For Mother’s Day

This coming Sunday, 11th March, is celebrated here in the UK as Mother’s Day. This day has longstanding religious tradition and history behind it, although you’d be forgiven for not noticing that nowadays. These traditions vary, depending on the religion. Here the day is actually recognised in the church calendar as Mothering Sunday, and falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Because Easter is early this year, this means that for the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Irish Republic and Nigeria, who use this date, Mother’s Day is also earlier than in some years. There are in fact 32 different dates around the world on which Mother’s Day is celebrated, the most commonly used of which is the second Sunday in May, which is the day in North and South America, and across large parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. The modern version was first celebrated in the USA in 1908, after a campaign by a lady called Anna Jarvis to have a designated day for mothers. Commercialisation began in the 1920s, when Hallmark began selling cards, and Jarvis was arrested for a public protest against this. But the date and nature of the celebration have since been widely adopted.

The commercialisation of the date means that it is ubiquitous. Apart from all of the advertising which uses the day as the basis for promotion – often in incredibly dubious and convoluted ways – there are TV programmes, articles in papers and magazines etc, which are very difficult to avoid unless you become a hermit. And in this modern technological age, I’d also need to stop checking my emails too. Some of the bombardment is unbelievable: I even had an email the other day from a clothing company which only sells men’s clothing, inviting me to purchase one of a choice of outfits to wear when celebrating with my mother, from the formal suit to go to the posh lunch to smart casual if cooking her a meal at home, complete with an apron!

Mother’s Day is a hard one for me. My Mum died nearly ten years ago, on 15th May 2008 and, whilst the immediacy of the feelings of loss is somewhat diminished by the passage of time, those feelings are still there. Many millions have lost their mother, and could do without the commercial juggernaut reminding us of what we have lost and what we could have otherwise been doing. It’s a difficult time of year. I find myself wishing that all of the companies stuffing this down my throat would roll up their promotional material very tightly and insert it where the sun doesn’t shine. And I’d bet I’m not alone in that. I shall be spending this Sunday in quiet reflection, remembering the person who brought me into this world and all that she did for me. I don’t need any marketing to tell me how to do that. I find myself agreeing with Anna Jarvis: this should be a day to celebrate our mothers, not to spend loads of money. Whilst the cards, flowers, chocolates and wine – especially the wine! – may be very welcome, do mothers really need this to know that they are appreciated? Wouldn’t telling them, face to face, be much better? And doing things for them, to show them that you care? Not just on Mother’s Day either: our mothers are very special people and deserve to know that our love for them is always there, with or without the giving of physical gifts on a particular day to make the statement for us.

If you’re going to be spending Mother’s Day with your Mum, I hope you – and she – have a fantastic day, full of the joy that families give us. And long may you be doing that: the happiness of days like Sunday will build into cherished memories. To repeat myself: Mums are special people, they deserve our love.


Mum, Dad, my sister, a cousin (top) and me, c.1960 I think.

#SaturdaySongs No.4 – Sisters Of Mercy

I was planning to write about something else for today’s #SaturdaySongs post, but the terribly sad news of Leonard Cohen’s death has changed my mind.

I have loved Leonard’s music ever since his first album, The Songs Of Leonard Cohen. To my thinking, he is first and foremost a poet, who transformed his beautiful words into songs, and would I think have been a more deserving winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, as much as I like Bob Dylan. Maybe they can award him a posthumous prize to recognise the vast body of amazing literature that he produced in his lifetime.

My musical memory of this song isn’t initially picking it up as being on his album, though. Back in the late 60s the record company Columbia – or CBS as it was to those of us outside the USA – began a series of ‘sampler’ albums, priced at roughly half the rate of a regular album. These were collections of tracks from artists in their catalogue, largely American acts but with some notable additions from elsewhere, such as the Zombies from here in the UK and Leonard Cohen, who was Canadian. The first of these albums was called The Rock Machine Turns You On, and my song for today was featured on it.

