Today is my mother's birthday. I sent her a mail as I couldn't reach her by phone. She finally retired this last May i.e. two months ago, having served as librarian, teacher and local politician since the age of 18. Somewhere along the line, 1981, I think it was, she moved to another part of the country, was out of work for a little while and missed paying six months of N.I. contributions which severely dented her pension prospects, so she carried on working beyond retirement age to fill the gap. As a single parent from 1969 onwards she single-handedly brought up two boys in an era when divorce was more than frowned upon, all the time working full-time as a schoolteacher and never received a penny of benefits. She would stay up every weekday until midnight planning lessons and marking for the following day and never complained about her lot. In one year, she lost her mother (my grandmother), at the age of 59 to lung cancer, herself gave up smoking and got divorced, yet ploughed on, working full-time and bringing up two feisty and renegade sons without so much as an Oy Vay on the horizon. This 'single parent' saw her sons off to university and on to respectively Detective Inspector at Scotland Yard and a not-so-unsuccessful working musician. Both my brother and I speak five languages each, too. Nothing directly to do with Mum, but indicative of the culture of education we'd received.
After several years as County and Borough Councillor following retirement, my Mum was nominated as Mayor of King's Lynn and West Norfolk, where one of her subjects was HM The Queen (Sandringham, you see), with whom she built up an amusing relationship, having received her in King's Lynn a number of times and having been invited to Buckingham Palace and Sandringham House for genteel, royal bun fights. After her stint as Mayor, where she absolved 500 official functions in one calendar year without anyone at home to cook or clean up for her, she returned to being Borough Councillor until she decided she could take the committees and self-interested in-fighting no more and announced she would not stand as LibDem candidate this year for her ward and would retire. She was staying with us in Toulouse the day of the elections, yet still insisted I gave her the links to the election results before I left for work so she could see who had got elected and who not. I said "Mum, it's not your problem any more" but it clearly was; she was concerned about who had got in. For any Telegraph readers (like myself) out there: her expenses bill for 17 years of service: £3.64. One day as Mayor, she was absolutely ravenous between four engagements (6am - 5pm) where no lunch had been scheduled and said to herself "Hell, just this once". Bon appetit, maman.
My mother turned 79, today. Freshly retired after a lifetime of service to her family, her pupils and her constituents. And no, she doesn't live in a huge house, she rents a two-bedroomed bungalow in the country as she paid off all my father's debts and could never afford to buy. You'll instantly recognise my mother if you bump into her: she'll be the one smiling and asking you if she can give you a hand. Happy Birthday, Mum, I love you.