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September 09, 2022
I’ve spent 20 years worrying about Mum (mostly needlessly) and dreading this day. But it still didn’t prepare me for the sudden loss of the enormous energy field she held and the waves of grief that follow. Grief… the price you pay for love, as Queen Elizabeth II said. RIP - mother figure of our nation. Another shock this week. We’re all carrying much sadness.
Mum was a true Matriarch in a way that’s rare in British society now with the fractured, blended families and isolated single households that are more the norm. Her lifelong devotion to family held together her six children, nineteen grandchildren and their fifteen children, and at 99 she took such joy in holding her latest baby great-grandchild.
She loved children and many times she told me how much she regretted only having six; “I wanted another six”, she’d say. My Dad had started out wanting none, associating children with poverty, but she turned his views, and he adored his burgeoning family. She had a magnetism for those around her and pulled people into her orbit wherever she went. Mum simply loved being around people, loved living in London and hated the countryside. “Why would you want to live there? Not enough people!”, she’d say.
Airlifted out of Athens in 1945 as my father’s Greek war bride, she settled with him in the distinctly less continental Old Kent Road area of Southwark; a grim, grey, smog filled, bomb-site strewn part of London where no one spoke Greek, she spoke no English and food was rationed for the next seven years.
Despite those 76 years living in London, she stayed uniquely foreign. None of her children or their progeny giving the slightest inkling of Greek blood, despite an immense appreciation of their mixed heritage.
Mum was a resolute character, holding steadfast to her convictions even in the face of new information, and her opinions were forthrightly black and white – rarely feeling the need to hold them back. Her obstinacy could be both infuriating and endearing, retaining good humour if teased for this. Indeed her uncontrollable fits of laughter were infectious and legendary. I remember taking her to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding. A classic film that I still enjoyed on the third viewing with my children years later, and which went on to become the highest grossing romantic film ever. She seemed to be enjoying the first half but went mysteriously quiet through the second. I asked at the end if she liked the film. “Rubbish”, she replied dismissively, using a stronger Greek word. “Why was that Mum”, I asked, perplexed. “No Greek would serve lamb on a plate like that!”, she said, and carried on walking. A damning critique. End of conversation.
After my father died, my brother moved her into a flat in Maida Vale and then St. John’s Wood. Less than a mile from him and a perfectly nice apartment on the third floor of a portered block, it was too remote, quiet and genteel for her. Nothing but more residential buildings close by and no hubbub of shops to draw her, unless she travelled further than a local walk. She started to feel isolated and would ring me on various pretences to come round. “The heating isn’t working”. It was. “Can you look at something in the kitchen”. “Could you bring some milk”. “Can you hang some pictures up”.
Six years ago, I arranged for her to move in with us in Beaumont Street as we were central, and all the family visited here anyway for the salon. She loved the buzz of the West End and Marylebone. She was back in her element, and we loved it too.
Her extraordinary life and personality led to a third book being written on her, almost completed now for publication in December. She remained vibrant and active until a year ago when she started missing some Sundays at church, going out less often for dinner and having her hair and nails done mostly privately. She died peacefully at home last Friday surrounded by family - her remarkable legacy lives on.
From all your family we thank you Mum for your enduring love and devotion. We miss you more than I can express and hope you have your escort of Greek Orthodox angels.
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This Persian recipe is always brought out for their new year but can be enjoyed anytime by everyone as it’s vegan and gluten free. Using chickpea flour gives a delicate and crumbly melt-in-your-mouth biscuit with fragrant flavours of cardamom, pistachio and rose water carrying you eastward.
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