My mother was and is an amazing role model. She left school at 16 and went to nursing college. After graduating she worked in hospitals with increasing responsibility and I am so proud that she was a midwife and matron. From hospitals she went to work in a private care home and ended up being the manager. After meeting my father, they combined their ambitions and opened one care home for the elderly, then another for people with dementia.
During this time, my mother was also heavily involved in local politics and we were so lucky to live in Margaret Thatcher’s constituency and although we didn’t know her well she was a present and inspiring influence in our lives. She was the guest at the opening of my parents’ first care home, for example.
It was surely Margaret Thatcher that inspired mum to run to be a member of parliament. Unfortunately for mum, she just missed the positive discrimination time of national party politics and her one real chance came when Labor took the country back from the Conservatives long stint, so fortunes dictated that it wasn’t to be. However, I was always so amazed by her drive and persistence, and the amount of work she put in to try to serve our country in the best way she knew.
When my parents sold the care homes (I think they did it for us, we complained bitterly that they were never around) my mother was already a member of the local association for care home owners and they asked her to work in the national association, with a head office in Bloomsbury Square, London. My mother has been Chief Executive of it for most of her time there and has worked there for about 25 years.
Part of her responsibility in that job was speaking out about the issues faced by care home owners and standing up for their rights, on news programmes or in the newspapers. In Britain, if your name is mentioned enough in the press, you are initiated into Who’s Who, which is a list of influential people in Britain. My mother is on that list. And the year that mum got nominated for and awarded the OBE is one of the proudest of my life. My brother flew back from Australia for the ceremony at Buckingham Palace and the photo of Mum with her OBE medal is below.
As you can see, she is a lot to live up to, but then so was her mother.
My Grandmother was an excellent cook. As the matriarch on a farm with a working husband, son and two daughters, she kept everyone fed and shipshape and I vividly remember her making cakes, her pantry (which had Grandad’s safe in it!) and the wonderful smells that came out of that kitchen. It was Grandma that threatened to wash my mouth out with soap and water when I said “yuck” about a cake she was baking (I’m pretty sure it was carrot cake, which I still can’t stand) and it was Grandma’s desserts that stick in my mind. And the Christmas dinners that we had at Grandma’s house stay with me to this day and I try to recreate the huge smorgasbord of food and the same atmosphere every time I get to host Christmas dinner.
My Grandmother died far too soon, leaving my wonderful Grandfather bereft, but the things I remember about her are amazing and I love to think about her kitchen and the amount of time she spent in it.
My mother adored my Grandmother and her passing was such a blow to her, but their lives could not have been more different. Imagine growing up on a farm in a small country village. Imagine having the courage to move away at 16 to a city, then the capital city, following your dream of a different life.
My mother never had the time to cook much. And I always felt that she didn’t love it. What woman escapes farm and rural life to the big city, then gets married and goes back to being chained to the kitchen, just in a different place? That wasn’t the life she wanted. She wanted adventure. She had ambition.
Now you may think from this tale that my mother never cooked. Not true! My mother was smart enough to go shopping on a Saturday morning (we would always tag along) and buy the food for the week. She would then cook it on the Saturday and Sunday in huge portions that could be reheated easily in the week, so that she would have the time on workdays to do what she needed to do. Smart woman!
We always had a Sunday roast, which was excellent. And the weekday dinners we had were shepherds pie, stews, bolognaise. All those great items that freeze well and taste great reheated. They also allowed for cheap ingredients, because as a young family, we were on the up, but we weren’t there yet!
The other gift my mother and father gave me was an adventurous spirit and interest in food. In summer holidays, we would get in the camper van and drive through Europe, we saw Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Italy. It was incredible. In all those places, we would eat dinners cooked by mum in the camper van, but they would also take us out and we would sample local cuisines. My brother loves shellfish because of this. I love Italian food because of this. We love to try new things and we want to have new food experiences. So much to thank our parents for.
So Mum cooked for us a lot, but I have always felt her heart wasn’t in it. I have just had a random thought that reminds me how wrong I am. My mother was the ultimate dinner party host. Through politics they had many local friends, all middle class, all up and coming all slightly show offy (it was the eighties after all!).
We would have parties all the time, we would have friends for dinner. And at these parties, mum would cook the fashionable food of the time. I remember making vol au vent after vol au vent! I remember poaching the whole salmon, peeling off the skin, then covering it with cucumber slices so they resembled scales. I remember the chocolate box we made for Maggie Thatcher’s visit. My mother could cook and she was proud of it. I love that about her.
She doesn’t cook now. She can’t be bothered. There’s only her to cook for and she doesn’t fancy cleaning up the mess. But I still make shepherds pie and bolognaise the way she did. Whether or not she meant to, she and my Grandmother inspired my interest in food. Our international travel on school holidays has led to both my brother and I being international jetsetters. He has emigrated and resettled in Australia, I am yet to properly put down roots.
And as a woman, how could I not be amazed and inspired by my mother’s prowess, leadership, emergence from an unlikely beginning to the pages of Who’s Who? She is beautiful, funny, intelligent, smart too, she is fashionable and whatever she attempts, she excels at. If I can be half the woman she has been, and if I can improve myself half as much as she has, then I will be happy and content to have lived a life as great as my mother’s.
I love you mum.