In her famous song, ‘Tapestry’, Carole King sings that her life has been a tapestry of ‘wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold.’
The blue bits are the bad bits. The gold bits are the good bits. My mum loved that song.
If I were to compare my life to a thread-based craft object, which is something we should surely all attempt to do at least once, it would be a knitted jumper; poorly designed and sloppily executed, a bit scratchy and mostly blue but with the odd gold thread running through it.
My Grannie (Mum’s mum) used to knit jumpers (to a very high standard, no sloppy craftwomanship with her). I’d watch as she’d settle on the sofa, her long, perfectly manicured pink nails hypnotically dancing around as the needles clickety-clacked, clickety-clacked, pausing only to put a Silk Cut Kingsize between her pink lips and take a well-deserved drag. My mum loved her mum.
Grannie once made me a jumper very like my imagined life-jumper. It was over-sized, batwinged and blue and she clipped gold hearts on the front of it. I ripped those gold hearts off pronto. I was thirteen and moving in to a distinctly un-twee, heart-free phase.
A knitted jumper is the only item of clothing I still have which belonged to my mum. It was made for her by a talented friend and she wore it with pride. To say it’s a bit garish would be an understatement on a par with saying that she was a bit alcoholic:
I rescued it just in time. Within days of her death, I came home to find one of her sisters in her bedroom, filling bin-bags with all her clothes. The jumper was balled up on the bed and next in line to be culled. I remember not being able to speak. I remember standing by the bed and watching as my mum was repeatedly bundled up and body-bagged, the trapped bird that lived in my chest frantically flapping away, reminding me that I’d failed to look after her, to keep her alive, and now I was failing again, failing to stop her from being disappeared.
I reached out and snatched up that jumper and ran out of her room and into mine across the hall and stuffed her under my pillow like a guilty secret, like some ill-gotten booty. And there she stayed for days and weeks and I’ve kept her with me everywhere I’ve lived, ever since.
I’ve hardly ever worn it. I did a bit at first, but found there simply aren’t many days in your adult life where you feel compelled to go into the world with a city-scape and a bright red car splashed all over yourself. We thought the woman in the car looked like Mum, especially with the fag rammed in her mouth, as she always had it when driving.
I’ve also never washed it. I suppose for a while it smelled of her, though I don’t remember particularly seeking out her scent. This jumper wasn’t ever a comfort to me; it was a final act of rescue, a too-late, hopeless attempt.
Towards the end of Carole King’s song, her tapestry starts unravelling. It all goes a bit dark with one fella turned into a toad and another one (who I always believed was Dr Death) lurking about in the background trying to ‘take her back’, but the consensus is that the ending is hopeful, the unravelling necessary if she’s to move on with her life.
My imaginary life-jumper has been unravelling for a while now. I keep picking at the loose threads, pick-pick-pick, asking myself questions and going over events, searching for reasons and answers, until now, finally, the jumper is nothing more than a pile of old wool on the floor which I can step right over and walk away from.
Not so, Mum’s jumper. It lives on in the back of my wardrobe, untouched by time or events. Time to get it out, I think. Let it breathe some air. Because my mum loved that jumper. And she loved me.