Five years ago I recorded a conversation with my Mum as part of an end-of-year project at Leeds College of Art. It was the first time I had shown my work and even more nerve-wracking than putting on the upcoming show in Gosforth. It consisted of a 1913 map of Gosforth which I embellished with found materials and photographs, a recorded conversation between my Mum and me about the map, and a charcoal drawing of my Mum screen-printed onto map fabric (below).
So yesterday I searched for the recording on my lap top. After an hour or so in technology hell, I found it and listened to it for the first time since then. It lasts 32 minutes and I intend to make it available as part of the Love This Place show. Still working on uploading it here.
Much of the time nowadays it is hard to have a conversation with Mum. This is because of her advanced Parkinsons which impairs both her cognition and her ability to speak. Back then it was starting to get harder to chat but it is a fantastic conversation. Several times her sharp, wry sense of humour had me laughing out loud. She sounds very Geordie- as she noticed when she listened to herself. She said she had meant to talk posh but forgot.
The map was a useful prompt for Mum’s memories of growing up, having kids and eventually leaving Gosforth for Leeds. The Second World War loomed large in her childhood- she says that railway stations have made her feel sad all her life because of their association with saying goodbye to her three older siblings when they went off to serve in the war. She describes how her dad, who was lucky to survive years of active service in the trenches of the First War, sat and wept when the Second War was announced on the radio. Our chat covers a lot of ground- school, family, Gosforth, being a Geordie and her positive feelings about ‘moving up in the world’ from a council estate to our own house in prosperous North Leeds.
Over time our roles have been reversed. I look after her now and try to make sure she is happy, safe and well, as she did for me all those years. I’ll take the recording to her nursing home to listen to together. Listening to it yesterday was extraordinary. It was very moving and hugely entertaining. It made me feel confident about myself and my work, as it contains many of the threads which I have been weaving together in my art since then. You can hear that we love each other, sometimes a bit awkwardly across our differences. She is cruelly diminished now, only 5 and a half stone and there is just much less of her in every way. The recording brought her back- even more of her than I knew then. You never really know your Mum but these 20-plus years of caring for her, and this precious conversation, mean that I can keep seeing her in new ways and have the opportunity to deepen our relationship.
Best of all, listening to the conversation did the job of a Mum- it made me feel that everything’s going to be OK. She will enjoy knowing that she can still do that for me.