Monday, 11 February 2019


“Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what to get you for your birthday, and -”

“Oh I don’t want you worrying about -”

“No mum, I’m not worrying. I was just wondering what you get for the 90 year-old woman who has -”

“No really, you’ve so much on your mind at the moment, and -”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Of course I’m getting you something, and I had an idea which I want to run past you.”

“Oh well, that’s very kind of you.”

“Well, the reason I want to tell you about it is ‘cos you might think it’s in poor taste.”

“Well I’m sure I won’t.”

“Okay, here’s the story. Recently we’ve lost a lot of very good middle-aged men here in Galway. Some took their own lives, others fell over on the prom, crazy horrible stuff. I’ve written far too many obituaries, mum, and this is where it gets tricky. Y’see, the only thing I could think of to give you for your 90th was a column that celebrates your life. It’ll be so great to enjoy someone who’s still living life to the full, but I also want to pay tribute to those men in the introduction.”

“Well that sounds lovely.”

“So you’re not offended?”

“Why would I be offended?”

“Well, because y’know, mentioning obituaries in the context of a 90th birthday, well, it might not look -”

“Don’t be silly, that’s fine.”


“Of course.”

“I’m going to show how fun and easy our relationship is, by writing up this conversation, and then I’ll include the speech I’m making at your lunch. I’ll frame it and give it to you. Feels like the most personal and, well, meaningful thing I can give you.”

“Well I think that sounds lovely, but I don’t want you to go to any trouble. Oh, I remember what it was I wanted to say to you. Did you watch Andrew Marr this morning? Very good for once. You’d have liked it. That Caroline Lucas, the awful Green woman you like so much, she was on.”

If you sit in the front window of St. James restaurant, in the tiny London suburb of Bushey, you can look out to a village green and a pond, and for a moment believe you’re not within a megatropolis.

Our family has known Alfonso, the restaurant’s owner, for decades. Long before he owned this place, he worked and we ate at the Alpine down the road; now a block of flats.

Yesterday, on Mum’s birthday, we were in the back room, around 45 of us, and this is the bit when I stood up, clunked cutlery off the side of a glass and drew attention to myself:

“Hello everyone, and thanks for coming. It’s great to see you all here. Well then, what to say about Elizabeth Adley?

There’s a couple of things I’m sure of. Looking round this room, I feel safe assuming that there’s not one person here who would have a single bad thing to say about her.

It takes some doing, to live a long and full life, being extremely socially active and involved, yet upset nobody.

When we add to that the certain fact that mum would not say a single bad word about any of us here, we find a splendid human being.

I’m not saying she doesn’t think them - she is human! But when something upsets her she either deals with it head on or, far more often, lets it go. In that way, she’s a far better person than I could ever dream of being.

It is possible that her exceptional ability to let the proverbial water wash off the duck’s back might have evolved as something of a survival mechanism during her marriage.

I loved and still miss my father, but he was not an undemanding man. He’d sit in his chair and announce that he’d like a cup of tea, and a small part of me was always astonished to see mum rise to her feet and make and bring him one.

She loved him throughout, cared for him for 10 years, and after he died she built a new life on four ancient foundations: family, friends, Bridge and the Conservative Party.

Our family bonds are stronger than ever, and around me here I see friends from mum’s childhood, names I’ve heard all my life, from her schooldays.

It’s no accident that all of us, my brother, sister and I, enjoy many strong lifelong friendships.

We were inspired to do so.

How lovely it is for me to say that my nightly phone calls to mum are a pure pleasure. She is constantly my advocate and friend, as well as critic when she needs to be.

Even though our visions are far apart, we can and regularly do debate politics, although I avoid use of the ‘I’ word - immigration - because if I press that button she’ll be off talking about “only being a small island”, and from there it’s all downhill!

Mum is a woman of strong opinions, about many things. I remember standing in her back garden on a Summer’s evening, watching her give a dribble of water to her containers.

'You’d be better off just giving them a really good watering once a week, mum. A proper soaking, until the water comes out the bottom.'

'Yes, I know, you always say that. Monty Don says it too, but I really don’t know!'

Well, mum, Elizabeth Adley, you’re 90 today and honestly - and this is not just another Jewish son praising his momma, this comes from everyone in your life: you’re utterly amazing; a force of nature universally loved and admired; a charming woman who holds that rarest and most precious of qualities: you possess grace.

So many many happy returns mum, thanks for being such an incredible mother. To Elizabeth Adley! Happy 90th Birthday!

©Charlie Adley


Allan Cavanagh said...

Happy Birthday Mrs. Adley! Thanks for giving us Charlie!

Charlie Adley said...

Ahhh... that so nice of you mate!

The Genial Zod said...

Happy Birthday Mrs A. You've barely changed. My Mum is 90 next February. It seems she has similar faculties and opinions!
Charles Wemyss

Charlie Adley said...

Well hello Charles! Now that is a blast from the past! I'll make sure to pass your comments on to her - I know she'll remember you. Good to hear from you. Messy muddy Amersham afternoons about 50 years ago!