I HAVE had two near-death experiences that I can remember.
In one I nearly drowned in a river while several hundred holidaymakers watched. I remember looking up through the thickening waters at the receding sun and feeling really, really silly.
In the other I watched the tree rushing towards my windscreen and thought, “This is really going to hurt.” (and actually, it didn’t).
But the reason I mention it is because my past did not flash before my eyes and — more particularly — I did not think about my mother.
There were several reasons for this (not thinking about my mother).
She would have been furious.
She would have wanted to know whether my underpants were clean.
She would have told my father when he got home.
Mothers can have that effect. When you have seriously stuffed up, thinking about your mum can seriously cramp your style.
But mine is sick. She’s 82. For many years now she’s had diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, two replacement hips and — as my children used to say — scribbly hair.
She has never once complained about any of it, except the hair. But I rang her up yesterday (she’s in England) and she did.
So now I’ve been thinking about her a lot.
My mum does not fit the conventional image of an elderly mum, which I imagine is one of kettles singing on hobs and useful domestic homilies like: “you can’t be too careful” (which is plainly nonsense).
My mum’s homilies are more… precise.
All black dogs are stupid.
You can’t trust people with ginger hair.
Sitting on radiators gives you piles.
My mum is five feet one inch tall. (that’s 152.5cms but in my Mum’s case you can forget it because the metric system is silly). She used to be five feet four inches tall.
It’s as if she’s gradually sinking towards the earth to which she will one day return. She has a bit reserved for herself on top of the bit we buried my father in.
We urged her to reserve a bit beside him instead of on top of him, which to us children seemed somehow more… well, less… you know…
She just sniffed and said the trouble with kids (I’m 58!) is that they think they invented sex.
It reminded me of how embarrassing it can be when you burst into the lounge room with a bunch of your 15-year-old mates and find your parents kissing…
… and stuff.
I only mention it because it makes you realise that mothers aren’t just mothers.
They are (or have been) lovers, air raid wardens, swimmers, pianists… all kinds of stuff (at least, mine has) that doesn’t involve preparing meals, wiping bums and spit‑washing faces.
Now my mum’s small voice on the other end of the phone has made me realise there have been lots of times, besides near-death experiences, when I should have thought about her.
She has never once complained that I’m 13,000 miles away. It’s three years since I last saw her and she has never once complained that it’s too long.
So I’m popping over there next week to catch up.
She’s who I am, really. Her and Dad. On the landscape of my life they are the milestones I look back to, that tell me where I’ve come from.
They help me make sense of the much less certain journey that still lies up ahead (even if the ultimate destination is the same!).
And it was my mum that taught me the most important thing about making any journey.
Always wear clean underpants — in case you get hit by a bus.