Some years ago, at a posh function, I found myself seated beside a retired headmistress. We got chatting, and I mentioned that my father had recently died. “Oh honey,” she said, “Dads do that.” She studied the pattern on her plate for a moment, and then added, “It doesn’t half cheese you off.” Except that she didn’t say ‘cheese’ she used a different word entirely – but this is a family blog and swearing isn’t allowed. Those brief words summed up my feelings completely. Dads die, and when they do, their many transgressions that boiled your blood over a life time pale into insignificance. Nothing tops this. The temerity of it. They leave you bereft – and you can’t even have a go at them.
On the 30th December I discovered that this isn’t just a Dad trait. Mothers do it too and I was furious with her. Far more furious than I ever was over her taking an hour and a half to choose a pair of trousers in M & S. I honestly thought my Mum was indestructible. Given my dubious lifestyle, there was a very fair chance that I’d go before her. Only a little more than a fortnight before her death she was in Sacha’s getting her hair done, and I’m pretty sure we went to the Co-Op afterwards, it’s hard to remember now.
Two days later she had a small stroke, nothing too significant, she’s had several of them – I’ve had one myself. She went into the RVI, and then the QE, and all she talked about was coming home. I can’t say exactly how, but I knew we were coming to the end, and with the full support of Heather it was decided that I would move in with Mum. On this understanding she was discharged the day before Christmas Eve. It wasn’t an easy journey home. During the wheelchair trip from the ward to the car she was very sick and we had to stop off at another ward for assistance. It took both Heather and me to get Mum into the car and then into the house, and then once she was inside her own armchair Mum slept until bed time, refusing the mince and dumplings I’d made, and refusing her medication. We went along to bed together. I sat beside her for a while, and she said, “You’re a lovely girl Tam.” It was the last thing she ever said to me. She slept for a week, opening her eyes occasionally but not communicating. She passed away quietly with us all beside her.
I’ve written about my Mum extensively on this blog. She was unaware of her huge following on social media, but I think she would have been pleased, had she known, of the hundreds of messages of condolence we’ve received, the Facebook posts, and the number of times I’ve been stopped in the street. Of course she wasn’t always a frail (and sometimes cantankerous) elderly lady. There was much more to her than that. Here follows part of her eulogy.
Born in Hollybush Villas, Crookhill in 1922, Patricia Margaret Rochester was the youngest of nine children. The Rochester family were prominent in Ryton, Shield, her father, was the manager of Stargate Pit, and other uncles and relatives managed several other local mines. Doted upon, particularly by her elder brothers, she had a very happy childhood being brought up at 6 River View in Ryton.
As an infant and junior she attended a tiny private school in Greenfield Place only 100 yards from the bungalow in Beechwood Avenue where she died. At the age of eleven she went to St. Anne’s Convent School in Newcastle, although none of her family were Catholic, travelling back and forth by bus, even coming home for lunch. Gaining a limited education she learned reading, writing and arithmetic but not much else. As a child she was very neat but as an adult her handwriting required special skills to interpret, in that respect she would have been an asset at Bletchingley Park.
After a short spell as a clerk in a Newcastle insurance office, the start of the Second World War radically changed her life. She volunteered as a Land Girl and went to work in Nettlebeds in Oxfordshire. She enjoyed a close relationship with the elderly owners of her lodgings but despite the relative comfort of her position she applied to join the Military Police. She was slightly too short to be accepted but got around that by the simple expedient of standing on her toes to be measured. Whilst stationed in Jesmond and visiting her family in Ryton, she met my father, Bert, at a dance in Prudhoe. He was the love of her life, and she of his. They were married on her 22nd birthday on May 18th 1944, and had their reception at the Cross Inn on the village green. Their union lasted 58 years until Dad’s death.
Her life changed again when Dad went to Sandhurst and she was sent to work as a guard in a prison of war camp for German women at Windlestone Hall in Durham. She donated mementos of that time, including letters to herself from ex-internees, to the Eden Camp Museum.
She and Dad could only snatch short leave breaks together. As demob time approached she was asked to go to the Nuremberg War Trials as a guard but opted instead to start a more conventional married life.
After the birth of my brother Roger in 1947 and increasingly concerned about the escalating Cold War the family set sail for Australia in 1948. They were £10 Poms. That was an adventure often looked back upon but although she loved the Australians she hated the insects, the snakes, and the heat. She particularly missed her family and her beloved Ryton, so they returned home in 1949. After living in various rented accommodation, they had their bungalow built in Beechwood Avenue and moved in that year. At the time, it stood on its own within a field of cows.
Mum was a very intelligent and widely read lady who could, and often did, surprise us with the width and depth of her thinking. She would get me to photocopy the Telegraph crossword for her, and she and Dad would compete over the same puzzle. She almost always solved the clues and completed the crossword before Dad, much to his irritation. Dad’s death 14 years ago, after nearly 60 years of marriage, left her bereft, but she was a lady of considerable grit and determination and continued to live independently.
Abiding memories of Mum are as someone who loved and cared for all her family whom she referred to as her “bodies.” Close to brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, children and then grandchildren and great grandchildren, she loved to be silly and loved to laugh. She shopped with a vengence, and always looked as if she’d just stepped out of Vogue. As an aside, a little financial advice, dump any M&S shares you have, their takings will drop sharply.
When we think of her we think of scarves, sparkly clothes, gold shoes and especially immaculate hair and eyebrows. She was one of the very few grandmothers from whom a fashion conscious 19 year old granddaughter could borrow clothes. She left no particular funeral instructions except that she asked Saacha (Saacha’s in Ryton) to make sure that her hair, eyebrows and make-up were done. Saacha went to the funeral home and carried out her wish.
Mum was very sociable with many friends, though she outlived nearly all of them. She impacted many lives. She died calmly and peacefully at home, surrounded by her family. An appropriate finish to a long and surprisingly varied life. She will be deeply missed. She was deeply loved.