1 A pretty good record collection
One Christmas, my mum bought me a record player and handed over all her LPs from the 1960s and 1970s. Battered sleeves of Blondie, Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Band, Springsteen, Nina Simone and Elvis Costello now take pride of place in my flat and the scratched vinyl plays like an autobiography of her years in flares and mini skirts.
2 An awareness of the world
Growing up in leafy Surrey, the world can seem very one-note, but my mum has always been determined to make me realise how hard life can be. As part of her job, she’d attend local community meetings with MPs and the police officers in Brixton – and she’d insist on taking my brother and me along to listen and to learn. One time, after a meeting, a councillor said to me, “Now, you can see the other side of the coin.”
3 The ability to laugh
To howl. To laugh so much your sides hurt.
4 The ability to shop
“Never have regrets!” she’s always told me and this particularly applies to shoes, dresses, jackets and handbags.
5 The knowledge that anger is good
And I don’t mean the anger she’d show when I’d yet again failed to tidy my bedroom, or tell her where I was. I mean the kind of anger that comes from belief and passion and principle. The kind of anger that women are told to tone down, because people – plenty of men and plenty of women – don’t feel comfortable with it. The kind of anger that is resistance, out of sync with the pastel-coloured picture of femininity; the kind of anger that makes men orators and women hysterical. Because it’s that kind of anger that can change the world.
6 An appreciation of just how much women deal with
Especially when they are single working mothers.
Honesty, disagreements, easy silence, enraged debates, long walks, long talks over wine. As I’ve become an adult, my friendship with my mum has become one of the greatest of my life.
8 A healthy appreciation of Agatha Christie
Watching Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot has been a consistent and steady backdrop to my life. I’m not sure what it’s taught me, but I’m certain it’s taught me something.
9 A determination to be myself
No crowd-following, no fake smiles, no hidden agendas. I’m still learning how to do this one all the time, but my mum has given me the utmost belief that this is the path to the end of the rainbow.
10 A dose of self-belief
She believes I can do anything. Now, I’ve got to learn to do the same.
11 A lifelong passion for The Muppets
And Bugsy Malone. And West Side Story. And Harrison Ford in Witness.
12 The knowledge that brushing your hair can make a big difference
The same applies for ironing dresses.
13 The knowledge that everything seems worse at night
I still repeat this mantra when I can’t sleep, anxious over a deadline or unmade decision or a fight. I wake up in the morning and the entire world seems different.
14 The essential lesson that it is never all about you
15 A ready eagerness to question authority
Other than hers.
16 A constantly tested loyalty to cats
Once, when walking along a beach in California, I turned to my mum and said, “I’ve got something to tell you. I like dogs. I might even have a dog in the future.” I’m not sure we’ve ever fully recovered.
17 The unwavering truth that Mum knows best
She does. Always. It’s infuriating.
Sometimes it’s splintered into a thousand pieces and sprinkled into every crevice of my life, and sometimes it’s a strong, solid mass, propping me up. Sometimes it’s in a night on the sofa, watching Mamma Mia!, and sometimes it’s in a phonecall at 11pm. Sometimes it’s angry and frustrated, and sometimes it’s excitable and accompanied by champagne in fancy glasses. Sometimes it’s in a new pair of shoes, and sometimes it’s in a link to an article. Sometimes it’s engraved in a ring, and sometimes it’s silent. But it is always, always there.