I've scoured my memory long and hard to come up with some happy reminiscences of my mother but I can only come up with one, which I'll come to later.
My first memory of her, though, is when I was around seven or eight and going to visit her in a huge and very frightening psychiatric hospital rather a long drive away from where we lived in Tilbury. My dad only had a bike and we were taken there by Chalky White, a guy he worked with who drove an old Ford. Going in a car was exciting.
I must have known her earlier than that first visit - even though she did spend much of her life in hospital, especially after I was born - but I simply can't remember her clearly. I wish I could. At that time she was diagnosed as a schitzophrenic, although later that was changed to a manic depressive. The devastating effect on everyone around her was the same whatever her disorder was called.
When you are unfortunate enough to be afflicted with severe mental illness it's not your fault of course so I don't attach any kind of blame to her. All the same I was painfully aware that she made my father's life a misery. It was almost as if she blamed him for what had happened to her.
As the years went by and the drugs dosage increased there was less and less chance that she would ever make any kind of recovery. She died a couple of years ago and it was a blessed release for her I'm sure, as much as for the rest of us. I always tried to be a dutiful son towards her but this wasn't easy when she was out of hospital - especially when she was living with us. In fact I would say those periods were like Hell on earth. It felt like a cruel trick that she lived so long - especially since my father had died so young.
I guess the real tragedy is that she was a very intelligent woman. Her parents were Irish - her father was a shale miner. He couldn't read or write and he signed her Birth Certificate with his mark - a cross. She was brought up in abject poverty and not a little familial tragedy. In those days there was no real way out for a woman like her, no access to decent education. It didn't help that there was a history of mental illness in the family and other members of the family were affected also. It won't escape you that there's a genetic component at work here too. I'll be talking about depression - from a writer's perspective - at greater length in future posts.
I've seen photographs of her as a young woman - she was extremely beautiful. My father must have thought he'd got a fine catch.
My happy memories revolve around the time we lived in East Lothian with my aunt. Once a week I would run a bath and lie back in it for hours, dreaming of the future. When she was there my mother would always come up and insist on washing my back. I remember her as being normal then, the kind of mother I had always longed for. I used to fantasise about owning a big house and being happy. My mother didn't live in the house with me. Somehow she'd disappeared from the scene.
Well, you don't need to be a genius to see that there's some pretty fertile ground here which I can cultivate and harvest for my new book. Don't worry though, it won't be depressing I promise. It might even have a happy ending (it'll be fiction after all). The truth is that kids are amazingly resilient and in may ways I had a very happy childhood.
The problems came later. And I think that might provide me with another book altogether.