diamond geezer

 Tuesday, March 09, 2010

a house in EnfieldIn this Enfield house, precisely 75 years ago today, a baby girl was born. She didn't live here for long - the family moved a short time afterwards - but within these walls were her first breaths, her first gurgles and her first "oh thank goodness she's slept through the night".
I went up to Enfield to visit this house for the very first time last Christmas. It struck me I'd never been before, to what was an extremely important place in my Mum's life, and I thought I ought to finally make the effort. It being less than a week since her death, I may not have been in the most stable emotional state as I walked up the unfamiliar street. I located number 52, then stood on the pavement across the road and looked the two-up two-down up and down. I'd just got my camera out when the front door opened and the current owner emerged. He immediately walked over and demanded to know what I was up to, having spotted a highly suspicious middle-aged man giving his property the once over. I explained that my Mum had been born here, and that she'd very recently died, and undoubtedly sounded a bit weird and quite incoherent. He wasn't interested, except in me moving on as quickly as possible, so it didn't seem worth prolonging the conversation any further. I did at least catch a glimpse of his hallway before the door closed behind him, but a bit of a social disaster all round, truth be told.
Precisely 30 years later, to that same young woman, a baby boy was born. He was her first child, a tiny dark-haired thing, emerging into the world kicking and bawling in the early hours of the morning. Of all the things to be doing on your 30th birthday, giving birth probably doesn't come near the top of the list. But my Mum never complained, even though I was about to grow into the most demanding birthday present she ever had.

Over the years that followed, one of the defining bonds between my mother and I was that we shared the same birthday. When I had my schoolmates round for jelly and candle-cake, she got to slave away in the kitchen sticking sausages on sticks. On the day I hit double figures, her scarier milestone of turning 40 passed relatively unnoticed. For my 21st she drove across country to my university bedsit and attempted to reheat a specially pre-cooked meal on an under-performing utility hob. At 32 I'd failed to complete my deep clean of the bathroom before she came round, so she helped me finish scrubbing before we got round to opening our presents. In more recent years I've always made a point of taking our birthday off work and heading up to Norfolk, because I never knew how many special coincidental birthdays we had left.

This year, alas, is different. Today would have been our joint 120th birthday, except it isn't. Instead I'm headed up to Norfolk to celebrate what would have been my Mum's 75th in a very different way. The family are gathering together somewhere in the vicinity of Norwich, somewhere around lunchtime, to scatter her ashes over somewhere green. Then we're all heading off for the usual (yet not at all usual) birthday meal, at which glasses will be raised and memories shared. For me today is to be one last joint anniversary, one ultimate day together.

And then next year I'll finally get the ninth day of March to myself, a birthday wholly for me, shared with nobody else. That may be how most of your birthdays have always been, but I wonder what it's going to feel like for me. I'd happily have waited to find out.

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