Hearing her when I was in the headmistress’ office for bad behaviour made me cry
My mother’s voice has always had complete power over me. As a child, if I rang from a friend’s house to ask could I stay over, no matter how excited I had been about the idea, as soon as I heard her voice, I half-hoped she would say, “no, you have to come home”, because hearing her instantly made me homesick.
It was as if everything I loved about my family were contained in her voice. If I rang because I felt unwell and wanted someone to come and get me, or felt secretly guilty for something I had done that no one knew about, I wanted to cry as soon as I heard her speak.
I remember being called into the headmistress’s office at school once, because of some worse-than-usual piece of behaviour. I was full of bravado and defiance, indignantly denying I had done anything wrong, almost believing myself.
The headmistress rang my mother (mean thing!). The second I heard her voice on the phone, I began to cry and say how sorry I was. As soon as I heard her, I knew exactly how bad what I had done was. Her voice cut right through the defiant wall of fantasy I had created.
I love the way my mother sees the world. It is completely her own way; a funny mix of high-minded intellectual and an instinctive understanding of absurdity. I remember she said about a boyfriend of my sister’s once: “I’m very worried about John” (name obviously changed!).
“Really,” I said, privately thinking she had every reason to be worried about him and his slacker attitude; “why?”
“He’s completely misunderstood Milton.”
She is still the bravest and most magnificent person I know. She could – and still can – be terrifying but she is never small-minded or mean. She is capable of the kind of wonderful, dramatic grande geste that very few people can attempt, let alone pull off. My children adore her because of the sense of atmosphere and occasion she creates. She is magic in their lives, and I can see why. Sometimes I think I am much too dull and practical and long-sighted in comparison; that what everyone needs is a dose of the magnificent, even when it is ‘ridiculous’ on all sorts of practical levels.