Sunday, January 24, 2016

Celebrating my Mum’s 70th birthday

I was asked to give a speech at my Mum’s 70th birthday party. Here it is. There were a couple of ad libs as well, but I can’t remember them. The asides (in brackets) were scripted.

Honestly, Mum loved it!

This birthday is a bit different to last year – Mum had planned a quiet celebration but then I had some unexpected difficult news and so Mum and Dad came suddenly to Cardiff to see us. Sorry for causing you such an unusual birthday last year, Mum. I hope this year’s makes up for it.

As we prepared for today, my wife Cathy trawled through photo albums and CDs of photos to create a photo exhibit. There are some very funny photos in there. But along with the best-forgotten fashions, and one or two outfits that still look really good, the one constant in so many of the photos are family, friends, people and celebration. We had photos from many previous birthdays and it’s obvious that as a family we mark milestones.

Cathy's hard work

There’s also a photo in there of Mum teaching me when we lived in the Gambia. Mum taught me to read and it wasn’t long before I was reading anything I could get my hands on – including medical journals someone gave me as a joke. [Mum reminded me afterwards that the only word I got stuck on was hypernatremia. For reference, I was 5.]

That shared love of reading and of books has always been something that has brought Mum and me together. When we were very little we had a very wet holiday in the Lake District (I don’t think there’s any other kind!) and we spent a lot of time in the car driving to various places where the rain didn’t matter. Along the way Mum read us chapter after chapter of The Lord of the Rings – and I’m sure my fondness for that book relates to hearing it in Mum’s voice first.

[Actually, Mum told me afterwards that she thinks that was a holiday we had travelling round the South of England, but hey, it’s still true that she read all 1,061 pages to us. And who’s making the speech here, anyway?]

As a teenager I started reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and it wasn’t long before Mum was also fully conversant with the misadventures of Rincewind the wizard and the streetwise cynicism of Captain Sam Vimes. So whether it was the mines of Moria or the streets of Ankh-Morpork, we always had those shared worlds to discuss.

It’s funny the things you learn from your Mum, and what you take with you into adult life. This year I will have been involved in Fair Do’s, the fair trade shop in Cardiff, for 20 years. But I was involved in Shrewsbury Fair Trade first, thanks to Mum.

In fact, I’ve often said the fair trade movement in Britain was built on the back of coerced teenage labour. I lugged a lot of boxes on her behalf – the trade-off was after I dropped her off I could keep the car for a couple of hours. Mum’s car was a Vauxhall Cavalier (the classic 80’s design with the boxy front end). It became my first car in the end until it sadly died of rust and over-use. But ask Mum and she will tell you it was a good car and we both loved it.

So we have memories and milestones, but even on the cusp of 70 my Mum is full of surprises. Just after Christmas we went as a family to see the new Star Wars film. Afterwards, as we left the cinema, Mum said: “Oh that was so much better than those prequel films. The fight scenes were so much more realistic!” (If you think that’s surprising, you should hear her talk about how much she likes Die Hard!)

So, from Middle Earth to a galaxy far, far away, thank you Mum for being there with us. That’s something worth celebrating.

Happy Birthday, Mum!

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