Good Friday: the beginning of my first weekend off since January.
I've been doing six-day weeks at work, Tuesdays to Sundays.
It feels strange to have a whole uninterrupted day to spend at home.
I look around my flat, and notice it's a mess.
I pull everything out from under the bed. I will use this time to reorganise things, tidy up, biff some stuff out to charity - basically make space for everything that's been piled up around the edges of the room since December.
'Everything' being all the stuff I brought up from dad's house.
He wasn't one to entrust memories to memory, my dad. When I went through his cupboards after he died, I found bags and bags of old letters, cards, notebooks, diaries, official correspondence, school reports, receipts, checklists, photo albums (strictly annotated and filed in date order), and all categories of general bumph.
He'd also kept every single letter I wrote to Father Christmas, every one of Father Christmas's - ie his - replies, and, lo and behold, there in his bedside cabinet, safe in a matchbox, wrapped up in tin foil, were all my milk teeth (courtesy of the Tooth Fairy, of course).
Mum was just as bad: letters, cards, postcards, recipes, shopping lists, souvenir brochures, invitations, orders of service, photos, programmes, knitting patterns, newspaper and magazine cuttings, anything to do with any holiday she'd had including bar chits and booking info, back copies of Woman and The Lady with Princess Diana on the front, commemorative pull-outs of royal weddings and royal births. Simply, anything at all she'd thought might come in handy one day, or couldn't bear to throw away. And, mysteriously, a solitary copy of The Daily Mail, dated Tuesday June 27 1978.
It was all there at the house. Mementoes of their whole lives.
So, by extension, mementoes of my life too. Which are now cluttering up my tiny bedsit.
I open a bag. It contains a stack of yellowing letters in small, neat handwritten envelopes, and a fragile, dusty scent.
It is the smell of childhood - Mum, Dad, the house I grew up in. Old-fashioned perfume, clean laundry, hot dinners, musty carpets. Comfort and safety.
For a few seconds the past grabs me and freezes me to the spot.
Then the present reasserts itself. I remember I'm kneeling in my flat, surrounded by plastic bags and tattered shoeboxes. I blink, shake the memories out of my head, and randomly select a letter to read.
Dear Kath and Peter,
It's time that I dropped you a line as I don't look like getting a visit in. My trip to Dover is off, Marie having left her Zombie state for one of agitation, prowls the house continuously I'm not welcome and take the view that I am well out of it.
When you rang about Celia I was in the throes of "samonella poison?" caught during a holiday in Torquay spent my holiday in nappies not eating anything but dry toast. Worse followed, nothing would shift the bug + I became bilious, I ended up in a nursing home. Recovery has come now I'm in the throes of a great clear up. Paul + Margaret are having a blitz in the hope that I will agree to sell up..."
It is from Mum's oldest friend, long dead, and is mostly comprised of complaints. As I read it, I can hear her rasping Benson and Hedges voice, much too raucous for her tiny five-foot frame. I feel her cold hand patting my forearm as she dishes out her own brand of no-nonsense, unwanted advice. I see her grey-blue eyes crinkling into a knowing smile, and her sharp little nose. Formidable as a pensioner, I can only imagine how she would've been as a young woman - I heard she once clonked a suitor hard over the head with a stiletto heel.
Aunty Joyce, once terrifying; but not any more.
I replace the letter and delve deeper into the bag.
Hello my darling,
I had just got through packing your parcel yesterday, when the front door bell rang. Opened it to find your mother on the door-step, without the car. Found out later why she came without warning. You've guessed I suppose by now! Monday evening in Cheltenham crashed into another car while parking, said she was only backing at 5 miles p.h. when the car behind her was parked in the 'no waiting' on a slant. The road was wet, lights blaring at her, semi-dark. Did rather a lot of damage to their car, to say nothing of the other car, which she said looked in an awful mess!! There wasn't a policeman around, only a young cadet, who didn't seem terribly interested as he was off duty.
However it did get reported, and is now the hands of the Insurance Company. By the way, she never did see the chap who had his car battered!! A nice surprise for him no doubt!!
You can imagine the horror that struck her when she thought of having to tell Reg. Monday night, said she couldn't sleep a wink, having nightmares. I should have told you she was on her way to do some baby-sitting for Sue. And something about an electric kettle she wanted to hand in to a shop in the Promenade when all the trouble started. Sick with worry, she came on the train the following day. That is how she came to be on the door step! She looked ill with worry, she would be visiting Reg on Thursday, with the car she hoped. But he has got to be told, because his name is on the Insurance. That is only after 9 months driving, you know he won't take that lying down! I tried to cheer her up the best possible way I could, must say, when we saw her off at Cardiff this afternoon she was looking much better! The over-night stay here bucked her up, got a lot off her chest.
You will be pleased to receive two small bills from me, can't say you haven't been expecting them!!!!!!!
Thank you darling for your delightful letter which came this morning. Glad you toned your drawings down, the post was late this morning, as it happened your mother was sitting opposite me, while reading it!!! I shared the events of your return journey with her, said it was a great pity the train never got in on time for you to get your connection. Couldn't believe there wasn't any waiting rooms or refreshments on the scene. Said you must be on the old side of the station, if you walked right through to the new part, would find things very different. Have you done that? Apparently knows the station well, it is very large. Hope you won't mind my passing on what she said!
There is not much I can tell you about Reg, he has only been there one week. Nobody likes him very much, that is nothing new is it? He thinks the people there are a lot of 'morons'!! Guess he will be acting like one on Thursday, when he hears the news that is in store for him!! Poor Cis!!
What do you think of our poor News Chronicle? It is all Daily Mail now, worse luck!
Have just looked at the clock which tells me it is time for bed my love. I'm afraid I've been rambling on again, hope you will be able to understand a little of what I've been writing about. Pray don't scratch your head and think, what the devil does she mean!!
Until tomorrow then, I'll sign off.
All my love, darling -
PS Has your parcel arrived?
PPS I love you, more and more each day
PPPS Not going to worry darling about the money. I know you can only do your best.
And again, love Kathleen xxxx"
I never knew this bright, chatty woman who was to become my mother. I only knew a defeated facsimile, an empty shell.
I turn the envelope over in my hand. There is Mum's unmistakeable handwriting - the careful loops, the backwards slant - inked neatly to my dad's billet: Flowerpot Inn, Norfolk Street, Kings Lynn.
I don't want to read any more letters.
In another bag I find a small blue velvet box. It contains Mum's rings - engagement, wedding, eternity - and Dad's gold signet ring, worn smooth by time.
I slip the rings on, and stare at my hands. They look so much like my father's.
I ponder again how crazy it is that we are here, then suddenly not here. Abruptly, and with dizzying randomness, we spring into being, and then we die. From nothing, to nothing. And for most of us, almost unceasing irrelevance in between. It makes no sense at all, when you think about it.
I squeeze as many boxes and bags as possible back under the bed, and stack the overflow neatly in a corner.