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.