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My mum and the supposedly booby trapped motorbike!

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

Louise Bourgeois, 'Maman' , 2009

I read an Instagram post recently where there was a discussion by two artists talking about their mums and what amazing people they are. Which generated comments about how amazing generally mums are. And for me this conjures up images of stereotypical mums, the ones who are loveable, always there for you , always ready with some good advice and a cup of tea, take care of you when you are sick, rejoice in your accomplishments and sympathise when things are going tits up! And that is definitely some mums, a lot of mums, but for some other people this ideal mum is far different from reality.

One day in 1971 , at the height of the infamous Troubles in Northern Ireland, my mum sat on a motorbike that the army suspected of being booby trapped, to prevent them from blowing it up. In those days she didn't drive and had accepted a kind offer of a lift from a neighbour into Belfast City Centre to attend an urgent appointment. They had parked the bike near the City Hall and each went off to do their respective business, agreeing to meet back at the bike a short time later. Well, on her return, my mother was horrified to see the area had been cordoned off, the police and army had been drafted in and a remote control robot was being deployed to blow up the bike they suspected as being booby trapped. Without missing a heart beat, my mum pushed through the cordon and ran full pelt to the bike and sat on it shouting, "Don't do it, don't, its fine!" .

In that moment she didn't have a thought for her own safety, only concern for her neighbour's motorbike! And this was typical of my mum, act now think later. My dad left us when I was 6, and from that point she was a single parent. We lived in England at the time and she reacted by moving us lock stock and barrel to Belfast in the height of the Troubles. We were, in effect, homeless, living with relatives until she could sort something out. Many times I have asked myself, why would anyone do that? It was such a dangerous place! And the reason is that she wanted to be closer to her mum, my granny.

She was always impulsive, if things in her life didn't feel right, she would act instinctively. When my dad left, she impulsively moved to a country at war. At 18 she ran away from home and joined the woman's royal airforce, another impulsive decision. Throughout her life she would move house consistently, never staying anywhere very long. Her actions were sometimes unbelievably erratic, like the time she ran out in the middle of the night in her nightdress to hug trees that were being cut down outside her house!

She in fact suffered from depression, something I didn’t realise until I was much older. She was always a kind and loving mum, and she was a brilliant grandma to my two children, always generous with her time and affection. However, she would go through periods of depression or anxiety when she was sometimes sad, got upset easily, or wasn’t always present. Her depression seemed to stem from feeling she was never good enough, that she was worthless and didn't deserve happiness. Of course depression is an illness and she couldn't help it when the black dog descended.

However, she was actually a quite remarkable woman. she showed an incredible amount of courage and determination. She had the guts to try and change things for the better , even though her actions would sometimes have deep repercussions, her intentions were always well meaning. She never accepted the status quo, something I am grateful she passed on to me! Leaving home as a naive 18 year old must have been so traumatic, but she successfully navigated that to become a member of the WRAF. When my dad left, she went from being homeless, to securing a house for us and provided a loving home. As a single parent , she worked extremely hard, secured a job she loved in the Civil Service, remarried and bought her own home, something I know she was extremely proud of. She loved books and was extremely well read and knowledgeable.

I suppose my mum could be described at times as difficult, and to look at my mum you would not know any of this. She was a very nondescript looking person. She rarely wore makeup, she never dyed her hair and could care less about fashion, wearing her signature navy slacks , cream, polo neck and sensible shoes from M&S. She is sadly no longer with us, but I still think I see her when I'm out and about, as she resembles so many other women from her generation.

Psychologists say that people form opinions of someone new within 3 seconds of meeting them, it is known as "thin slicing" . To look at my mum, she did not seem remarkable in any way. However, behind this facade lay a very complex woman. In my artwork, I reference how we shouldn't judge people on their appearance. I'm mostly referencing body image but it goes much further than that. As a society we are quick to make judgements about others, from their status, to intelligence, to conscientiousness. Much of my work says 'Stop this'! Like in this painting . The women are holding their hands in a gesture that says stop. They have an air of determination about them, pushing past judgemental onlookers and running through a bed of what appears to be leaves but are on closer inspection eyes!

'sTop!' Acrylic on Canvas, 123cm x 94 cm 9 (SOLD)

The thing about my childhood is that it made me the independent person I am today. My mum taught me not to rely on anyone but myself, fostered an attitude that resists boundaries and challenges the status quo. And I definitely support those who live alternative lives to the norm, because to some extent I have lived experience of it. Yes I have achieved a lot in my life from those sparse beginnings, but I never forget what it was like. People make assumptions without necessarily knowing all the facts, and through my work I hope to encourage everyone to stop and think before doing so!

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