Sunday, 7 May 2017

Bittersweet (slight return)

This morning I watched the final episode of Peter Kay's Car Share.  Fellow bloggers Alyson at What's It All About?John Medd  and Rol at My Top Ten (- apologies if I've missed anyone else) have already written some perfect posts mentioning this excellent series so I don't want to repeat what's already been expressed so well.  But as I watched the final scene with watery eyes (I'm at that age...) I was reminded of how I felt thinking about a bittersweet relationship my mum once had (and I'm not talking about the one with my dad!).  I wrote about it here about in the distant past, and then after it had been up for a while I got cold feet and took it down!  However, it seems such a long while ago, and I hope you won't mind - but in the absence of anything new to say today and with those thoughts having risen to the surface again, I'm going to re-post it now.

I had called it 'Bittersweet'....

***

There's a risk that this is going to read like an episode of that mawkish 'Our Tune' slot that Simon Bates included on his Radio One show during the '80s.  For anyone not familiar - 'Our Tune' was a much parodied feature in which listeners sent in their personal stories, frequently about doomed relationships and often with sad, sometimes tragic, endings.  Mr Bates read these out with about as much compassion as a melamine table, and then a song which was particularly significant to the (usually unhappy) couple was played - hence the 'our tune' of the title.   It was handy to keep a sick bucket nearby.

I hated the whole premise of 'Our Tune'.  However (when stumbled upon by accident, of course...) I'll admit it could be horribly compelling.  I guess there was a good reason for it being popular because, perhaps, all the most rousing love stories are bittersweet.  Smooth sailings and happy endings may be what everybody ultimately seeks, but they don’t power up emotional responses in quite the same way as tales of lovers caught between the agony and the ecstasy of a not-so-straightforward relationship. 

One time this struck me was at my mum’s funeral, just over 18 years ago. I was introduced to an old man whom I’d never met before, although I'd heard about him.  As he looked at me, his simple exclamation of “Ohh!” was loaded with more emotion than I'd bargained for.  He went on to explain, “You look SO much like her!”  He was visibly moved and shocked at seeing what must have seemed like a younger incarnation of my mother.  (Much as I would like to have inherited her long slim legs, I got my dad's.  But I did get her face.)  “I'm SO sorry she's gone,” he continued, his warm smile doing little to disguise his immense grief, “She was very special to me.”

It turned out that this was my mum’s friend 'D'.  I knew a little about him because he'd been a constant over the last ten, or more, years of her life, and she'd mentioned him a fair bit.  She and my dad divorced when I was in my teens, but she had one of those personalities that always seemed to attract people. Not always the right people.  Quite a few relationships had developed, most of which were pretty short-lived (although I'm sure she wasn't the easiest person to be with). 

For instance... there had been the one with 'Mummy’s Boy', a 'true gent' type who seemed perfect until it became apparent that everything he did was dependent on approval - and not even from my mother, but from his.  Now that's bad enough, but even more ridiculous given that he was in his sixties... 

There was also an intense romance with 'Alcoholic Author', whose bright mind she admired but whose more frequently foggy state of mind and inability to help himself were, sadly, impossible for her to cope with.  That one did end in 'Our Tune' style tragedy - but we'll not go there here.  

Plus let's not forget 'Old Teacher', who had been the Biology Master at my sister's school and had become a family friend, but whose inappropriate attempts to give my mum a biology lesson of an altogether different kind in the kitchen one day were less than welcome.  And I thought he'd only come round to look at the ducklings (we were fostering some at the time in an inflatable paddling pool).

Finally there was 'Irish Builder', an unlikely match (given she'd always gone for mind over muscle) but whose macho Gaelic charm initially brought a sparkle to her eyes that would have been more befitting of a 16-year-old, only to be extinguished by some selfish, unpredictable behaviour.  He did at least encourage her to increase her otherwise tiny appetite because he insisted she kept her larder stocked full of potatoes (honestly.  That sounds like a bad and possibly very suspect Irish joke, I know, but I'm not kidding).  Well, he was the last 'official' beau in her life, and she sometimes stayed at his house in London, where she was slightly freaked out once by the framed photo of his dead wife falling off the wall while she was there (you couldn't make it up, could you..?)  But when my mum died he was already off the scene, as were the other men.   

Except for 'D'. 

