Mum’s the Word
By Carla Lever
Earlier this year, I bought a ticket to Afrika Burn. Not familiar with the concept? Essentially what happens is that the entire Saturday population of the Old Biscuit Mill drives to the Tankwa Karoo and sets up colourful camps in the sweltering desert for a week, complete with oversized sculptures they’ve whipped up earlier.
They declare a war on capitalism, meaning you exchange things you need rather than buy them. Seven days after it begins, they have a giant party and riotously burn the sculptures. Essentially, then, it’s a bit like the London riots with more sun and less well-dressed participants.
At the time, I called my mother to tell her about my shiny new ticket. “That’s nice, dear,” she said. “Maybe you’ll be able to sell it to one of your students nearer the time.” I resented her lack of faith in me. Am I not the girl who climbs multiple mountains before breakfast? Look. I like the outdoors a lot. Unfortunately, I also like quiet nights, flushing loos and clean feet. I’m not high maintenance as much as low tolerance. That is to say, avoiding the list of things I don’t tolerate well means pretty much eschewing anything involving human contact. Tricky, that one.
Anyway, I’d bought my ticket a long time ago, when the world was young and semester hadn’t started. I’d forgotten things like my fantasy sterilisation league for human beings in their early twenties. Gosh, I was even feeling vaguely amenable to the challenge of not showering – after all, I was going with a nurse and they teach that lot about the benefits of sponge baths all the damn time. I had visions of biodegradable shampoo and earplugs, comfortingly warm K-Way tops and exceedingly aesthetic, non-grammatically challenged hippies framed by flaming sculptures. Mainly, let us be honest, I had visions of the killer column that would, without a doubt, materialise.
But that was then and this is now. When Burner Companion #1 got saddled with the kind of string karmic repercussions due only to genocide perpetrators of small eastern bloc countries, I started to worry. When Burner Companion # 2 announced a ‘touch detox’ – three days with no human contact, “just because” – I started to cry on the inside. But it was when I was struck by the kind of hormonal hell storm that turned getting through a regular day into navigating an asteroid belt of oestrogen mines that I really knew we were doomed. Me, I was cycling harder than Lance Armstrong. My friends – let’s call them the cagey and the cursed – were waiting. Essentially, we were the three horsewomen of the social apocalypse and we were heading into a desert. Biblical narratives have ended better.
I just sold the ticket. My mother has never been prouder. Anyway, it got me thinking about mothers and their advice. Word to the wise: it’s Mother’s Day in just over a week and the best flipping present you can give yours is telling her she’s always right.
My family has a long and proud line of women being always right. Let’s start with my paternal Great Aunt who worked as one of Churchill’s secretaries in the War Office. Sworn to secrecy at the time, she stayed resolutely and infuriatingly schtum on what she’d seen, calmly carrying her truckload of gossip to her grave over half a century later. As far as good advice goes, her ‘loose lips sink ships’ lesson was bang on the money. As you’ll have gathered, I didn’t get much of that side of the family’s genes.
Like many women, my maternal great grandmother was known to blow the whistle on her unruly children. Unlike most of her rural English contemporaries, though, she did it literally – descending the staircase in full football referee kit and blowing foul. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the same woman who was a suffragette with Emily Pankhurst. My Granny never forgot her brand of ‘always right’ advice: “Don’t you ever waste a vote. We’ve worked too hard for people to throw that away.”
Mum figures come in many forms. Often these have remarkably little to do with actually birthing you and more to do with knowing, loving and completely accepting you across more poor life decisions than a parliamentary opening fashion parade. I suppose what my own family nostalgia boils down to is, if you’re lucky enough to have a mum who’s always right, sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and listen to her. Turns out, in between the nagging, she might give you advice you’re grateful for the rest of your life.
Follow Carla Lever on Twitter (@carlalever)
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