Initially, the sampler albums were intended to encourage us to explore – and buy! – the music that we liked, and this is how I came to Leonard Cohen’s remarkable lyricism, some time in 1968. I was 14 at the time, such an impressionable age, and this mysterious man, with his unusual, deadpan delivery, was so very different from most of the music that we listened to at that time. I probably wore that old vinyl album out! I now have every album he ever released, and these have been receiving a lot of attention in the past day or so. Today’s song is one of his most famous: Sisters of Mercy. This has been interpreted as being about nuns, and even prostitutes, but the inspiration for it is best explained by the author himself:

In the April 1993 issue of Song Talk magazine he explained: “That’s the only song I wrote in one sitting. The melody I had worked on for some time. I didn’t really know what the song was. I remember that my mother had liked it. Then I was in Edmonton, which is one of our largest northern cities, and there was a snowstorm and I found myself in a vestibule with two young hitchhiking women who didn’t have a place to stay. I invited them back to my little hotel room and there was a big double bed and they went to sleep in it immediately. They were exhausted by the storm and cold. And I sat in this stuffed chair inside the window beside the Saskatchewan River. And while they were sleeping I wrote the lyrics. And that never happened to me before. And I think it must be wonderful to be that kind of writer. It must be wonderful, because I just wrote the lines with a few revisions and when they awakened I sang it to them. And it has never happened to me like that before. Or since.” (Information from

That is a great story, and such a wonderful basis for a song. The song itself is beautiful and, as befitting the rest of the original album, was played and sung very simply. The version I’m sharing comes from one of his recent tours, after he had to go back on the road to make up for the money his business manager had swindled from him, and gives the song new depth, in a lovely performance:

Hearing this again has taken me back to those days when, as a teenager, I used to ‘borrow’ Mum and Dad’s record player and take it up to my bedroom, to play the music I wanted to listen to without unwelcome comments!

And just in case you remain to be convinced of Leonard Cohen’s poetic spirit, a final story: another of his famous early songs, again from that first album, is So Long, Marianne. Recently, Marianne Ihlen, the lady who was the inspiration for the song, passed away and Leonard wrote her a memorial letter in which he told her ‘Our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon.’ He has his wish, and I’m left to write this through my tears.


Like most of us, I imagine, thoughts prompted by the terrible events of Friday evening are never far from the surface for me. Everywhere you look, you see the single word ‘Solidarité’ to express our support for the people of Paris and especially those most directly affected by the atrocity. I even saw it as the header on Amazon just now. But I am just one insignificant person in the great scheme of things, and although my solidarity with everyone is genuine and heartfelt I am not sure how much it can possibly mean to them at a time like this. So I thought I’d share a very personal thought with you, to try to give that some meaning.

K&D_WEDDING_0767These are my daughters, the two most important people in my life. This photo was, fairly obviously, taken at the wedding of my older daughter, Katy, for whom Ruth was Chief Bridesmaid. This was just over three years ago and was one of the best days of my life, alongside the two days when they came into the world. I think about them both every day, and I have thought especially about them since Friday. What happened in Paris can and, sadly, is likely to happen in other countries. Any country which supports the fight against ISIS makes itself and its citizens a potential target. For maximum effect terrorists strike in heavily populated areas and, as my two girls both live in London, I fear an attack on our capital city even more than I might otherwise have done.

What if that had happened here and my daughters were caught up in it? It’s a terrible thought, but one which any parent will have. I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye to them, to tell them one last time how proud I am of them and how much I love them. They both came round to see me the previous weekend, with Katy’s husband, Dave. We spent a couple of hours together, which were filled with fun and laughter, with the sheer joy of catching up on the progress in their lives and the vivacity that they bring to anywhere they are. If this had been them, none of us would have known what was about to happen but at least we would have had that one last time together for the memory. That is why I feel so much for the families, friends and loved ones of the 129 who lost their lives in Paris. I just hope that they all have some special memories to sustain them through this terrible time.