Diana Parikian

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Christmas Eve 1972. I am seven.

The milkman has just been.


The haste of his departure may or may not have something to do with the fact that, instead of delivering the specified sixteen pints of gold top, twelve giant cartons of double cream and enough butter to sink the navy of a small seafaring nation, he has contented himself with a couple of pints of the markedly inferior silver top (one of them conveniently pre-pecked by a highly-trained squadron of blue tits) and a tub of strawberry Ski.

As I sit at the kitchen table I am vaguely aware of some sort of whirlwind streaking through the room and out of the back door. It is an image that comes back to me many years later when John Simpson reports seeing a cruise missile “fly down the street and turn left at the traffic lights” on BBC news.

But this isn’t a cruise missile. It’s far more dangerous than that.

My mum, on the warpath.

A few seconds later I hear, for the first time in my life (but by no means the last), some very very bad words.

You know the ones. They rhyme with ‘bucking stunt’.

Poor milkman. We never saw him again.

Quite why it is this scene in particular that has popped into my mind on repeated occasions in the twelve days since my mother’s death, I’m not sure. Her ability to swear at public servants wasn’t her defining quality. It probably only came about third.

The trouble is, she had so many qualities, it’s impossible for any of them to be a defining one.

So here, in no particular order, are some things she loved: books (old and new); music; food; art; architecture; gardening; Italy; being irreverent; Mozart; starting conversations in the middle; the Hockney exhibition; laughing; Milan; her grandchildren; Jane Austen; red wine; garlic; being unconventional; Piero della Francesca; Eastenders; osso buco; really good musicians; having a laugh with colleagues; parmesan; Jane Gardam; knocking bottles of wine over within five minutes of sitting down in a restaurant; Gerard Depardieu; that story about Nathan Milstein; cooking scrambled eggs just right; intelligent and witty conversation; Dad; being in beautiful places (but not the travelling to them bit); swearing; Bach; cheap and colourful plastic jewellery (in recent times); Buena Vista Social Club; looking things up; smoking (for more than thirty years); Dime bars (after she gave up smoking); Flanders and Swann; gin and tonic; the Marx Brothers; extremely rare roast beef; the house I grew up in; Lucca; a really good frying pan; Peter Ustinov; Beethoven; asparagus; playing patience on her computer; Alan Bennett; strong coffee; stopping in the middle of the pavement so that you ran into her; bread and honey; gardens (good ones); the company of the right people; Donna Leon; that chord in Soave sia il vento; Venice; Strictly Come Dancing; the company of close friends; dark chocolate; throwing crumpled ten pound notes onto the table while looking for her credit card; telling people what she really thought; the view across that valley when the light was right; Florence; lily of the valley; Rembrandt; shouting at the radio when someone said “rather unique” or “quite literally”…

You get the idea.

Or, rather, you don’t. You needed to know her.

She came back from a trip to Italy a few weeks ago with a chest infection. It didn’t shift, not helped by an underlying kidney condition.

She told the doctors what she thought of resuscitation, dialysis, and other dastardly methods they might have up their sleeves to prolong her life. The truth is, the life they envisaged for her wasn’t her idea of a proper one.

So she died as she lived: on her own terms. A magnificent woman, and one without whom I find it hard to envisage the world managing.

Here is an interview with her from a couple of years ago: http://www.aba.org.uk/interviews/89-diana-parikians-swansong

And here is a charity, founded by our cousin, that she liked: www.ace-africa.org

And here are some photos.

RIP Diana Margaret Parikian, 1926 – 2012.

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  1. Well done her – for creating you among other things! Only met her briefly a couple of times but I thought she was a real cracker.

  2. “knocking bottles of wine over within five minutes…” brings back memories of a long ago “mopping up” lunch in Hammersmith, followed a little later by the coffee percolator…. “stopping in the middle of the pavement so that you ran into her” – so glad she did that at last year’s ABA fair, as it was the last time we met

  3. A splendid tribute from a son she must have been proud of. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  4. I was truly moved by your memories of your mother and a lovely tribute best wishes with your family at this sad time

  5. Hi Lev, we were very sorry to hear about Diana. I have some fond memories of your mother and although I haven’t seen her for quite a few years now, I’ll now be missing her. She had that kind of effect on people. Love, Steve & Tania x

  6. Thanks Lev. You’ve helped me to realise why I admired Diana so much. She seemed to live her life to the full, doing everything to the utmost ,leaving absolutely no room for regrets. No wonder she had no desire to live half a life for the sake of just extending it a bit longer. I hope your memories stay fresh and plentiful and give you much more joy than pain. Whenever you feel like sharing some more of them, I’m sure there will be an eager audience. All my love. Laura

  7. What a wonderfully moving tribute. So sorry to hear about your loss. My love to you and Step. God bless. Ken

  8. Dear Lev,
    Long ago, I think about 37 years ago, I remember well, you sitting at the kitchen table as a little boy. I also remember the gold- and silvertop pints of milk and the milkman, At that time, I think your were around seven years old. Step had just become a boarding student at Eton, but you were still at home. Every morning of the week, your mother drove you to the Dragon prepschool, in her blue stationwagen, with a cigarette. The conversations between you and your mother used to amaze me, There was so much respect, wit and humor between you and her, eventhough you were still a small child. You and your mother mostly talked about music and cricket. I remember the amazing love your mother had for you, your brother Step and Manough. Your mother created such a lovely and happy home, often filled with musical friends, laughing and talking about music. I have always been so grateful for staying at your wonderful house, grateful to your mother. Since then, your mother has always been a role model to me, as a mother, as a person, all my life. She was a remarkable woman and I will never forget her.
    I wish you and your family strength during these sad days.

    1. Beata, what a lovely memory. And Lev is just the same with his 7 year old son (minus the cigarette). And the conversations still centre around cricket and music!

  9. Dearest Lev
    Laura read this tribute to me in the car just before the funeral as I hadn’t seen it before. I laughed. I started to cry. So many of these things she loved I remember well – and many I don’t.
    The service was lovely as was the tea afterwards. I was greedy in my grief.
    All love Annie x

  10. Your Mum was the kind of person you had to take everywhere twice, the second time so that the people she met could truly believe that the whirlwind of fun and wit wasn’t just a wild dream.
    I didn’t know her very long but the memories will live forever.

  11. Your mother sounds like a glorious person, Lev – so very sorry for you and the family in your loss, and so happy that you had such a wonderful mother to miss.

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