’ tags into coats she’d got from a charity shop; the punkish tints to her hair; her fixation with and gross exaggeration of numbers; her hatred of violence but love of heavyweight boxing; her fast driving and the thrill she derived from it and, regrettably, of how I tried her to the very end of her bent. She was the only woman I’ve been almost true to and couldn’t escape from and who somehow tolerated me back.