I have lost 5lb but not through exercise, through stress. And my good intention of not drinking through January is out of the window. For one reason. My mother.
For those of you who get on with their mother, please look away now. To those women who are close and cosy to their mums, who turn to them when the going gets tough, or even the slightest bit bumpy. I apologise to you all.
When I had my son, she came to visit when he was six weeks old.
Mum told me I looked like a cow in the field when I was breastfeeding. She ordered me to put him into his pram and roll it down to the bottom of the garden in between feeds so his cries could not be heard, to feed him solids at six weeks like he was a puppy and to smack him at night when he woke. By the time she left, three days later, on a diet of alcohol and sleeping tablets, I was having panic attacks. They lasted four months until some kind and much older new mother took me under her gentle wing and tenderly led me into being a parent. So very different from the approach of my own mother.
And then of course I met Meg, who was like the naughty sister I always longed for.
Over the years my relationship with my Ma has not got any better. But here I am, the reluctant dutiful daughter, visiting her mother and hoping for the best.
It’s strange that as my own children venture out into the world, my mother impinges on mine. She was in hospital for the night after a fall.
She point-blank refuses to go into sheltered accommodation or God-forbid a nursing home where she couldn’t smoke her beloved Benson & Hedges or drink brandy. No, she insists on living in her gated flat by the river, just about agreeing to hired help in the morning.
I tried to organise a cleaner, only for the help to call me and say:
‘When I pressed the buzzer to get in your mum’s flat she told me that I couldn’t park there and that my semi wouldn’t even fit into her front room.’
I was beyond mortified. So I make the three-hour trip to see her, deliver food, clean up and pray to a million Gods that I don’t end up so isolated and disliked.
‘You’ve put on weight,’ were her first words, closely followed by. ‘And I bet you haven’t got a lover.’
I want to scream as I clean and tidy, vacuum and dust, give her lunch and email carers.
Once upon a time she was a beauty. As she often told me, because I was a pale and insipid child with dark rings and glasses. Now, I think it must be terrible to be old and after you’ve been a beauty it’s doubly brutal.
Mum watches TV like it is her very best friend, talks to the characters, decides on who should win X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing. It is her very best friend because it doesn’t answer back. I think it’s such a lonely existence and I make a pact with myself never to become the same.
I wait for the supermarket delivery van to arrive and supervise putting it all away in newly-washed cupboards. Mum’s diet of ready-meals and tins makes my heart sink. She won’t come to live near me because she says she can’t stand ‘those accents’. Or if she’s honest, me.
I feel smaller and smaller and exhausted. Like I am an imprisoned child again. I wish Meg was with me. She would charm mum and soothe me by making me laugh and pulling faces. I ease Mum into the bath. It is a strange feeling seeing your mother naked. Even as she is stroppily telling me that my nails need doing and eyebrows plucking.
It is a wrench to leave her, although she asks me to go. It feels harrowing but even as I step outside the door and breathe in the salty, fresh river air I realise I smell of her cigarettes. I walk briskly to the car, eager to get in and listen to my favourite soul music. Eager to get rid of the lingering tobacco aroma.
As the miles go by the guilt builds up but I have to remind myself that not once, in all my son and daughter’s lives did she lift a finger. There was never a holiday with Nanna, never a walk in the park and when I got divorced she simply said I was a fool, and like her, should have taken a lover, or two.
By the time I get home, I am exhausted and stop to buy a bottle of wine. As I strap myself back in the car I see Harry, walking his dog, with another woman, who at that precise moment stops and turning to him, puts her hand gently on his face. She is petite, dark and pretty. Then she leans up and kisses him on the cheek.
I put my head down on the steering wheel so I can’t be seen.