It’s my Mum’s birthday today. She would be 118 years old if she were alive - so I guess it's a good thing she's not. She hasn’t had the same coverage as Dad because she died much earlier so I knew him for longer. But she was as much a part of what I am as he was. If he was me, the brakes, she was the accelerator; he, hermit, she, gregarious. They were both Celts, but he was the Welsh one and she was Irish.
They lived in an era before the word “baby-sitter” was invented - when having kids was the whole point, not a temporary interruption of your social life. (A young relative complained recently that she couldn’t go somewhere because she had to babysit. When asked for whom she was sitting, it turned out that she would have to look after her own child!) That’s how lucky we were - Nancy and Walter made a lifetime career of my brothers and me. I’m no judge of how well they did it, except that I wish my own kids had had something as good.
They were a traditional working class couple – in those days a wife who worked was a reflection on the husband’s manhood. But she did – she cleaned for Mirabel Topham, who lived on - and owned - my school-holiday playground, Aintree Racecourse.
My memories of Sunday nights in 58 Arthur Street, Walton, are of ceilidhs, though they may not have happened every Sunday, except in my nostalgic haze. My mother was Scouse-Irish, and on those – let’s call them occasional - Ceilidh nights our little house would shake to the Gaelic music on Radio Eireann, to which Mum, aunts and assorted expatriate Micks would dance - or sometimes sing. That “shake” was literally true, because someone – usually Jimmy Gardner, to whom - for he was the tallest – would be deputed the task of pushing back the wet-battery radio to stop it falling off the sideboard. We kids were usually in bed at the time, but missed nothing, and heard, rather than saw, the ceilidh, but my mental image of the scene was of something between Riverdance and Gaelic football on rollerskates.
The signal for the end of the evening was the midnight time signal followed by what I used to think was a jolly nice quickstep, but know now was Amhrán na bhFiann, the Irish national anthem. Even now I still can’t hear it without a momentary flashback. Happy Birthday Mum.