Chris Such, wrote this moving tribute to his mother, Pam, which was read by Liz Smith at Pam’s Service of Thanks Giving on 24 May 2010 as if Pam were talking to us.
Hello, gosh, what a lot of people. Goodness, you’re not all here for me are you? I’ve got nowhere near enough for you to eat, but I think I’ve got something in the fridge.
Mum always had something for people in the old days in Grantham. We had miners, marching down from Yorkshire, and those poor people from Jarrow, walking all the way to London; Mum always found something for them. She was proud when I got to the High School, the Grantham & Kesteven High School for Girls, and even prouder when I was acting Head Girl. Mum always made sure I took care of the younger girls. There was one girl, Margaret Roberts, I took her to school; not that I enjoyed it. Talk about bossy, but then she did become Prime Minister.
I did quite well at school. I don’t like to boast but I was the only girl in the year who got an Oxford School Certificate, 8 credits at, well, you’d call it GCSEs now. I liked everything, especially hockey, but then the war came. We dug up the school hockey pitch and planted cabbages. Dad gave me the seedlings to plant, he was a great gardener. He was a teacher, so I suppose I wanted to be a teacher too. I’m sorry that Marje, and Olive and Bar aren’t here, it’s too far to travel at their age. They were at the High School, we were friends for over 70 years, used to speak to Marje regularly, a true friend. And Susie of course. She was a refugee from Germany, she came to stay with Mum, when I moved down to Leicester, to study Domestic Science. She was like a sister to me.
I liked it in Leicester. I was in digs, a lovely house. Dad bought me a new bike, a Raleigh. Once after a party, I cycled through the night back to Grantham, thirty miles. I don’t know why I did it, just felt like it, the freedom of it. I got home for breakfast. Usually there were soldiers staying; once they’d come from Dunkirk, Mum used to put them up. And they were so hungry, but we fed them somehow. Dad was in the Home Guard, he couldn’t move too well because of the wound he got in the First World War. He grew vegetables, we weren’t hungry, not like some. Mum and Dad made friends with a German prisoner of war called Fritz, and I’m still friendly with his son Thomas, after more than 60 years.
I had a boyfriend all that time, Terry, nice boy but a bit slow; and I liked my cousin Desmond, he looked so good in his Navy uniform. I had plenty to do, I was President of the Students’ Union. I used to make speeches to the Old Girls who came back to see us, they seemed very old to me then. I got my Diploma in 1943, and went to work as a domestic science teacher at Southend High School for Girls. I liked the teaching, and they asked me to organise the school meals as well, meals for four hundred.
I met Arthur not long after. He was a greengrocer, and a fireman in the war. The firemen shared part of the school buildings and he must have seen me. He was a shy man but he came in with an apple, singing ‘an apple for the teacher’. He was sweet, and as Terry hadn’t said anything, I married Arthur. He was older than me, and his Mum didn’t see eye to eye with my parents, but we were happy, especially when Chris was born. I worked in the shop and I taught evening classes. I used to take Chris and cousin Ron down to Cornwall to see Mum and Dad who retired to Praa Sands, we loved it there.
We moved to Brighton in 1958. Arthur wanted a post office. It was right outside the station in Terminus Road, and I worked there, first in the grocery and then in the post office for 24 years. In all that time, I never had a garden or allotment, only indoor plants, I don’t know how I stood it, but I made up for it later. They made me Honorary President of the Brighton Organic Garden Society, would you believe? Mouse and Ruth and Helen. Lovely of them.
Arthur died in 1964. We were dancing at the Grand Hotel, he was a lovely dancer, ballroom dancing, he taught me how to dance. He just slipped down and died, on the dance floor. Hard days. I had a business to run, husband to bury and son at boarding school. I wept nights then. Two years alone, but then my luck changed. I was in Paris, I loved Paris, and everything French. I won school prizes in French; it’s lovely speaking French, isn’t it? That’s where I met Fred. We hit it off. What a charmer, so good looking. We got married in St Nicholas where I went in those days. We must have loved each other because we were together for thirty six years. And Fred’s family came along with him, three lovely children, Valerie, Mike and Roger. I was a really lucky girl. I ran the post office and Fred ran the shop. Some of the old biddies couldn’t make it round to the post office, so I delivered their pensions myself, I met lots of people that way. I was amazed when I got the BEM for services to the post office. It was nothing, just helping people out a bit.
I don’t know why, I could turn my hand to anything. I loved dancing, not ballroom with Fred, but I could dance like a Cossack, you know, squatting, arms folded, kicking your legs out, and belly dancing too, what fun. I loved running, for the joy of it, skipping along with Mikala and Jolene. I learned German, and had lovely holidays there. I learned copper plate writing so I could do posters. And sign language so I could talk to a deaf and blind friend. I never liked to stand still. There was the Pilots Club, then Amica, it was lovely doing all those things together and raising money for charities at the same time. And the lunches and sales round at the West Hill Hall, goodness me, lunches for fifty, how did I manage it in that kitchen?
When we retired in 1982, we took an allotment at Tenantry Down, near the Race Course. Fred wasn’t a gardener, but he dug the chalky soil and had bonfires. Poor old Fred, he had so many things wrong with him, blind and deaf at the end, I took care of him for years, finding him things to do. He was like me, never still. When he died in 2003, Father Robert came to see me, such a comfort, so kind to me and Chris. I’ve been at St Michael’s ever since. Only a few weeks ago I managed to get in on a Sunday, and Father Robert gave me communion on my own, after the main service, so kind. They all are, the Fathers, Robert, Gareth, Raymonde, and Mark.
When I couldn’t drive any more, I had to give up Tenantry Down, I moved to Chris’s allotment at Horsdean. But you know, one day I went up to the old place on the bus, and I thought, I’ll just take those bits and pieces back home. I’ll use the barrow, so I loaded it with a few things and set off, it’s downhill from there isn’t it? But then uphill when you get to the Level. I was 84 at the time, but I never felt myself to be an old woman, and I did it alright. Some people gave me a few looks, but then when you get on in years, you don’t care about that, do you?
I was a bit shocked when I found I had cancer, but I had some good times and everyone was so kind to me, especially my friends Gina, and Jan, and Claire and Terry, I can’t mention you all, there wouldn’t be time, but thanks to you all. No, I couldn’t recommend what I had, avoid it if you can dear, but if you have to go, the Martlets is a wonderful place to ease your path. Wonderful.
Oh, are you still here? Sorry to drone on, but now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m a bit busy, I’ve got some mince pies to make. A special request, very special this time.