The Worst of Times: I can't ever remember her kissing me: Audrey Slaughter talks to Danny Danziger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I didn't get on with my mother at all, but she's dead now, long dead.

There were four other children before me, and there was a vast gap between the youngest of them and me - and then they had another one after me.

So my parents seemed very old - my mother was 43 when I was born; they belonged, literally, to another century.

She was always grey-haired when I knew her, and she looked old, older than all the other mothers. I hated her coming to school events because she always wore these awful hats, with bits of veil or great big roses on the side, like the grandmother in the Giles cartoons.

My mother was a very frustrated woman; domesticity didn't appeal to her at all, and so she was always cross and bad-tempered.

She thought it was awful to tell a child that she was pretty or had done well, and she never showed affection; I can't ever remember her kissing me. If I came home with a very good mark in a subject, instead of saying: 'Oh, 99 per cent, well done,' she'd say: 'What happened, how did you lose one mark?'

As I grew older, we had more and more rows. When I was 17, I went to live in a YWCA on Battersea Bridge, and got a job paying pounds 2 a week in a photographers' gallery in Bond Street. But I couldn't afford the hostel and food with that salary, and so I went back home, which I bitterly regret now. I wish I'd had more gumption.

My mother then began saying I ought to get married. I think she was finding me a handful and thought I would settle down if I had a husband. I met this man who was 15 years older than me; if it hadn't been for wanting to leave home, I wouldn't have married him, but he was an escape route. I married at 19.

Of course I knew it was wrong. I remember that moment before the bride and her father go into the church. My father, who was always very understanding, said to me: 'Look here, if you don't want to go through with it, it's not too late. . . .'

I wanted to say to him: 'I don't want to go through with it, save me.' But I kept thinking of all the expense and the bridesmaids, who had been chosen by my mother, and the reception and everything. So I married and had a nervous breakdown a year afterwards.

I was very close to my sister who lived about five miles away - she had also married a man much older than herself, and I used to go running to her in a terrible state, frightened of staying at home with my husband.

He wasn't a frightening man, quite the reverse, and he appeared to be perfectly happy; it was just that it seemed my life was over. I saw all my friends going out and having a lovely time, and there was I cooking, cleaning and shopping, and I hated it.

I did go home to my mother once, and I lay in bed all the time I was there. She kept saying: 'Are you pregnant? Are you sure you're not pregnant?' She couldn't understand why I didn't want to stay with my husband.

I think some of my mother's conventionality had rubbed off on me. I didn't know anyone who had been divorced, and no one in my family had. Stupidly I thought having children might settle the marriage down. It's the worst reason in the world for having children, but I had two in quick succession, and I just devoted my time to them.

My mother died before my children were born. She'd come to Sunday lunch, and was complaining of a headache. She kept saying: 'There's something gritty in my eye.' And then she went home. My sister rang that night to say my mother had had a stroke and was in a coma in hospital.

I did go to see her and I tried to make my peace with her, but she had another massive stroke and died.

I'm not angry with her now; I think it must have been very difficult tied to a home with six children when you couldn't afford them.

I can see some of her good points now. For instance, she was very understanding when my father was made redundant. In those days redundancy didn't mean you got a pay-off, you were just sacked, with no comeback.

I remember being home one afternoon doing my homework, and my father came home unusually early. I heard my mother say: 'Why are you here?' worried that he was ill. And he put his arms around her, and said: 'Oh Nellie, you've married a failure,' and he wept. But she was very supportive of him then, which I thought was very good of her, and she never criticised him.

All my life, I determined to be the opposite of her, and I've always told my children they were handsome or beautiful or clever, and praised them, and I certainly hugged and kissed them a lot.

But I'm probably more like her than I realise. For instance, my mother was full of little sayings and superstitions, and I now find myself saying silly things too, like: 'Pin, pin, bring me luck, that's why I stop to pick you up. . . .'

Eventually I left my husband, and moved into a friend's flat with the children, and then everything began to get better and better and better.

Audrey Slaughter is a magazine founder, editor and novelist. Her latest book, 'Unknown Country', is published by Bantam Books.

(Photograph omitted)

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