With so much more time on our hands, and now the opportunity to see others, with ‘social distancing’ in place, I took my mother to see my Dad’s gravestone in Northiam, a village a few miles beyond Rye. My Mum has bravely navigated this strange dystopian scene with her usual strength and independence, although she admits to being bored a lot, as she can’t go to her archeology or poetry groups, but she still works on her pottery. At 80, she is an incredible woman, and has lived an amazing life. She has been a viticulturist, a vintner, a shepherdess, a small-holder, a fruit tree planter, a tree warden, a woodswoman, a teacher, a mother of four, renovator of French houses (with my Dad,) a jazz and classical pianist, a singer, (madrigals, choirs, opera) and is now a mad potter. She speaks several languages, reads Zola in French and makes strange cakes with zero fat in them, and always containing ginger, which I actually love, and writes poetry. She always asks if she can read me her latest poem, which I always indulge her in, as they are funny, sweet and pretty clever. She has a great sense of fun, could swim the channel, has a beautiful speaking voice and is hilariously funny, and she makes me laugh so much, and she never minds if I laugh at her poems, because she knows they are a little odd. She loves to reminisce about her first kiss and her first loves.
When my beautiful Dad was alive, they were inseparable, and had a wonderful relationship, but she lost him when they were only 55, and she went a bit off the rails afterwards. She channeled everything into learning jazz piano. Already an accomplished pianist, she was determined to master jazz, and joined a jazz workshop and immediately fell in love with the main leader of the workshop, a charismatic and strange man, who was a brilliant sax player and who took a lot of drugs. Mum started hanging out with some strange dudes and even built a jacuzzi in her basement, because she fancied all the jazz dudes and we teased her that she wanted to entice them all into the jacuzzi. She built it and then promptly sold the house. She and my Dad moved house so many times, and even moved countries three times, I have lost count how many moves, but it’s no wonder I have always been so nomadic.
We got to the graveyard and it was a really beautiful and hot day. The air was so still and the greens of the trees intense. As I sat on the grass and wiped the dust from the granite of the stone, my Mum said ‘Ooh what’s that wonderful smell of flowers?’ and I said I didn’t notice, I couldn’t smell anything. The graveyard is tiny and there weren’t any flowers or even shrubs nearby. The heat of the day made it feel very languid and we wandered into the nearby field and along the path in the middle of a vast farmer’s field with some kind of crop growing. The field must have been about a quarter of a mile wide and I wanted to walk to the edge of the woods, but she said her knees weren’t up to the job, so we turned back. At which point she said she could smell the flowers again. I said I couldn’t smell anything. She said ‘It must be your perfume.’ I said I wasn’t wearing any, so I said, ‘Mum, I think it’s Dad. They say that when spirits visit you, there is a smell of flowers, and I can’t smell the flowers, so it’s Dad saying hello to you.’ Mum said she loved that thought. He loved her so much. He still does.