These are such unusual times. My mother passed away peacefully in her sleep on 16 May; aged 88.
But with Covid quarantines and other regulations in both Thailand and the UK it is near impossible for me to attend her funeral.
So a few words will have to be enough.
Mum has been unwell for some years – there is good news and bad in that. She was unwell. But she really had no idea of how unwell.
Dementia can be miserable. But Mum never really got frustrated – because she could never remember what it was that she should have been frustrated about.
In some ways it was easier for her than for family and friends.
We all have our memories of Mum when she was vibrant, happy, and loving her life.
So I think we are better to remember the best days of her life – to celebrate the places and people that made her happy.
And at the top of that list is our father, Brian.
They were both only children. For their ages that was relatively unusual. In eachother they formed a partnership that was all the family they wanted..
They met as teenagers. Dad left school in 1950. Completed his national service and then his three years of rugby and law at Cambridge.
Dad’s parents took years to approve of his choice of girlfriend and bride. Status and education seemed to matter more that the quality of the person and the strength of their love.
I suspect mother had other suitors. For Dad…no one else.
They were everything to eachother – it was Brian and Brenda against the world. They married young, just 24 and 23 years old and were married for 49 years.
At 24 years old I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and who with. At 24 my parents knew and it was unshakeable.
Dad started work in 1956 as a graduate trainee at Cadbury’s in Bourneville, Birmingham. On a salary of around gbp600 a year. They married the same year. They were in a hurry.
Mum’s parents were near Londoners, from John Betjeman’s Metroland. Her mother Agnes Mary Leaper (May) was born in Willesden in 1902. Her father, Henry Walter Albin, (Harry) was born the previous century in 1899. They are buried nearby in Devon in the churchyard in Outer Hope.
Harry went to the Great War. Too young. Mustard gas clung to his lungs. We do not know where he was gassed. He never fully recovered.
Brenda, no middle name, Albin was born in January 1932. The glorious days of the early twentieth century had been transformed by war and the depression of the 1930s. The words to Land of Hope and Glory were written in 1902. By 1933 Harry might have seen that as a bad joke
Harry could see war coming. The global economic order had collapsed into depression and economic nationalism. Nations were rearming at an alarming rate.
He and May had one daughter, Brenda. No more he said. He did not want a son as another war casualty.
When France and Britain declared was on Germany in 1939 mother was six. The allies were confident of a rapid victory. They miscalculated.
How do you tell a seven year old girl to hide in the bomb shelters and subway stations; how do you explain that people, who look just like you and probably share many of your same values and hopes, are trying to kill you; how do you live with blackouts and gas masks and with fear every day?
How do you explain that near euphoria when the doodlebug’s engine does not cut out above you but keeps on flying – it is someone else’s turn.
What can you learn at school other than survival?
Because of Harry’s ill health the whole Albin family would decamp to Hope Cove in Devon every winter to escape the London pollution and cold. Shippen House on the harbour in Outer Hope became their temporary home.
The family would sit on the beach in suits and hats. It must have been quiet. And safe.
Mum found work in the local hotel; the Cottage Hotel. It was owned by the Holliday family – yes they owned a hotel!
Pursuing the love of his life Dad would spend his holidays as a waiter at the hotel; putting his Law BA to good use as he wheeled the dessert trolley.
The Hollidays treated them both like family. After Mum and Dad married there was still an annual week for all the family at the Cottage Hotel. For over ninety years generations of our family have sat on that same beach and climbed Bolt Tail.
Thanks to my sister, Vanessa, the family gathered back at Shippen House in February 2020. Mother could not remember what she did ten minutes ago but she remembered every brick of Shippen House.
Hope Cove gave Mum a connection to Devon that would last throughout her life; a connection that would bring them to Newton Ferrers where they will once again stay together.
Within a year of marriage, actually a fraction over nine months, Mum was pregnant. Three children arrived within just 3 and ½ years. Their lives were turned upside down.
Harry died on 13 April 1958. May moved to a home in Hawkinge, near Folkestone, to stay in the same village as her elder brother and sister. Although the two sisters were not close!
So much change in such a short time. But I never heard them complain. I heard tiredness; I heard anger at some of our more, cough, provocative behavior. But never complaints. They made do. Dad had windows put in the back of our Austin A40 van so we could see out of the car on the way to the caravan in Wales. He worked. And in the early days still played his rugby and cricket.
Mum looked after three kids and fed us on a healthy diet of beans on toast – with a poached egg on good days. A bigger home was needed and quickly. Moving from a flat in Acocks Green to Beaumont Road and then to Bournville Lane. Lodgers lived in the attic room to help pay the bills – and I suspect to child sit!
There were also a cat and dog to be fed and looked after – initially a king spaniel; later a beagle; a big crossbreed in Nigeria and a much-loved old english sheepdog called Boo.
Mother stoically bore everything from piano lessons; to shoe lace crises; to awful Christmas entertainment and endless laundry.
