A long overdue tribute to someone I could never get by without
Stick insects are cool, but I’m very happy to admit that I never have been, or will be. But like all of us, there have been rare, fleeting moments when circumstances have conspired to allow me to be the one to say or do something which, if you squinted, could have been cool. These brief flickers of mana have usually involved that elusive quality known as courage; something which I’ve learned is different for everyone and often as elusive as catching moonbeams. But sometimes we might find that this abstract notion magically solidifies just when it’s really needed. Or not.
Keeping a blog like this won’t ever get me a ‘cool kids’ membership, and I’m now going to make that a further impossibility by talking about my mother. Not only was she the bravest person I’ve ever known, in a Glaswegian terrier ‘take-no-crap-from-anyone’ kind of way, but she also first ignited my interest in fantasy films and television.
This startling fact occurred to me when I saw JJ Abrams' first Star Trek film back in 2009 - a perfect example of how to throw out decades of accumulated murky bath water and not only keep the baby, but also make it (here comes that word again) cool. Hearing that glorious reprise of the classic theme over the closing credits, warm childhood memories came flooding back. And I realised just how much my mother, who had passed away after a long battle with medical incompetence only a few months earlier (possibly the only fight she ever lost), would have loved this film.
This pragmatic woman, who endured a childhood infinitely less privileged than the one she and my Father worked hard to give me, loved Star Trek and would have heartily approved of these sexy new iterations of the Enterprise crew.
‘Watch with mother’ for me included content quite different to the fare most kids grew up viewing in early ‘70s Britain. Doctor Who was watched and enjoyed exactly in the way that the BBC had intended, with my whole extended family crowded into the living room. Mum told me about prehistoric monsters (her name for dinosaurs which I still prefer), and later on more imaginary creatures. She described seeing the beloved back- catalogue of the Universal and Hammer stalwarts, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman and others. It would be a long time before I’d finally see them for myself, but I felt as if the introductions had been made years ago - they were already familiar family friends. She bought me horror and superhero comics when I had to stay at home from school ill, and on another occasion I remember us both gurgling with glee the first time I ever saw the legendary skeleton fight from Jason and the Argonauts. We cowered together with Doctor Morbius as the howling, invisible Monster from the Id burned through the final metal door, and she and Dad even let me stay up late (if not actually encouraged me) so that I could meet the mighty Kong for the first time.
The last fantasy programme we enjoyed together was the final of Life on Mars: watching Sam Tyler choose the life he wanted and taking the final plunge from reality to the strains Bowie’s haunting titular classic. By this time mum’s concentration was severely tested, but she still enjoyed well-written escapism. She made her own final escape from reality a few months later, her waking moments becoming less and less frequent. Perhaps like me, the time she spent dreaming was occasionally coloured by some of the fantastic visions and characters she’d seen on screen through her life. I like to think so. And if there’s a TV lounge in heaven, I know damn well who’ll have the remote.
Jean Raymond McLean Hughes Oct 3, 1936 – Jan 7, 2009