Saturday, 14 August 2010

Mother Scissorhands

Honestly, sometimes I wonder about my mother. Today, during my visit, she insists on showing me what seem to be hundreds of items of clothing she has bought in the sales. They're all okay - if you like that sort of thing - until you look closely. That's when it becomes apparent that Mother Scissorhands has been at work, which is never good news.

Mum has altered every single thing that she has bought. Which would be fine, had she any sewing skills whatsoever - but she doesn't know one end of a sewing machine from another.  Her maternal contribution to my housekeeping skills was to offer to teach me how to re-spoke a bicycle wheel. I declined, and haven't regretted my decision so far.

I blame feminism. All those bra-burning and consciousness-raising mothers were all very well, but they didn't actually teach their daughters anything that would be useful in day to day life, except how to make your breasts droop more quickly than necessary. This is why I would starve to death if Max didn't cook; and if my grandmother hadn't taught me to sew, I'd be walking around with the hems of all my clothes dragging along the floor.

Anyway, back to the scissors. Mum has, in the space of the last fortnight, cut the sleeves off a beautiful top and two dresses; another dress has been deprived of its skirt and turned into a blouse, and the waistband has been chopped off at least three pairs of trousers. Farhi trousers. Not Primark. She seems to have forgotten my Nan's instruction to always assume that you are going to be run over by a bus when deciding what to wear in the mornings. I know Nan was referring to clean underwear, but Mum isn't going to look too refined when someone spots the fraying, hacked edges of everything she's wearing either.

"God knows why she buys any of these clothes, if she doesn't like them as they are," says Ted, before returning to his paper.

"They were bargains," says Mum. There's a whole debate possible on what constitutes a bargain, but that's for another time.

"I'd hide all the scissors in the house, if I were you, Ted," I say. I still haven't got over the childhood trauma of Mum giving my hair what she promised would be a trim, but which resulted in eighty per cent of it ending up on the floor. Then I was forced to parade the most lopsided hairstyle ever seen on a child - much to the amusement of my entire class. The woman doesn't know when to stop.

It all started with newspapers - the scissor-wielding obsession, I mean. Mum began by cutting out the odd article, usually about a food or activity that had been found to be somehow detrimental to health. Then the whole thing spiralled until it was completely out of control. Every drawer in the house is full of newspaper cuttings, which are so faded that now they're virtually illegible.

Even when you could still read them, it was pointless to do so - as, for every article praising the cholesterol-minimising effects of margarine, there were others which hyped the health benefits of butter. Those which cited the optimum dosages for health-giving vitamins had to be off-set against those advising that vitamin supplementation was inadvisable, and that a healthy, balanced diet was the only way to go. And so on, and so on.

Mind you, Mum does look good, and has far more energy than me - so maybe all that health information has paid off. I suppose she's not entirely bonkers, though the emerging table situation does cast further doubt on her sanity.

Over the last year or so, she has begun buying small tables. Loads of them, all only just big enough to hold a single cup and saucer - and with legs that stick out so far that they are an accident waiting to happen. I trip over two during today's visit alone. The tables are like Triffids, lurking wherever you least expect one, and threatening to overtake the numerous chests of drawers containing the cuttings archive.

Every time idiot brother Robin goes to visit, he phones me afterwards to say,

"It's getting more like a bloody nursing home round there every time I go. What the f*ck are all those tables about?" (Robin is the Buddhist practitioner of compassion, in case you had forgotten - but he can be horribly accurate.)

Anyway, after I've stared in disbelief at Mum's latest "alterations" and righted a couple of overturned tables, she makes us a cup of tea and places our cups on some more tables. I try to move my table nearer to my chair, catch its leg in the rug, and tip this one over too.

When I've cleaned up the spilt tea, we're finally settled for "a nice chat." Ted promptly falls asleep, which means that Mum can ask me how Dad is. I do wish she wouldn't. I've always hated being asked how the other parent is. You never know what the right answer is supposed to be: fine, or totally miserable since they divorced you and married someone else? Questions about Dad are even more uncomfortable an experience since the Gary Glitter incident, as I doubt Mum'll see the funny side of that.

"I hear your Dad's back in Thailand," she says.

"What? He's only just come back." How does she even know he's been? Did I tell her? "How did you know? And what d'you mean, back?"

Mum looks flustered.

"Oh, I must have got the wrong end of the stick," she says. "I thought someone mentioned he'd gone recently, but maybe it was a while ago now. I do get terribly confused these days."

It's a good recovery, I'll give her that - but then she's as sharp as a tack, or even scissors, table mania notwithstanding. Before I can point out that there's nothing wrong with her memory, she has changed the subject.

"And how's dear Josh?" she says. "Do you think he's done okay with in his exams?"

"Only if they are giving A Levels away with packs of playing cards," I say - which is uncomfortable to admit, but at least the change of direction allows me to avoid telling Mum about the virtually naked Thai girl. That might make her think of other uses for her scissors. In fact, I might borrow them myself if Dad ever sends me any more photos like the last lot.

As I walk home, with a large brown envelope containing some cuttings Mum thinks might contain useful information, I find that I am still thinking about what she said about Dad. There's something about the certainty with which she said "back in Thailand" that makes me think there is more to this than meets the eye. I shall phone Dad when I get home, as I can definitely hear an unpleasantly familiar tune in my head.


  1. The brown envelope of cuttings made me laugh - I get given those too!