Looking back at my mother’s spoken anxieties, I feel a dim affection. At our best moments we had the makings of quite a good comedy team. (Jenny Diski, In Gratitude, LRB 37 no. 9, 7 May 2015) How many of this have this feeling about our mothers? Gert certainly does. Our mother was a woman of many anxieties, usually concerned with our irregular behaviour, and of an idiosyncratic turn of phrase.
She was often worn to a frazzle when we were playing up/making a racket/ tuning our little brother up. If we sillied him up enough, he’ d soon be howling, screeching or even reaching. If this happened in public, we’d be making a show of her. Not to mention our father’s dog wiping its boots on the table. After a day of this, she’d be all churned up and she wouldn’t get a wink of sleep. In fact, she’d be not a well woman, even if not quite a cot case.
She had an endearing habit of changing her mind mid-word and so was born the word trewarvellous, a combination of tremendous, wonderful and marvellous. It was more of a challenge for us when she changed her mind mid-phrase. What, we still wonder, did gliding up the dry cleaning mean?