What do Mother’s Day, Handy Men, T-shirts and Jazz have in common?

By Emma Pearson

May 25, 2024

Photo my own

14th May 2023

You might well ask.

Well, one answer, and the only one I have right now, is that these words, or words related to them, are on sticky notes, forming a dense, colourful and messy pile, worthy of investing in 3M. I am trying to reduce my use of sticky notes, but haven’t managed to make much progress. Every so often, I go through my sticky notes and consolidate whatever is on them on to “proper” A4 paper – usually one page with Personal, one page with Professional… and work off that for a few days – or perhaps hours. But somehow the sticky notes creep back in. Eventually when there are so many, I start to shove them into a folder. And then do something with the folder. Like actually take it on a business trip when I figure I will have more down time to do something with them. We shall see. For I am on a (rare) business trip. To England. To the city where I first worked post-Masters. I have realised that the place where I will be working this week is literally opposite where I worked back in the early 1990s. I am curious what memories of that time – life in my 20s – will come back.

But I digress.

The sticky notes. Any time I get an idea of “hmm – I think I might write about that” – it goes on a sticky note. On the kitchen table. In my office. In my bedside drawer (yes – really). Even sometimes in my handbag. No, I don’t capture things like those flashes of brilliance or wisdom in my phone. Just stickies.

And I have one sticky that says – “Wow – that t-shirt looks good on you!”. Another that says, “Pourtant c’est bien fait”, followed by, “Men who can channel Mike”. Another says, “Doesn’t feel like home to him”. All ideas for blogpost writing. Small anecdotes peppering my last hours/days/week.

From Medjool walking into the kitchen last Saturday morning looking just a bit different – wearing a new t-shirt – a beautiful soft green – sort of gentle light moss coloured. I smiled appreciatively at him, and said, “You look nice. I like that t-shirt. It looks good on you”. He smiled sheepishly back. And said, “Umm – it’s one of Mike’s. Is it okay if I wear it?” And then I recognised it. Beautiful Fat Face t-shirt. Exquisite colour. Fat Face always having slightly warmer tones than colours in other mainstream fashion. And better cotton with a lovely touch to it. Even if I am not sure if I was buying organic cotton back then. Over six years since that t-shirt was last worn. (And, yes – it is okay for you to wear it. I am glad it fits. I am glad it is being worn. It looks good).

And on to the note in French… I have an ever-increasing list of “good men” who come to do jobs in my house. Some knew Mike, like my neighbours – who are variously helpful for radiators, electricity, and even metalwork. Others have come into my life for all the jobs that Mike was capable of doing that I am not. Like dishwasher/fridge/oven/washing machine replacement and repair. Boiler/heater/gas replacement and repair. Toilet/shower/pipes/leaks replacement and repair. Painting/decorating/lighting (internal or external). And so on.

I train these men, men in these vitally important professions, to not “diss” others in their profession. To not speak badly of their predecessors. To not knock the competition. For it seems to be a stance. To come in, to shake their heads and say, “But who on earth did this for you? What were they thinking?” When a new man comes in (for they are all men), they start to ask awkward questions about the invisible electrics/pipes (etc) in this house. And awkward happens as soon as they ask, “Where does the water come in from outside?” “How do you turn off the water?” “Which one is your gas meter?” “How come this is plugged in here?”… and I do my best to answer… and I sense their irritation build, I gently say, “Before you start criticising anything in this house, please know that my husband did everything – designed it and built it himself – and he died 6 years ago. He has the answers. And I have all of the drawings which might help. I really don’t like it when people criticise his work. He is not here to help, nor to explain or defend his work”.

