This Mother's Day, take some life advice from Mrs Soutar - Gaby Soutar
I thought, considering she turned 87 earlier this week and is officially nudging late middle age, she may have some life advice for the relative whipper-snappers.
Well, mum? What do you have for me?
“I can’t think of anything, I’m afraid”. Cue silence. Are you still there?
I can hear the telly in the background. I think she’s turned the volume up to drown me out. Oh well. Another column idea flops.
Still, though she’d never agree, she IS inspirational, plus selfless, diplomatic, patient and kind, and all the best and rarest things. There is plenty to learn.
Even without her help, I’ve managed to cobble together a few of the tips I’ve picked up over the years.
1 An egg without salt is like a man without a moustache. This saying is a bit Victorian and might not be valid now that hipsters are the only hirsute ones, but you get the gist. Anyway, my mum has always been addicted to this seasoning and she’d advise ignoring your offspring if they try to prevent you from imbibing it in vast heaps. They’ll learn to enjoy your crunchy smoked salmon sandwiches, which draw all saliva from their mouths. You may be nagged about potential high blood pressure for at least two decades. In the end, they’ll capitulate. You will continue to apply it to food as if you’re sowing wheat in a field – aiming for equal distribution and a wonderful future harvest. The same goes for butter, which you trowel lavishly onto toast and crackers. You always ignored the Seventies margarine trend. Anyway, you’re still here and have had the last laugh. You’ll probably outlive us.
2 Don’t sweat it. Mum would never use this expression, as “don’t cry over spilled milk” is more her style. As well as being chilled, she’s also a fatalist who has never been fazed by anything adrenaline-inducing, unlike her nervous eldest daughter. She’s learnt to fly a plane – a Chipmunk, rather than the combat Mosquito that I mistakenly told someone about, proudly, years ago – travelled the world, climbed mountains and, though she’d never admit it, left a trail of broken hearts. Dad vetoed a parachute jump when she was fifty-something. I think she’d still do one now, if given half a chance. I can imagine her glasses steaming up and grey hair billowing back while cutting through the clouds on the plummet back to earth. “PULL THE CORD, MUM!” “Pardon?”
3 Don’t bother with a hearing aid. Make people speak louder instead. It’s good for them. Your children and grandchildren now have the lungs and diaphragms of professional singers. I could be a contralto with Scottish Opera, if I wasn’t tone deaf. The worst thing is that you will occasionally wonder out loud why the birds don’t sing anymore. Thank goodness for the telly subtitles.
4 Wear fuchsia pink or poppy red lipstick. All outfits, even hospital gowns, are improved by a splash of colour.
5 Enjoy flowers. Some say that receiving a bouquet on Mother’s Day is passe, and that nobody buys flowers anymore, since they’re so pricey for something so ephemeral. Mum is the exception. She’s always loved them, especially humbug-striped tulips, or sculptural protea, hydrangeas in pots, dusty pink roses or the first daffodils to herald spring. This week, your living room is like a lush garden.
6 Eat out at least once a week. Your Edinburgh favourites are probably Dishoom, Rendezvous and Mother India, though anywhere that serves a decent cheese scone will do. However, all you wanted for this year’s birthday dinner was a single fish from the chippy, since you’ve never been a fan of the accoutrements. All the more chips for us. We’re always eyeing your plate like expectant seagulls. We brought your celebratory tea over for the official unboxing and you relished every golden battered corner.
7 Always read. Just because you retired from librarianship, doesn’t mean you’d ever give up on books. You’re voracious and can power through anything. There is no genre you won’t tackle, though bloody thrillers are most favoured. Most recently, beside your chair, there’s been a large dry-looking tome on the Napoleonic Wars, as well as The Secret History of Here by Alastair Moffat, which you loved, and Albert Roux’s posthumous biography, My Life in Food. The newly installed stairlift has become a handy bookshelf.
8 Don’t capitulate to grandchildren’s telly demands. Their mum and auntie may obediently switch to the kids section of Netflix as soon as the youngest members of the family enter the room, but your TV will remain resolutely on ITV Four. Soon, though averse at first, the 11-year-old granddaughter will also become addicted to Poirot, Vera, Lewis and Midsomer Murders. She will “shush” others, if they disturb the unveiling of a plot line, usually involving arsenic or another archaic weapon. Thanks to his beautiful waxed ’tache, David Suchet is the equivalent of a perfectly salted egg,
8 Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. It’s the Dylan Thomas poem that you read out at dad’s funeral. Turning 87 doesn’t seem to be a big deal to you. “Old age should burn and rave”, after all, and you’ve surely still got that parachute jump to look forward to. Maybe we should have organised it for your Mother’s Day treat, though I think flowers might be more sensible.
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