My mother, June, was a professional musician who eventually settled down in Perth, where she had spent much of her childhood. She taught piano from beginner level to the very highest level. She also taught singing and elocution.
Unfortunately, she died in February 1999, only eight weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During her illness she and we were helped a lot by the MacMillan nurses.
I miss my Mum enormously.
I wrote her epitaph in the small hours of the morning after her death, having lain awake all night thinking about her. These are my feelings from the heart at the time of her death. I saw no reason to add, or change, anything between that time and the moment that I read these words immediately after the funeral service.
Our Mum was just beautiful!
Few of today’s models have beauty which is much more than make-up deep, and, in my eyes, they would find it hard to compete with Mum in her hey day. Her beauty shone through, once more, as she smiled and said “Bye-bye” and “Love ooh!” to Kim and me before she gracefully slipped away, last Tuesday, to join her “Preshie”, Ken.
Apart from her beauty, Mum had many other attributes which we can all attest to. If I were to give examples of them all, we’d be here for quite a while; so I won’t. However, I would like to speak about two of them.
The first is her wicked sense of humour. She liked a good laugh. She liked to have fun, and to be instrumental in other peoples’ fun. Para Handy’s boat, the “Vital Spark”, could have been named after Mum!
As Kim and I sat with Mum last Tuesday morning at Peacehaven, a fishing boat, chugging up the Firth of Forth, reminded me of one of Mum’s favourite stories. I’m sure that a lot of you have heard it, but I make no apologies for repeating it today.
About thirty years ago, Mum went fishing in Ireland with Nancy. There were lots of funny anecdotes which came out of that holiday, but this is Mum’s favourite. One day, they went out in a small boat which was owned by a man commonly known as “Billy de Boat”. There may have been a bit of exaggeration in the relating of this story to me, but, to Mum, who could not swim a stroke at the time, the boat seemed much smaller than the dolphins which were playing in the water around it. Mum was worried that their games would lead to the capsize of the boat and, thence, to certain drowning. There didn’t seem to be any safety measures on board.
Eventually, she just had to ask, “Billy? I can’t swim. What should I do if these dolphins turn the boat over?”
Quick as a flash, Billy replied, “Well, you should take a deep breath, sink to de bottom, and run loik hell for de shore!”
When all on board had recovered from their laughter, Mum thought she would catch Billy out by asking, “When I get to the bottom, how would I know which way the shore is?”
Billy looked at Mum incredulously, as if she were daft, and told her that “The shore would be up de hill!”
Other attributes of Mum’s included courage, determination, honesty, firmness, sense of fun, will-power, a natural teaching ability, and undoubted musical and theatrical talent. I’m sure that you could list me many more.
The second attribute that I’d like to talk about is her strong will. This manifested itself in many ways.
On a light note, Mum firmly believed that she could will rugby teams to make mistakes which would lead to their defeat. She would particularly try to make this work on teams playing against Scotland. It is up to us how much of this we believe. It has to be said that she hasn’t been too good at imposing this will in recent years! However, on the Saturday before last, I watched the two home internationals with Mum. She wanted Ireland and Scotland to win their matches against France and Wales respectively. She went to sleep when Ireland were winning 9-7, and woke up again when Scotland and Wales were drawing about half way through the second half of their match. Ireland lost by a point, and the Welsh defence fell apart to allow Scotland to win in style. Maybe there was something in it?
Most commonly, Mum’s will-power came through as the way that she pressed others to do exactly as she wished. Some would call this pushiness, or even go as far as calling it bullying. It may surprise you to hear that I would agree with those opinions. Sometimes, it was downright unpleasant to witness this bullying, which was often directed at those who were closest to her. However, I wish to remind you of only the positive aspects of this bullying.
Many of us were pushed and inspired to do much better than we otherwise would have done, had we not been bullied by Mum. I am immensely proud that my sister, who, with the aid of her husband, runs a residential home which has one of the best reputations in Fife. That is not just my opinion, but the opinion of many good, independent sources that I have spoken with recently. Without Mum’s pushing, early in life, I’ve no doubt that her work would still have been good, but would it have been this good?
I can’t say that I’ve done as well as my sister in life, but I’d like to think that I’ve done quite well; thanks, in no small way, to being pushed, early on, by Mum.
To Mum’s chagrin, I never progressed past grade three in any of the ten instruments that I took up. Kim was equally unsuccessful with her music. Happily, those talents have skipped a generation, and abound, for all of us to see and hear, in my sister’s children.
However, there are so many musicians and, to a lesser degree, actors, around who owe so much of their success to my mother. Without her pushing, her bullying, and her inspiration, they would have been merely “quite good”. Her input has made them believe, and become, much better than they would otherwise have been. Even those of her pupils, friends, relations and colleagues who did not pursue their musical or drama careers, were inspired.
Mum has left her suffering behind now, but I hope that she has left pieces of herself in many of those of us present today, and others who are not, and that these pieces will grow and blossom through the achievements of all of us.