I am hoping now I will never be standing here again, with it being only four months since I stood and told you about Dad. To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. I am sure most people would not quote Oscar Wilde at this moment, but what you need to understand is that my Mum would expect me to quote literature here, and then she would have checked the speech for spelling mistakes.
When I stood here in April and spoke about my Dad, I talked about all the people he knew and liked and chatted to. My Mum was not like that, and perhaps that is why they were a good match. He did all the chatting, and she made sure the bills were paid and the homework was done.
My Mum was born in St Neots in Cambridgeshire as a war baby in 1942. The best thing that ever happened to her was on her second birthday her own sister, Teena, was born. They were a childhood double act making up songs, wearing clothes their American cousins had sent or their father had made, and enjoying their mother’s wonderful cooking. She adored Teena and her mum so much and I think we now realise she never got over her mum’s death or the hard life they had with many unspoken traumas. In the end, I think these are the things she grappled with her whole life.
Education was her passion
In the East End of London where she grew up, she loved school, first at Stepney Jewish Primary School and then going to grammar school to the Central Foundation School where she eventually became head girl. She was incredibly clever and I know that because she told us that often, but I think she felt education, and her brain, was the making of her and it was, allowing her to become a professional, and move away from humble beginnings which was so important to her. But she never forgot where she came from and was incredibly proud of her family and being from the East End. (Read reference from old school).
After school she went to university in London and qualified as a teacher working at City of London, Haberdashers and eventually when we were in Newcastle, the Royal Grammar School, a boys’ school where she thrived as the GCSE French teacher (or Latin if they needed it). She always preferred being with boys and she said teaching them was uncomplicated, so I can only imagine what she made of having two complicated daughters. And then she had two granddaughters, who admittedly she cherished, but finally she had a boy to beam at when Jude came along.
Education was her passion; whether her students’, her own or her daughters’. Once she knew I wanted to do medicine, it was she who pushed and coached me, not as people assumed my doctor Dad. The summer after I did my GCSEs she made me write individually to every Cambridge college to make a connection, and then we chose together where I would apply on the basis of who had sent the nicest message.
there was a lot of fun
She was a natural linguist, and although French was her passion, she could easily converse in European languages and went off to learn Russian when we were kids. She loved the theatre and every year took us to see the entire season of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, including Henry IV Part 1 and 2 which is not a fun outing for kids. Adam thinks I know Shakespeare because I went to a private school, but it’s because of my Mum. But there was a lot of fun. She arranged holidays to France, Cornwall, Scotland, theatre trips in London, picnics all over the place, Chinese meals for birthdays and trips to the Edinburgh Festival. No occasion went unmarked with a card, good luck present or celebratory meal. By the time I was an adult I had seen so many West End plays, ballet, opera and even up-and-coming comedians like Victoria Wood. She always wished my Dad would arrange something, but we all know if he had it would not have been as well as if she had organised it. She never lost her cultural clout recognising in 2020 that I had designed Jude’s barmitzvah invitation based on a Banksy, something no one else commented on.
My mum taught me a lot. She made sure I could cycle, swim, roller skate, play the piano and speak languages. She wanted to give us amazing opportunities which I think she felt she had to give herself and she did. She taught me not to forget birthdays, how to save money, how to buy jewellery, everyone looks better with a tan and how to make a good spag bol and her famous tuna latkes.
She taught me that when you cannot be bothered to cook dinner, you should just concentrate on peeling the first onion, because it’s a smaller easier step to start with. When she felt able to, she was an amazing cook with the whole repertoire she had learned from her mum and old Elizabeth David books of Pesach cooking, cakes, French patisserie, her own chopped liver, cholent and so much more. She famously made a cholent every Christmas Day. It was her way of always putting a Jewish mark on even the most non-Jewish occasion.
a stylish intellectual
She was incredibly stylish and perceptive, and chose beautiful clothes and hairstyles, never seen without her red lipstick, beautiful nails or a giant handbag. With her jet black straight hair, she must have found it weird having two frizzy haired daughters thanks to her frizzy haired husband, and would brush my hair into terrible straight styles while she could. As a young woman she took herself to the West End to have her hair done, spent her spare money wisely on a few stylish clothes from Biba and before she met my Dad spent her summer holidays with Teena or her friends travelling to France, Yugoslavia, America, Italy and Spain. None of these opportunities were handed to her on a plate; she was self driven and self made and very motivated to be more than she needed to be.
Her childhood best friend messaged me this morning: ‘Thinking of you, and remembering your mum in the good days when we were young. I can picture the photo of the two of us in bikinis on the beach in Italy, your mum looking so happy and glamorous. Memories too of another holiday together, this time with Teena. Please give her my love.Thinking also of your Dad and how he and your Mum looked after each other.’
I have tried to think what my Dad would want you to know about my Mum. He was in awe of her intellect and ability to speak French, her cooking, her style and her organisation. She was a stylish intellectual and he was the joker, who hoovered up all the food she prepared. They were a very tight team with a whole host of in-jokes between them that even we did not understand. Half of them were in Yiddish, except if he said it, she would correct his Yiddish before they both guffawed with laughter. Their newly married photo albums are full of fun photos and puns they had written together. She was certainly very proud to be married to a doctor and left London for him and travelled with him setting up home in hospital flats in Carlisle and around the North East eventually settling in Gosforth.
Being Jewish was very important to my Mum. She wasn’t remotely religious but incredibly traditional, constantly using Yiddish expressions and harking back to the Jewish East End, but sadly I think emotionally marked by the trauma the holocaust had had on her family in France. She loved Israel and we heard all the time about when she went on Israel Tour as a student in the 1960s. She took my Dad for the first time forty or so years later and I think it was one of their favourite holidays.
many unspoken traumas
In the last few years my Mum did not live the life she deserved. A darling friend told me yesterday that we cannot expect our loved ones to live the lives we want them to live, and I wish she had given herself the chance to enjoy so much more, like that young woman on the beach in Italy. She had a lot of love, conversation and fun to share but she didn’t seem to be able to and her life became very quiet with my Dad in their house in London. In the end, my parents could not live without each other and I am sorry to say something funny, but they would both be tickled and delighted that this has turned into a buy one get one free situation.
They will be looking down now, enjoying how tall and clever their three beautiful grandchildren are, joyous that both their granddaughters are starting university next month, and Jude’s results, and I really hope proud of everything they did and built for themselves and us.