My mother has just turned ninety years old. She lives alone in her house on the boundary of south Manchester and Cheshire, close to the now sprawling Manchester Airport. She and my father moved there in 1961 when Manchester was beginning a massive programme of “slum clearance”, demolishing thousands of Industrial Revolution era dwellings. Street after street of “two-up – two-down” or even smaller houses had provided homes for factory and millworkers and their families since the 19th century. They were tight-knit neighbourhoods and, in some ways, for demolition crews to suddenly move in with the bulldozers, distributing families far away to new Council estates in what was then Cheshire seems heartless. Neighbours who had shared their lives, ups and downs for long years, generations of families growing up on the same streets were suddenly parted, miles away. Very few working class people owned cars then so they might never see some of their old friends again. Bus rides possible but the fares difficult to afford. As for the houses, they were cramped, damp and insect infested with only one cold tap for inside plumbing (toilet in the back yard), clearly sub-standard by 21st century standards. Yet my memories of living there are all happy ones. One of my fondest is of bath night on Saturdays when Dad would carry the tin bath in on his back from the yard and Mum would boil water in the “copper” for our once a week family ablutions in front of the fire. Youngest, I was always first followed by my brother and Mum and Dad got their turns after we were in bed.
Mum has told me she and Dad thought they had been sent to Paradise when they first occupied the three-bed semi she still lives in. Situated next to a farm, a field of cabbage or potatoes right next door and the farmhouse and out-buildings a short walk away, the new house offered many rural delights. We spent many hours walking the nearby lanes, watching out for wildlife and the seasons’ changes in hedgerows and trees. That our house was part of what was then the largest Council estate in Europe seemed of no matter at all. We looked one way onto thousands of similarly built brick homes and the other onto fields, brooks, oak and ash trees, glowing sunsets. As Manchester, along with many cities in the UK, began to ban coal burning and cleaned up its blackened buildings, we truly breathed fresh air.
Mum’s memories of this time and times before from her childhood, growing up and into her married life are often at the heart of our conversations these days. At ninety, Mum’s recollection of short term events becomes difficult but she easily re-enters the scenes and events from past times. Mum has written about some of these times in her poetry. Her fiction draws on her life experience but is, for the most part not autobiographical. Poetry and art and music have been Mum’s lifelong interests. I’m currently assisting her to put together a collection of her writing, poems and short stories, planning to publish them this summer. You can read some of Mum’s poems on her webpage at email@example.com You will also find some of her paintings there.
Spending more (and much closer) time with Mum this past year has inevitably led me to write poems for her.
( for Mum )
Your small hands
porcelain pale, threaded with indigo veins,
like gossamer and glass-winged butterflies,
your delicate skin slides
under my fingers, I massage, stroke
every arthritic bump and curve.
One hand lifts, then the other,
like winged creatures
through music-filled air, piano, violin,
percussion; you shift sound.
You fold your hands in your lap
still and silent as nightfall.
For Lilian on her 90th Birthday
May 24th 2020
1930 was quite the year!
Mickey Mouse entered history
And way up in the atmosphere
Pluto was first seen, distantly.
Closer, across the clear blue sky
An airship floated off to Canada
And Amy Johnson waved goodbye,
Flew her plane, alone, to Australia.
Back down on Earth
A Gorton family awaited
A very special birth
And, a remarkable life was fated.
Lilian Morris, born in Manchester
A tiny babe, wrapped in oil and cotton wool.
From that Saturday on, all who met her
Would witness a life, brimful.
A sickly childhood, a school far away,
She formed a strong and determined will.
Inside her grew a love for art and poetry.
It blossoms in her still.
Music, too, has always filled her life.
Her sweet soprano in a workers’ canteen
Struck Gordon’s ear, he knew he’d met his wife.
68 years together, nothing could come between.
Now here we stand in 2020.
We raise a glass to this singular woman!
May your days unfold contentedly
MANY HAPPY RETURNS, LILIAN!