My mum is 94 today. As I’ve said before, she still lives on her own, and does her own cooking and shopping. I’ve written elsewhere about her spirit and coolness in the face of danger. And her handiness on a Scrabble board. I just want to say what happened after I visited her this week.
When she came out of her flat to wave me off, I got cross because she didn’t want to use her walking stick. ‘Ach,’ she said, picking it up in disgust. ‘You’re making me old.’
Happy birthday, mum.
Edie liked to play Scrabble with her friend Bunny. Edie was 93 and Bunny was 97. Every Tuesday they got together, drank tea, ate cake, gossiped and played Scrabble. Bunny always won. She knew all the two-letter words off by heart; words such as jo and xu and za. Edie would have liked to have won, just once. But she knew that was never going to happen. Then Bunny died, quite suddenly, in the early hours of a Monday morning. Bunny’s daughter Fran came to break the news.
‘Shall we play Scrabble?’ said Edie. She didn’t know what else to do. She got out the cake she had made for Bunny, and poured the tea. They sat down and Edie began to win. She put a seven-letter word down. She scored 108 with a crafty placement of a j and a z on a triple word score. She thought of how Bunny would react at the news. Then she put her rack of letters on the table. ‘I’m fed up with this,’ she said.
Remember my mother? (94, excellent mechanic, plays Scrabble, makes pie). She bought an iPad shortly after Christmas. Not because she’s into tekkie stuff, but because Auntie Barbara has one. Auntie Barbara (who makes the best mince and tatties ever) is a mere a child of 84 and is constantly using her tablet to converse with her daughter-in-law in Inverness, and challenging all comers to Word On, which I suppose is a bitly version of Scrabble.
However, both she and my mother are now addicted to Candy Crush, and their weekly Saturday catch-ups, instead of being devoted to the latest Magiwool knitting patterns for evening wear, are now delicate fencing matches of who is on what level. And how long it took them to get there.
On Sunday mum came to lunch. She came in, gave me the pudding she’d made (delicious, natch) engaged her grandson in some query about missing jpegs, and then sat down and played Candy Crush constantly until dinner was ready. Her grandchildren were equally absorbed in their phones. It was eerily quiet. No conversation about how tidy their bedrooms were; nothing.
It was not until Tuesday that I realised what was going on. Tuesdays, you see, are when I go round and play Scrabble with her. This Tuesday, I played Scrabble, she played Candy Crush (and Scrabble). It was like being with a self-absorbed teenager. Somewhat exasperated, I at last said to her, ‘So what level are you on?’
‘20,’ she replied.
‘And what level is Auntie Barbara on?’ I asked.
‘27,’ she said (rather muffled, as she was concentrating on her moves) ‘But she can’t get off it. She’s having a bit of difficulty.’
She looked up and I could see the gleam in her eye. It was obvious what she was thinking: Within a week, I’ll be ahead of Barbara, and where will her mince and tatties get her then?
So there you have it. When you get to 94, there is still good food, new stuff to learn, and, oh yes, obsessive family rivalry.
Must stop, have got to smash my jellies.
My mother was 93 on Wednesday. She still lives on her own, does the Telegraph crossword without breaking sweat and makes a raspberry pie that reduces a noisy family dinner to silent, absorbed wonderment.
She is 5ft 2 ins, with piercing blue eyes, and not all the dark has gone from her hair. In 1939, aged 19, she was called up by the Army, where she became a truck driver and the best mechanic in her platoon. Later, as a mem sahib in colonial Malaya, during the Emergency when British ex pats were being murdered by desperate rebels, she was once asked what she would do if a gang attacked her house while my dad, a civil engineer, was up country. She replied, ‘I’d take David’s service revolver and lock myself in the bathroom with the boys (my brothers, then toddlers) and shoot the first person who came through the door.’
So, there she is, 60 or so years later, in her flat, with me and my daughter Rose, aged 16, playing Scrabble. She is winning, of course.
Rose discovers she hasn’t got quite the right set of letters for the word she wants, and says, ‘Bugger.’
My mother looks at her in shock. ‘Rose! That’s a terrible word to use. I don’t like to hear young girls swearing, Or anybody swearing for that matter. It’s not nice. It’s really not nice. Don’t let me hear you say that again.’
Rose looks down at her tiles. ‘Sorry, grandma.’
I look in amazement at my mother. For once, I have to speak up. ‘How can you possibly complain about Rose saying “bugger”, when you told me just now you could put “wank” on the triple word?’
My mother looks at me with a mixture of shock, confusion and embarrassment. ‘That’s quite different,’ she says at last, recovering her hauteur. ‘I would have got a very good score with wank.’
One last thing. Please don’t tell her I’ve written this. She may never make me raspberry pie ever again.