A photo for May 2014

I didn’t take this photo. It was taken decades before I was born, and shows my mother as a young woman. She’s seated on the far left of the picture. I don’t know who the other women in the photo are. I’ve chosen this as my photo for May, because 3 May would have been her birthday, and is also the anniversary of her death. I wrote this piece about her a couple of years ago.

Bella & work friends: 1940s

RIP Isabel Joyce Fleming: b. 3 May 1924, d. 3 May 1997

Today would have been my mother’s 90th birthday.  It’s also the 17th anniversary of her death. (updated 2014)

Born in the 1920s in Newcastle upon Tyne, my mother moved south with her parents and some of her siblings during the war years of the 1940s – she was the youngest of seven children.

Although she left school aged just 14, my mother always seemed intellectually very accomplished and was a big believer in education. Some of my earliest memories are of her teaching me to read.  She had cut out small squares of card and hand-written letters on them; we would sit and make words by putting them together.

1966: yes, that’s me. And yes, I still like ice cream.

I can remember many happy times spent with her. Lots of warmth and laughter. But my memories of her also include the sense of disappointment she seemed to carry with her wherever she went.

I suspect she felt she could have achieved more … had a bigger life, had circumstances been a little different.

When the end came for my mother, it came in the guise of cancer of the oesophagus, which over the course of many, many months whittled away at her until there was almost nothing left. It was an ugly and unpleasant end.

She died before my sons were born. But I know she would have adored them.

She’d have been far less impressed by the life my father went on to carve out for himself in the years after her death. I think she would have considered him to have been an embarrassment. She’d have been right too. But that’s another story.

My mother springs to mind


The season of renewal – life, love and happiness.

What does it mean to you? Warm weather for the first time in months. Blossom on the trees. Lambs. Flowers. Easter. Mother’s Day.

A few years ago, while sorting through a box of papers and family memorabilia, I found two cards I had made for my mother when I was perhaps six or seven years old. One was a Mother’s Day card, the other an Easter card.

Both hand-drawn with bits of coloured paper stuck on them, and containing messages written in a small boy’s scrawly handwriting.

My mother died in late spring 1997 and it was a few years after that event that I found these cards – I had no idea she had kept anything from my childhood.

It was, unsurprisingly, an emotional moment for me.

This time of year has been tinged with sadness since my mother’s death.

I think about her a lot. But more so at this time of year, as the anniversary of her death approaches. Typically I get a withdrawn and introspective. Things that shouldn’t bother me do. Things that should interest me don’t.

It’s been the same every year since 1998. But it took me a while to realise what was happening. To spot the pattern.

This year will be no different. Is no different, in truth.

With one not-so-small exception. I haven’t typically acknowledged it, nor mentioned it to anyone. Instead I’ve just kind of bumbled through until the feeling has left me, snapping at and alienating people along the way.

Not this year.

If you’ve read this far you’ll know what’s eating me next time you find yourself thinking “what’s eating him?

And I’ll know it’ll be a lot easier on everyone if I face up to it and deal with it, rather than let it dictate how I feel for a couple of difficult weeks.

Life, love and happiness might be a bit of a stretch. But a season of renewal..? I’ll give that a go.