I think 'D' and my mum would have been great together.  They shared a passion for literature and the arts and she was drawn to his intellect and romantic flair, while he adored her artistic nature and depth.  It turned out that, even though they didn’t meet until later in life in the rural village where they then lived, they'd actually grown up in exactly the same area of East London.  (Their secondary schools were closely located and I can’t help but wonder if they’d ever eyed each other up as teenagers from opposite sides of the road, never realising that decades later they would become such friends.)

They eventually met many miles away from their urban roots, in the bookshop where he worked, and soon developed a strong rapport.  My mum told me they often spent long afternoons together talking about everything under the sun.  Sometimes, she admitted wistfully, he'd hold her hand or hug her closely.   I know that they cared about each other tremendously, and what they felt for each other was love.  'D' was married - but now his wife had health issues, so she depended on him to look after her to some extent.  I suppose he'd become her carer, and that must be a difficult and sad thing to happen in any marriage.

My mum felt a little awkward about her close friendship with 'D', and had no intention of causing problems for him and his wife, so she continued to lead the life of a single woman.  She managed to meet a few men who must have been special to her for a while - including those mentioned earlier - and maybe if she'd lived longer she might have had a relationship that could have worked out longer term.  I think 'D' must have found the situation quite painful at times (and so must she)  but his unconditional devotion to her, as a soul-mate I suppose, never wavered.  No wonder he showed such emotion after her death, and was additionally moved at the image of her that he saw in my similar features when we met.  That was quite a moment.

Soon after the funeral my sister and I were going through her belongings and came across some cards which she'd tucked away in a drawer. It took a little while to decipher the signature, but then we realised they were from 'D'.   The poetic words inside - or maybe it's what I'm reading in between the lines - say so much, obviously enough for my mum to have wanted to keep them forever.  But what do we do with these things? - those letters, photos, cards? -  those tokens of love and friendship that can mean so much at the time, even if that time can't last.  I don’t know quite why, but I couldn’t throw them away either, so they are now tucked away in one of my drawers. 

'D' tracked me down one day a few years ago, completely out of the blue, to say he was going to send me some pictures - not photos, but pictures from old books - that he thought I’d appreciate, having some similar tastes to my mum.  Sadly he died before got round to it.  Of course I wonder what they were...  and I guess I would have kept them too.  But as 'D' and my mum (and 'D''s wife...) are no longer around, it feels okay to mention their story here.  (I just hope you didn't read this with Simon Bates' voice in your head - I sound nothing like him...)

I doubt that they had a special 'our tune'...  but if they did, the secret of what it was - along with many other secrets, I expect - went with them.

Anyway, writing this gives me a chance to share this tune, from the beautiful Kelli Ali (ex Sneaker Pimps).  I think she puts it very well.


19 comments:

  1. You are right, the emotions conjured up from watching something like Car Share definitely makes you think of other bittersweet relationships. That must have been a strange encounter indeed to meet an elderly man who was given a jolt when he saw you and just thought of your mum as a younger woman.

    I am fascinated by relationships as they come in all shapes and sizes and what is right for one couple is not right for the next - What I absolutely hate however is those situations, like with John and Kayleigh where you just know they would be great together but no-one takes the initiative. I witnessed many a friend dilly-dallying over a potential love interest only to find the moment passed and they went off with someone else. By the time I was in my late 20s I started to take the iniative myself (remember my "different corner" post when I managed to contrive an accidental meeting with Mr WIAA!) - I was sometimes left embarrassed but better that I thought, than to let the moment pass and then have regret.

    Thanks for sharing this though - Your mum obviously had a tricky time but I'm glad she met "D" as they obviously made each other happy and that's what it's all about.

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    1. Forgot to thank you for the mention. Also I really enjoyed the song - not one I'd heard before (as usual) but will now remember the name.

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    2. Indeed it was a strange encounter - but at the same time very sweet and poignant.
      I agree about relationships - fascinating - I've had a couple of male friends who were never able to settle down (at least not for long, one of them did manage to marry five times though so he obviously thought he could!) It seems to me that they were more in love" with the "idea" of love, not the reality - so they were all loved up and high on the first flush, the exciting part, but couldn't sustain things when the mundane stuff kicked in... and then someone else would come along and they'd get that first flush feeling again and so on. A common enough story, I'm sure. But who can actually define what love is? I think we all have different versions of it, you just have to find another person whose version of it is close to your own!

