The crocodile’s ticking clock

My mother was 77 today.  She’s quite a character and I wondered what might be suitable present.  She’s been at me for some time to write a poem about her. I wrote one for my father after he died and in her inimitable fashion she told me that she wanted to hear hers.

So I sat down this morning and the wrote the following.  I’m not claiming anything about its quality but it allowed me to say a few things to her that I’ve probably never said.

We went round to her house this afternoon with the poem but she was in Edinburgh – at the Joan Eardley exhibition as it happened – so we left it for her return with a few other bits and pieces.

My mum was born in Malaya ( as it was then known) in 1930.  She was christened Barrie – in honour of her father’s favourite author J. M. Barrie – of Peter Pan fame. Her father was the manager of a rubber plantation.  She stayed with her parents until she was eight before being sent home to school.  When Malaya fell to the Japanese her father was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in Changi jail.  Her mother got the last overloaded boat out of Singapore. She had to swap ships in Bombay – only for the original boat to be sunk with all lives lost. Neither she nor her husband knew the other was alive for a further two years.

After his release they stayed in Alford, Aberdeenshire where my mother became a nurse and met my father who was a medical student.

They set up a doctor’s surgery from scratch in Portobello, Edinburgh, which went on to become one of the biggest practices in the city. At that time my mother had three of us under 3 in addition to being nurse, receptionist and anything else required.

In the last few years she hasn’t enjoyed good health but always sees others’ problems to be much greater than her own.

On writing the poem I realised that the greatest gift my mother gave me was my sense of optimism. Thanks’

She only sees the light

The Cameron Highlands always sounded so exotic

To be born in the tropics – a colonial mistress

She could have been a proper lady!

A foundation of happiness,

Upon which she built a life,

Proved all too short

And sailing home – alone

She built an imaginary world

Protecting herself by

Always seeing the best

Learning how to sacrifice

Drawing people to her light

Her innocence balanced by her knowing.

She waited for her time

Remembered running on a platform

Holding him in her arms

Feeling his emaciated body

Reunited – a family once more.

Coreen, Alford, Donside

Nursing, dances, army

And somewhere in here a man

A special man

A man who made her whole

Lives and hearts entwined in perfect balance

A wonderful blur

26 Duddingston Crescent, Windyridge

Housewife, receptionist, nurse, mother, lover

Multi-tasking on a grand scale

A Neverland of wondrous memories.

She nurtured her tribe of boys and girl

They grew happy and protected

Yet time took its toll

The crocodile’s ticking clock

Catches us all

Yet the laughter, love and happiness

Drowns out the ticks

From a woman who only sees the light

3 thoughts on “The crocodile’s ticking clock

  1. Don, I think that poem is just wonderful!

    Happy Birthday to your Mum!

    My Grand parents (Dad’s side) also had a rubber plantation in Malaya. They left under similar circumstances at a similar time to come back and farm here.

    I will catch up with my Dad tomorrow. I am sure he will be interested in this post.

    Tess 🙂

  2. My parents (Bob and Jenny Watson)were contemporaries of your mothers parents in Malaya and my father was lucky enough to get that last boat out of Singapore when it fell. He was a manager with Inch Kenneth Kajang at Kajang estate “near”K.L.My mother was already at home here at the time.
    My elder brother John Watson is slightly younger than your mum and now lives on Bute.He was born in Malaya and went to school there initially and was taught by a lady called Dulcy Gray who went on to be a famous actress of the time.
    I’d be surprised if your folks and mine didn’t know each other as the colonials were pretty tight-knit as a community in those days
    Bob WAtson (Tess’s dad)

  3. Bob

    I’m sure my mother will be interested to find out about this. Her maiden name was Gibson and the firm her father worked for was Beradin Rubber.

    It’s a small world!


    PS – your daughter is doing a great job for us here in East Lothian – you should be very proud.

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