Sunday, 24 October 2021

A Rambling Post about Loss and Emigrating, by Saviour Pirotta

I had plans to celebrate big this October. It's my fortieth anniversary since emigrating to the UK. As I write this, it's actually forty years and twenty six days. I landed at Manchester airport at 6.15pm on the 1st of October 1981. (I wanted to go to London but there were no last minute bargain bin tickets available, and I didn't realise that distances in the UK are so big)

England has been incredibly generous with me. There is a lot to be thankful for: becoming an actual published author, seeing my plays performed, making so many dear friends, my beautiful house in Scarborough, my vast collection of vintage china, my becoming a British citizen even. But if I had to live my life all over, the only night I wouldn't want to go through again would be that night I had to actually leave home.

I emigrated to England long before Malta was an EU member (and when the UK still was). An English theatre director offered me a four week contract writing and directing a children's play at a fringe theatre in London. The pay was pitiful but it might lead to bigger opportunities, he said. I accepted with the recklessness of youth. 

Up until this summer, the night I left home was probably the hardest of my life. Packing my books and clothes, checking that the money from my last pay check at Malta Post was safe in my bum bag, saying goodbye to my mum...

If I'm honest, that last one wasn't the hardest bit. You take your family for granted when you're young. I'd become distanced from my parents, staunch Catholics who thought the arts were the devil's playground. Family will always be there, you think, ready to forgive and welcome back if the project fails. Recently I was told that my mother was inconsolable when I left to catch the last bus to the airport. She never admitted as much to me; I was told it recently by my sister in law.

This summer I reached another life-changing milestone and had another night I wouldn't want to go through again. And this time it's me who's inconsolable. My mother passed away on the 8th of August. She didn't die of Covid but the pandemic certainly gave her a nudge in the right direction. 

Before Covid, my mother was very active. Her day started with a prayer to the Madonna and coffee by candlelight. After 6.00 o'clock Mass, she'd trot off to the butcher, the grocer and the greengrocer's truck in the village square. She visited her sisters for tea and a chat every day. Her Victoria sponge cake was very much sought after at local charity events.  She won Mum of the Year twice in her village but refused the award because all her friends were just as good if not better mothers, she insisted.

The pandemic turned her into a recluse scrubbing vegetables with soapy water. My mum lived for her family. Deprived of physical contact with her sons and beloved grandchildren, she lost her appetite for life and for food. Her blood levels dropped (not sure what that means: doctor speak) She and dad had to move into a care home where, confused by all the Covid restrictions, she convinced herself she'd been tricked into going to hospice.

I have nothing to complain about, really. I enjoyed my mother for much longer than most of my friends. In the last few years, we'd become really close. We'd chat on the phone for hours, swapping recipes. )My mum was a dab hand at Southern Mediterranean dishes but I introduced her to French gastronomy and she soon learnt to whip up a creme pat like a pro.)

During her funeral, I was amazed at the diversity of people that came to pay their respects. Nuns, priests, dog walkers, young, old, straight couples, gay couples, even politicians turned up. A minister sent an extravagant floral tribute. To my dad's astonishment, Mum seemed to have been friends with everyone in the village. A childhood friend and neighbour told me my mother used to cook meals for her brother, a convicted drug dealer. "Everyone saw him as a dangerous criminal," she explained, "but to your mum he was the son of an old school friend."

So I'm afraid a big celebration is the last thing on my mind at the moment. As always when things get though, I find sanctuary in books. Both reading and writing them. I'm devouring books like Cookie Monster gobbling biscuits. And my mother is creeping into my own stories. I'm getting very good at writing mother characters.  My wip is a story set in Ancient Egypt and features Ma'at, the mother goddess whose duty it is to keep order and harmony in the university. Reading my notes and ms, I realise Ma'at is actually based on Ma.  In my mind at least, she'll live on not only through her children and my family's collective memory but also - in a small way - through my work. 

Thanks for reading, everyone. Normal posts about plot and characterisation will resume next month. Meanwhile here are a couple of pictures of my my mother and her neighbour and chief confidant in London. My mum is the one in the brown coat!

Saviour Pirotta's last book in his acclaimed Wolfsong series, The Wolf's Song, is out in January 2022. It's followed in February by the first book in The Nile Adventures, The Heart Scarab. Follow Saviour on twitter @spirotta and on instagram saviour2828.


Sue Purkiss said...

What a lovely, moving post. Your mum sounds like a marvellous character - I love the description of her routine before Covid. Much sympathy, Saviour - I bet she was incredibly proud of you.

Steve Gladwin said...

That truly was a lovely read. Thank you Saviour. Although the content was sad and I am sad for your loss, it's lovely your mum - differences and all - comes over so beautifully and engagingly.

Penny Dolan said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, loss and sadness here.

Losing a mother is avery hard thing, Saviour, no matter how adult and old you now are. She sounds a very impressive woman!

Anne Booth said...

I am so sorry for your loss. This is such a beautiful post. I love the fact that you find that you can recognise that your work is allowing you to continue to express that love for your mother - that is such a beautiful way to honour her. xx

Saviour Pirotta said...

Thanks for your kind comments, everyone. Sue, I always thought of my mother as a stick in the mud but looking back after her passing, she was quite an eccentric. Anne, I have just finished the first draft of my new mg set in Ancient Egypt. The goddess Ma'at is based on my own Ma.

Mystica said...

Thanks for a lovely post. My mother passed away a few years ago and my only sadness is that I did not give her enough time which is what she would have wanted above anything else.

Katherine Langrish said...

What a lovely tribute to your mum, Saviour. She was clearly a wonderful lady. My sympathies, it's so very hard to lose a parent.