Mother’s Lament

It's now 22 years since my mum died, apparently of her own volition and content that this was the time to go. Two years earlier we had shared a good week together, and sorted out some family affairs; most notably we had decided that I should inherit a painting by LS Lowry, and have it shipped to Australia as soon as possible. This was partly because my mum couldn't have it at her home because of the insurance cost, and it was being stored in a friend's heavily guarded cellar. We didn't have insurance in Australia, nor locks on the doors.

Lowry's painting - "A Footbridge" had always been a favourite of mine, in my Aunt's collection that she inherited from her husband, Sir Barnet Stross. He had bought the painting from the artist in Salford in 1938, for a sum of £31.10s 0d - thirty guineas. Lowry was very close to his mother, and at this time was struggling both with his art and his identity; the painting always seemed symbolic of his life, with the mother and child at the summit and many steps ahead to regain that lost security and innocence. 

In August 1999, as we looked with anticipation towards the new Millenium, my mum was walking in the garden, smelling the flowers as she loved to do, and slipped over, breaking hip and wrist. In record time I booked and caught a flight home, casting aside the warnings that I must get a return visa before leaving. It was even suggested that this could be brought by motorbike courier from the Immigration Department in the city to Melbourne airport, but I chose to sort it out when I got back. 

In the end that was just two weeks later, and with no need to return. Faced with "rehabilitation" and a life less free than she had, once she had shared last thoughts and been reconciled to long regrets, she simply willed herself away, or so it seemed. Never thinking this could happen, I had flown to Aberdeen for the weekend with my brother. The phone rang as I listened to the ethereal and sublime voice of Regine Crespin singing Berlioz' Summer Nights, bringing the news from my dear cousin Sue who was at her bedside. 
 So the next day we flew together back to Hampshire, and made arrangements for the Quaker's funeral service she had chosen. I collected some wild flowers from the chalk downs, and wrote an elegy to read out. Later Sue helped me sort out mum's belongings, and those private women's things of no further use, and we found homes for the books and little mementos and pieces of familiar furniture. And then I flew home, after persuading the airline to take someone with no visa to the prison colony I am now forbidden to leave. They were fined $5,500 for the inconvenience, while I spent a day in limbo in Melbourne on a 24 hour emergency visa, arguing with the Immigration Stasi.

Had I known then how things would turn out, we may have decided to keep the Lowry, as it was a luxury we could barely afford. But increasingly the satisfaction of living with something "real" and precious was spoilt by the fear that something might happen to it, transplanted from the dreary dampness of Manchester to the searing hot winds blowing from the Australian desert. We also had to take it off the wall and put it in a cupboard every time we went out, in case some visitor looked in the window - even though no-one had even heard of Mr Lowry or knew his reputation. 
 So we decided to send it back to Sotheby's in London for a sale, now that mum wouldn't know. But first I painted a copy, using Lowry's idiosyncratic palette, of Ivory Black, Prussian Blue, Yellow Ochre, Vermilion Red, and White - only using Titanium White as the Lead oxide Flake White is no longer available.  Perhaps it was the patina from the smog of the Industrial North, and that of my uncle's London flat that gave Lowry's painting an appropriately yellowish tinge, and it was something I couldn't quite achieve. I'd already done a reduced size copy for my mum's room as part of the deal, but this was more of a replica. On that holiday in 1997 I'd flown with Egypt Air and spent four momentous days in Cairo. Tutankamun's collection in the old Egyptian museum in Tahrir Square was startling and relatively unguarded - the sound of Cairo traffic came with the hot wind through a barred window into the room of golden treasures as I rested my tripod on the glass cases to photograph them. I was specially impressed by the four goddesses guarding and protecting the gigantic outer case for the sarcophagus, so made another replica to guard us while we slept. 

We hadn't long been in the new bedroom - but could say that ISIS has kept us safe now for twenty years in a way that others could not; I don't want their safe now, preferring the sort of safety in numbers of a Cairo street, where we all look out for  each other. 
  Since that time the world has changed for us; as Orion rises before dawn, bringing Sirius the Dog Star, Osiris' wife and partner ISIS who brings fertility and life... 

DM 15th August 2021