Mum had layers, strong opinions, and an unwavering moral compass. When she set her mind to a matter, no institution of man could turn her aside. I once, as a compliment, told her that she presented a sweet little old lady exterior, but that she was like a shark underneath, comparing her to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Mum took this as the intended compliment, with a smile on her face which still shines in my memory.
Years after she had moved from Bristol, I visited a family friend who lived two doors down, and who was Mum’s willing Scrabble partner; clearly someone who knew to ply Mum with Baileys, that she might have a chance. Good friends. That friend made a comment, which struck me with its simple truth and clarity. That area of Bristol, turned into a sink estate through city council shenanigans, had a number of problem families, but while their crime was everywhere, their social influence stopped dead at Mum’s doorstep. There was a clear dividing line in what happened to children growing up, and Mum was that dividing line, protecting all those behind her. If you want to start looking for points of similarity with her later beloved fictional character of Granny Weatherwax, this is a good place to begin.
Right and wrong transcended nationality, class and many other artificial layers. We were taught good manners, but were also taught to recognise the distinction between those which help smooth out social frictions (“keep your elbows in at the dinner table!”) and those which were used as social markers for exclusion; to be able to get along with those using the latter, but not to be ruled by those markers or to fall prey to the divisiveness. As a teenager, Mum had been presented with a choice: to step out as a debutante or to attend a Swiss finishing school; she chose the latter, as the lesser of two evils, but she forged her own lessons from what she was taught and built something better.
As a teenager, my discussions with Mum on topics such as religion would go long into the night. Mum was a militant agnostic: she simply didn’t know whether the divine existed or not, but held that denial of the possibility required a leap of faith, because science could not prove absence. The best word I know of to describe her suspicions as to the divine is Pantheism, in that the totality of consciousness in the Universe is the divine; her views on the more anthropomorphic forms of the divine in religious teachings were more incendiary and do not bear repeating here at this time.
In accordance with her wishes, today we’re returning her physical body to the ground, in a manner which permits it to be useful to nature, and thus to others; as to her spirit and soul, I know not where they be, but if there is a gatekeeper, then by now they have a headache and Mum is enjoying herself, ferociously.