That usually settles things down fast. The man in question becomes more collaborative. Doesn’t need to knock his predecessor. And might even become complimentary – about the work Mike did, back then, in 1999-2000-2001 when building the house with his bare hands. And the book of design and drawings, in his precise hand, gets a thorough going over with murmurs of appreciation following. As was the case this week, when Philippe, my friendly and oft-called upon Electroménager handy man (who is helping me fit a new electric cooker as I shift off gas on to a heat pump – good job I realised the beautiful Smeg gas cooker, that Mike was so proud of, would have to leave in the process, with no gas now coming to the house) was struggling to figure out how the cooker connected to the fuse box. There he was, scratching his head, tugging at cables in the back area, looking up to see if they went over the ceiling, or down, to see if they went under the floor… then over to the designs… Frustrated, trying to figure out what was what… but simply saying, “Pourtant c’est bien fait”… or “And yet, it’s all done properly”…. He left after I had started a business call, so I don’t know the verdict. I hope he has figured it out, and that I will get a new cooker plugged into the right place. I do wish I could better channel Mike’s building skills, but it’s not in my range. But I am grateful for all the frazzled yet patient, devoted men who come to help, and understand that it is their job to channel him. And honour his work.

So on to Mother’s Day. Which is what it is in the US and in Switzerland today. But not in the UK, where I am in this moment – (it was back in March); nor in France (it will be in June). My surviving kids currently being in the UK and in France, I don’t expect them to be aware of Mother’s Day in Switzerland or in the States. And yet, I have had two lovely messages, celebrating me and my mothering status.

Bittersweet, of course. Poignant. A tender day for grievers who have lost their mums. A tough day for mums who have lost a child.

Medjool wrote just now, “Your surviving kids are lucky to have a mum like you (and they know it, I can tell by the role(s) they let you/ask you to play in their lives). I didn’t get the chance to see much of Julia and you together, and I can imagine that her difficulties prevented her from receiving all that you offered her. I am sure that wherever she is today, she is looking at you the same way Ben and Megan are”.

Kind words. And who knows. We don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know how it would be with Julia. How our relationship would be today, with her now aged 19. She was starting to do the wholly age-appropriate thing of “push away your mum” as Mike started to get ill. And she wasn’t able to step away from that stance in her lifetime. Even if she came to hold me, hug me, to ask to be held. She crawled into my bed, in the middle of the night, aged 13, 14 and 15. And she is the only one of my children to have actually said the words, “Mum, you are a good mum”.

Bittersweet. No other words.

And so on to Jazz. And Diana Krall. And specifically the song, “Feels Like Home”, a duet with Bryan Adams that I asked to be played at Mike’s funeral. One of the three songs I chose to represent our relationship – this one being for our middle and later years. I love that song. I love her voice. I love his voice. Mike and I would sing it together with me on piano. It was one of “our” songs.

And so when Diana Krall comes to town, I go to see her. Mike and I saw her in Montreux at the Jazz Festival one year. I love that she is married to Elvis Costello – another icon from those early years of our relationship – and who we also saw at Montreux. I love her prowess on the piano. I love her low, smoky, almost flat (?) singing. I love her impeccable enunciation of lyrics, such that even I can understand the words. And I love her quirky conversational style when performing live.

I didn’t see that she was playing till the day before her concert, so it was a bit of a rush to decide whether or not to go. Never cheap in Geneva. I invited Medjool. A birthday present. The concert was good. Stunning double bass, percussion and guitar. Deft and elegant piano playing. Sultry voice. And inevitably for me, a little hard to listen to, just because proper jazz (rather than covers) is rather beyond me. I thought Medjool would like it more than he did, but he was a bit non-plussed – a little underwhelmed. Which is okay. Even if he is a jazz aficionado. Even if I would love him to love the song that Mike and I loved. I don’t suppose he needs to love everyone. It’s okay for Diana Krall to stay an Emma and Mike artist, and that song to be a cornerstone in how I think of my life with Mike. It’s okay if it doesn’t feel like home for Medjool too. It wasn’t his home after all.

Here’s the song I love so much and had played at Mike’s ceremony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2vFnR7TSCw

Some Sunday ramblings as I wait for my hotel room to become available. In this strange country from which I originate, and that has Brexited on the rest of Europe. And where, so far since arriving, I have had conversations with two Polish people, a Greek woman, and a German woman. Not one Brit. Where are they all? Probably in Greece, Spain and France. And yet, it’s good to be back. I wonder though if it will feel like home?

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