Her big night our was Engelbert Humperdinck at the Birmingham Hippodrome.
Dad’s career was everything – and Mum followed. Willingly. 12 years at Bournville; three years at Knighton in the middle of nowhere, Staffordshire, and then onto, of all places, Nigeria, for four years.
Mum turned what could have been both stressful and an enormous culture shock into her happiest days. Mother took to expat life.
The first trip to Lagos was in December 1970. On a Nigeria Airways Boeing 707 delayed for 24 hours where Mum had to manage three kids aged 13, 11 and 10 in a Skyways Hotel room and onto the delayed flight. Unsurprisingly she never flew with us all again!
The three kids were shuffled off to school from where they could send the occasional letter pleading for money. Nigeria in 1970. Post Biafra. Under military rule. Relatively calm. A nation emerging from its national nightmare.
There were staff; there was a Saddle club; there was a nine hole golf course. There were friendships made that survived the rest of their lives. There was a big swimming pool at the Lagos Airport Hotel. The local Metro cinema could be relied on for the occasional gore-fest and the Mandarin Chinese restaurant was for special occasions.
There was no tv; there was a dodgy reception to the BBC World Service and some entertaining local media.
It is hard to picture how they spent their time when we were not there. Did we interrupt their private idyll or at least give them some entertainment. The parties were certainly wilder when we visited. The Brown family should take a lot of credit for that.
But all good things come to an end as they left Nigeria in 1974; mother was still only 41, to return to England. It was more out of necessity than choice in order to look after Dad’s father.
They cruised back from Nigeria – two weeks on the MV Aureol of Elder Dempster Lines. One of its last journeys from West Africa to Southampton. The farewell dinner saw them dressed with friends as Seven brides for seven brothers. For those of a different generation it is a 1954 musical.
I am not sure they ever really settled in England in the 13 years until Dad took an early retirement. They lived in three separate and attractive homes as Dad’s career took him from London to Erdington, on the north side of Birmingham and then to St Albans; with homes in Redbourn, Kings Bromley and then in Eversholt, near Woburn.
There 40th wedding anniversary in 1986 was held on a lovely sunny day in Eversholt village hall. One of few occasions when we were all able to be in the same place at the same time.
While at Eversholt Dad took an early retirement in 1988. Leaving him to pursue his own interests around fishing and porcelain.
It was in Redbourn that an increasingly frail May came to live with them; she would follow them to Kings Bromley and Eversholt before her death in 1992. The large garden in Eversholt was perfect for sitting outside under a blue sky and doing as little as possible!
May’s passing did free my parents to travel; at long last. The family trips included Izmir, Toronto, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.
After Dad’s death in 2006 Mum would travel on her own – she seemed to enjoy both the independence and the attention.
But I suspect their happiest trips were those they did together without the obligations of family. Around the world exploring Australia, the USA, New Zealand; these were Dad’s trips – meeting Bounty historians or porcelain people. But mother, was as ever, at his side. Happy.
The Eversholt home was increasingly hard to maintain on their own; so they looked for a newer home back in Devon. Close to Hope Cove but perhaps a little more accessible and more of a year round community.
Newton Ferrers was perfect; the view from their Court Road home simply unbeatable. The village welcoming.
Dad had a melanoma which he thought had been dealt with. Not so. His deterioration in late 2005 and into 2006 was rapid.
I do not know if mother cried. I hope she did. She needed to let out 49 years of wanting nothing other than to be with one person. But on the sunny day of Dad’s funeral she was surrounded by family; content; provided for and blessed. I can still see that day; and in the sadness there was joy.
Mother had no intention of leaving the village until she really had no choice. A knee replacement and surgery on fused vertebrae would not take her away from Newton Ferrers. Neighbours were wonderful with her; visiting; checking on her; keeping the three of us informed of any changes.
Some might have thought us callous leaving here there on her own for as long as we did. But she was safe and content. What more can anyone ask for? And she loved the village where she will now be buried alongside her husband.
Eventually it was time to move; as a visiting carer and eventually as a full time carer in his home, my brother, Tim, together with his family, have done a wonderful job keeping mother safe and comfortable over the least few years.
As a family we have always been more private than open; we have managed our own lives; we do not share emotions; we definitely never did hugging unless it was unavoidable!
A friend send me a message saying – “it is a strange feeling to be orphaned.”
I understand what he meant. Even from a distance it does feel as though a part of me is permanently gone. Even after Dad passed there was still a refuge in the UK; a place that I could go to; which was safe; where everything felt and looked familiar; and where no questions were ever asked.
I am sure Tim and Vanessa feel much the same way.
So mother; it is too late for hugs; but not too late to say that we, and all of your friends who will gather for your funeral, love you and will miss you.
And finally a huge thank you for everything that you did for us.
Rest in Peace.
Brenda Scott, nee Albin, 22 January 1933 to 16 May 2021.