      Glad you liked the song too.

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    3. Oh C - the first flush is indeed the best bit but unless you become a serial first-flusher (as per my Car Share post, seems to last around 3 months give or take a week or so) at some point you have to move on to the next stage so very wise to make it someone who is likely to become your very best friend above all others. For the long-term there are also 2 very important aspects that you have to be on the same page with, and one of them is money, you can probably guess what the other one is. I've thought about this a lot - you can probably tell. Then again I reckon around 80-90% of songs are written about the subject of love so an all-pervasive aspect of our lives and as I keep saying over at my place, it's "What It's All About"!

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    4. Yes! What's it all about?... it underpins everything really doesn't it, not just partnership love but love in all its various shapes and forms. But romantic love is certainly something that has the power to obsess and possess beyond all else!
      Re. the first flush thing, oh yes I remember you saying about the "3 month rule" and that makes a lot of sense. I can't speak from experience (not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, tbough!), I met Mr SDS when I was very young and although I'd had previous boyfriends they weren't very mature relationships. But the two male friends I mentioned earlier, being friends rather than boyfriends, certainly helped me to learn about that side of things as an onlooker!

      You must be right about the amount of songs written on the subject. I wonder why so much is expressed in music above other forms - in a way takes me back to Car Share and how both John and Kayleigh (at first anyway) were more comfortable using other people's songs as a medium for their expression.

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    5. If I reply to this I am in danger of taking over-sharing to a whole new level but suffice to say there was a gap between MrWIAA and his predecessor and trust me, the 3-month rule is a thing!

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    6. Alsyon, sorry I somehow missed this earlier and was out most of yesterday - but, yes, happy to take your word! :-)

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  2. What a lovely post, and one that had me choking up... not for the first time this weekend, admittedly. I'm obviously going through an emotional phase. Nice song too.

    Sometimes I think unrequited love is the best kind...

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    1. Thanks Rol, and sorry about the choking up - just read your last post too so it does sound like an emotional phase - and nothing wrong with that.

      I know what you mean. Unrequited love can never be spoiled, it's a fantasy in a bubble that doesn't get burst - but it doesn't keep you warm in bed or stroke your forehead when you're throwing up :-)

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  3. I think I must've been one of the fortunate few to have read this wonderful piece of writing first time around, as it rings a few distant bells. A sad and beautiful story.

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    1. Thanks TS - I wrote it a long time ago, about four years, then I got a bit wobbly about it being public and took it down! But possibly a few different readers now and it just seemed apt for how I was feeling yesterday morning... what the hell!

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    2. A lovely, moving story; if it's not too weird a request, can you post a photo of your mother? Would that be OK? J

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    3. Ah thanks John. Not weird at all, don't worry, but I probably won't... I feel a bit odd about sharing any photos of family, as I've never told any of my family about this place! I know I've written about things connected to them, but somehow that feels different and more anonymous, as the thoughts and memories are still only my take on things. Of course, never say never... may change my mind one day... but for now, sorry!

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  4. The end of Car Share got me a bit too, as did this post. As you say, maybe we're all just a bit more sentimental than we once were. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Martin and many thanks for dropping by. I didn't think I'd be getting more sentimental as I got older - but seems I am; glad to know it's not just me!

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    2. Definitely not just you. I sometimes wonder if the 20-something me would recognise the late-40-something version of today...

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    3. I agree. But nobody warned us!

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    4. Ha, indeed. Don't know whether to take comfort in the fact that I still listen to so much of the same music though, or whether that's something to feel a bit disappointed about. Don't get me wrong, there's new music I like, but I can't think when a new artist last made it to "untouchable" status for me. I wonder if being parochial comes with age too?

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    5. Maybe it does, but I also think it's a journey with some unexpected twists! The music I listened to in the past will always have the greatest meaning/significance - it's in there, permanently entwined with memories and feelings of the time, its roots go deep. But I still enjoy a fair bit of current music, just for what it is, and for what it can still do to me, although not imagining that it will ever have quite that same longevity or effect. However, maybe if I make it into real old age, I may hear a song from now and be filled with vivid memories and nostalgic feelings from those blogging days of my middle age?!
      We just have to try and enjoy the ride... :-)

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