Alan Fisher - Journalist

Personal website of Al Jazeera English journalist, Alan Fisher

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The Last Goodbye

Posted on August 18, 2011 at 2:10 AM

My mum, Anna, came from one of the generations of Scots women who worked hard. Born before the Second World War – they grew up in a time of great hardship and difficulties but they didn’t know any better. No-one came around to tell them how tough they had it.


In a contrast to what we saw in other parts of the UK recently, there was no rebellion, no violent sense of entitlement despite the grinding poverty and lack of opportunity. No outsider was expected to make life better.


She was smart; good at school but there was never any question of moving on to university. Economic circumstances dictated that she would leave as soon as possible and start to bring a pay packet into the house.


She started working in a local store but soon moved on to be a clippie – a bus conductress – in the days when there were such things. She came home in tears after her first shift; shocked by some of the words she heard, some of the words she was called. Her mother had no sympathy. ‘Toughen up’ she was told. So she did.


Growing up I remember how hard she worked. She cleaned the house from top to bottom every day, vacuuming and dusting, washing and cooking. I’m not sure how many people do that today. When she was done, she’d head off to the job that actually paid her. By then she was working at the Ravenscraig Steel Works, the huge complex just a short walk from our home, where she’d spend eight hours a day in a canteen preparing and serving meals for hundreds. She was funny too. Not tell a joke funny and not every day but her observations could leave your ribs sore and the smile broad.


No matter where I was in the world, I would call on a Sunday. In the days before mobile phones, I bribed a telecoms worker in some remote part of Bosnia to ignore the war and open up the local PTT office so I could make the call. I ran up a big bill on the satellite phone from Baghdad. Yes, we spoke, but I realised we never talked.


I know she loved her children and her grandchildren. She enjoyed her friends and the odd night at the bingo, but I don’t know what moved her, what she found beauty in, her favourite flower, her favourite movie. I know her favourite song. She had a very nice voice and she sang to me often as a child. She loved ‘The Impossible Dream’ and perhaps something of that rubbed off on me, the idea that you could dream large, you could do what you wanted if you worked hard enough.


My mother could sometimes be considered cantankerous. I thought it was honesty. She said what she thought. It could be brutal at times, even to those closest to her but there was never any question of her saying something to your face and something else behind your back. That simply wasn’t her. It didn’t suit everyone but she was comfortable with it. A diplomat she was not.


And in the last few days I’ve been overwhelmed by people who wanted to talk about her, to remember her and to tell me a story about her, many I’ve heard before but never tire of hearing again. I’ve been proud to hear people say how they liked her, how they loved her.


And tomorrow we will say goodbye. I recalled a George Elliott quote I added to her death notice in the local paper ‘Our dead are not dead to us until we have forgotten them’ and so my mother lives on and will for a long time yet. I can’t say I loved my mum. That is the past tense. I love her now. That’s the present and the future.

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