My Mother Was a Bag Lady

No,  *my*  mother wasn’t a bag lady. I’m talking about the book by Josiane Behmoiras that I have just finished reading. What a difference a title makes. This was first published with the title “Dora B: A Memoir of My Mother” and I doubt if I would have given it a second glance. The original cover was quite garish, unlike this monochromatic, muted 1950s snap of a mother and young child on a beach. It’s no good telling me not to judge a book by its cover because that’s exactly what i will do. And I’m sucker for an intriguing title.

The book is deceptively simple, moving day by day through the life of a single Jewish mother and her child. It is no surprise to learn that the author has been a documentary maker; she chronicles the life of her and her mother well. But this is no sensationalist reportage of the horrors of living a life of poverty and alienation, rather the warmth of the mother-daughter relationship emerges despite our realisation that Behmoiras’ mother has probably suffered from mental illness throughout her whole life, a mental illness  which at times has brought them both into danger.

As we reach the end of her mothers life she writes, “I kneel on the floor by Dora’s bed I hold her hand and start singing to her the lullaby she used to sing to me in Paris, a long time ago: ‘Do do, l’enfant, do’ … Sleep, sleep, child, sleep. My mother joins me, and we sing in two voices: ‘L’enfant dormira bientot.’ The child will soon be asleep.

I have not experienced anything like the life of Josiane and her mother, Dora but I have been present at my own dying mother’s bedside, singing to her the soothing Taize chant, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” The two halves of a relationship have swapped places and the younger is fervently wishing for an end to the life of the person with whom she has the strongest bond.


Sanctuary knocker, Durham Cathedral

Durham riverside

Looking across the river, I half expected to see Maggie Tulliver emerge from the house, tossing her bonnet aside.

Hallgarth House, Durham (Department of English Studies Building)

Sitting right beside Durham Cathedral, this handsome Georgian houses is one of the three buildings of the Department of English Studies at Durham University. Can you imagine studying the novels of Jane Austen in this setting? The sky was rather washed out by the time we were coming to the end of our walk, consequently it had all but “disappeared” when I took this photo, leaving Hallgarth House looking like a rather upmarket Dolls House.


The Roman feast Ceresalia was named in honour of the goddess Ceres, from where we get the word cereal.  The Anglo Saxon Lammas (loaf mass) celebrates the same stage in the agricultural calendar – the first harvest. Although the means of harvesting has changed, I’m sure this landscape would not be too alien to our Anglo Saxon or Roman ancestors.

As I was doing the driving to and from Durham on the 7th and 8th August, I can’t be sure where this photo was taken although I do know it was somewhere on the A1. It’s on viewing such landscapes that I really wish that I could paint.

Green grows the grass O!

It’s taken me almost two years from when our rather strange neighbours, who appear to have a dislike for anything natural, climbed over our fence when they knew we were away for a week, and chopped down all our climbers. They left the flower beds in a nasty mess and it took me many months before I could clear up the piles of murdered plants, let alone start remedial work.

In the interest of lower maintenance, I decided to completely redo the bed and have a straight border rather than a curved outline. This then meant that the edge of the lawn was in need of a rebuild also. Put together with the realisation that our lawn was more weed, moss and couch grass than actual lawn, it seemed an ideal tme to ‘redo” the lawn as well.Of course the thought is easier than than the execution. The hard physical labour of completely redoing the bed is over but as a result of a period of almost a year without gainful employment of the other half, funds for restocking the bed were non-existent. What you see is more re location than restock.

As for the re-greening of the lawn, my role has been almost wholly supervisory. The good old Loom Monkey (No. 2 son) couldn’t resist and took this task on. He’s almost half done but has been away for the last two weeks and will only be in residence for two days before he sets off for a final year at Durham Uni. I know it’s not finished but in a strange way I am enjoying that juxtaposition of new grass against half-prepared ground, against totally unprepared ground. This way I can fully appreciate that a lawn isn’t just there. Someone has had to create it, nurture it and maintain it.

Good work Greg. Oh, and in case you wondered, no I don’t speak to my neighbours any more. I take care not to go in or out of the house at the same time as them. That way I will do them no harm.


fun in the parkSummer is for having fun!

%d bloggers like this: