The Ambler

Amble's Community Newspaper: News & events from Amble in Northumberland – The Kindliest Port.

Whither And Why: Mother Nairn is coming

WEDNESDAY MARCH 14TH

From the desk of Gerald Honk, Esq.

A momentous weekend was imminent, and its ramifications were immanent. Not only was it Mothering Sunday, but immediately preceding the mumsy Sabbath occasion is St. Patrick’s Day. I am not of Irish extraction, partial though I am to an evening sip of its famous tipples, so it may be considered apt if I took no measure of the event. Lillian would certainly approve if that were the case, but the case it is not, for it fails to take into account the mythical celebratory shindigs of my Cúchulainn-esque friend, the Joycean jester and Wildean wit, Sir Hilary Harrison-Nairn.

I arrived at his newly-emeralded dwelling to find preparations already underway. Leaping over a pot of gold and into the foyer, I found my friend cross-legged on the linoleum, playing a penny whistle to an assembly of tubular doorstops. “How do, H.H.,” I announced, and the haunting melodies of Sinead O’Connor faded from my friend’s lips.

“The very peak of the pre-afternoon to you, Honk,” he replied.

“And may I inquire…”

“Really? Really and truly, Honk? Is it not obvious?”

“I’m sure it would benefit from a mite of elucidation, H.H…”

“If you insist. I, Sir Hilary Harrison-Nairn, am practicing.”

“Yes, quite, but for what, and for why?”

“I am hosting a St. Patrick’s Night soiree this weekend, am I not?”

“You are.”

“And this year is a particularly special event – ”

“Why is – ”

“All to be revealed, all to be revealed. Needless to say, it is a particularly special event, and it requires particularly special entertainment. I shall be, for one night only, taking on the role of St. Patrick himself!”

“Quite so, H.H., but the penny whistle and the doorstops?”

“Honestly, Honk. I am driving the snakes out of Ireland! Witness!”

Illustration of HH and Honk by John Weddell

With that, he played a high E, and Bismarck the dog came careening into the space with the force of a George Best free kick. In one swift movement, every ‘snake’ was swept into the hound’s maw, and in another, the dog was gone. H.H. looked up at me.

“You see? Perfect. Only, of course, on Saturday the snakes will be – ”

“No, H.H. I do not wish to know. You mentioned about a particularly special event?”

“Ah, yes. Mrs. Clutterbutt?” my friend called. “Crank up the Thin Lizzy!”

The housekeeper complied, and the house began to quake with the power of Irish rockers.  “Knew a thin Lizzy once… wonderful typist,” H.H. muttered. “But the particularly special event! Well, Honk, old man, old chum, old chap, old mucka, this year my Great Celtic Bash shall have an extremely important guest!”

I could not think to whom he referred. Surely Lillian had not been persuaded to attend? Her presence at one of H.H.’s parties would be a monumental coup, as she much preferred to spend her evenings down at the Mason’s Arms.

“Honk,” my friend continued, “MOTHER NAIRN IS COMING.”

I was momentarily taken aback. The matriarch of the Harrison-Nairn dynasty, attending a St. Patrick’s Day party hosted by her son? It seemed so unlikely, but there was no other explanation. These thoughts passed through my head for an instant, until the realisation arrived that it was not the Irish patron saint’s day that marked the reason for her appearance. It was the following 24 hours. Mother’s Day. Surely H.H. had made the connection? I attempted in vain to explain his mistake, but he could and would not be swayed.

 

SATURDAY MARCH 17TH

From the journal of Sir Hilary Harrison-Nairn

Mother Nairn arrived early and on time this morning, wearing the best part of a bird on her head – I suppose it was a hat of sorts – and a face like the curdled contents of a heavily used saucepan. She greeted me with all the fluff and fluster of a horsewhip to the head, decrying the pink handkerchief that was saluting from the breast pocket of my tweed. Fortunately one is used to being hallooed in this way by the old flesh and blood, and I took it in my stride, giving her the customary pecks on the cheek and on the feet. She was to stay with me for one night only and so had brought with her the best part of Buckinghamshire in a steamer trunk so heavy it could sink Belfast.

‘Twas a glorious day, so I lowered the car roof into the boot and did my best with the belongings, stuffing them onto the unoccupied back seat and causing the rear suspension to complain noisily. During the drive back to the house, her begloved finger took issue with the output from the car radio and jammed the off button so far into the dashboard that I was certain the radiator grill had been gifted a new and plastic feature.

“What is that drivel anyway?” she hissed.

“Synergy Radio,” said I. “It’s a community station serving Northumberland, jolly fun sometimes too.”

Local radio? No wonder I can’t understand a word they’re saying. Peasants!”

I declined to add structure to my mater’s opinion and focused hard on arriving home as soon as could be, secretly wondering if passing insects might forcefully alight on the surface of her dentures.

We pulled up outside the house and were greeted by a pensive looking Mrs. Clutterbutt. She had a great fear of Mama Nairn born from a long held belief that she was perpetually on the verge of receiving a beating. When she had raised this concern with me, I was able to reassure her that Ma Nairn would never hit a member of staff; she had other people to do that for her and they wouldn’t be coming this time around. Upon hearing this, she remained visibly unchanged.

“W-welcome Mrs Harrison-Nairn, did you have a p-pleasant journey?” said Mrs. Clutterbutt as she approached the car.

“Why are you dressed head to foot in green? Speak!

“Oh, er, it’s all in accordance with Mr. Harrison-Nairn’s instructions, Mrs. Harrison-Nairn, what with the events of the weekend and oh, um, all the clover. You understand…”

She didn’t. Few people would after that introduction, and I, being the kind hearted soul that I am, felt the need to intervene and spare blushes on all sides.

“Allow me, mother of mine. What dear old CB is trying to say is that she is decked out in foliate verdants on account of this very special day, annual though it may be yet so rarely attended by yourself, and wishes by way of said deckage to pay homage to the jolly occasion! Glorious, what?”

Mother’s face had a look of mounting nothingness (if indeed nothing can be said to mount) as comprehension failed to take hold. She looked long and hard at Mrs Clutterbutt and then slowly turned her head towards me.

“She looks ridiculous! Does she even have children?” she said, the words dripping with incredulity.

I could see that Mrs. Clutterbutt was beginning to form thoughts and possibly some choice sentences about who among us was looking ridiculous, and I again rescued her.

“Good Lord! I don’t see what that has to do with anything, but I never thought to ask,” I said brightly, and, indicating my house keeper, “Have you?”

“My mum was half Armenian if that helps?” she offered uncertainly. “She’s actually flying over tomorrow for –”

“No,” I said thoughtfully, “but good for her all the same! Come on, let’s get inside! I’ve got a few surprises for you…”

The first of these surprises was not a pleasant one for my beloved mother. I thought a nice life size cardboard cut-out of Shane McGowan would have been a most welcoming sight for her as she entered her bedroom. She disagreed strongly and, mistaking it for a burglar, yelled “criminal” and whacked the thing so hard it bent over itself in an instant. I decided it would be a good idea to leave her to get settled in on her own and headed for the door, surprising myself at the rapidity at which I executed the move, leaving Ma Nairn to mutter unmutterables along the lines of “some flowers and a card would have been the appropriate gift, but one must persist in hope”.

 

From the desk of Gerald Honk, Esq

The seamstress had arrived earlier that day, clutching in her hands a velveted green waistcoat embroidered with snake designs, with a note attached. Said note read:

“Honk STOP Tonight STOP Wear this STOP Mother Nairn will STOP love it, dash and blast, there shouldn’t be a STOP stop there STOP No, not there either, wretched telegraph STOP Nairn STOP?”

My friend was yet to fully educate himself in the concept of word processing, tending to dictate letters to Mrs Clutterbutt, who would transcribe verbatim, but I had grown used to mentally removing his constant ‘STOP’s as I scanned them. I reluctantly put on the waistcoat, thanking the seamstress for her trouble and dropping a not-so-subtle hint that a replica in Northumberland plaid, minus the snakes, of course, would not go amiss, then picked up my shillelagh and made my way to the party.

The swing was full by the time I arrived, and the party had really begun in earnest too. Weaving through the Giant’s Causeway of revellers and past Bismarck’s snakepit, I found the kitchen, where a most cacophonous argument was taking place between H.H. and Mother Nairn.

“What in the name of Nairn did you think I was visiting for?”

“I thought you’d got into the Irish spirit, Mother, and into the mood for a party as well!”

“It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, Hilary, you foolish child!”

“No, no, Madre, you are mistaken, Mother’s Day is in July.”

“That’s the Olympics!”

“Ah. So you’re … not here for the raucous St Patrick’s Day celebrations?”

“No.”

“You’re here for a nice quiet Mothering Sunday, with a roasted bird of some description and perhaps a service at St. Lawrence’s, and some of those scrummy chocolates from Dial Place?”

“Yes.”

“Ah. Then we are in a muddle.”

“Indeed.”

I left them to it and submerged myself in the ball pool (every ball coloured green), making the best efforts to forget all I had just heard.

Three hours or so later

I had no need to worry. H.H. is truly his mother’s son. When I left the party, the Nairns were leading the entire household in a booming rendition of ‘Danny Boy’, attired in matching leprechaun outfits, complete with shamrock-covered headbands that flashed little green lights whenever they moved. I would have stayed, but my own dear mum will be receiving her customary Mother’s Day mandolin recital tomorrow morning, and I had to rehearse.

 

SUNDAY MARCH 18TH

From the journal of Sir Hilary Harrison-Nairn

 Whomever it was that first put to use the word pickled in reference to an over indulgence in the bacchanalian pursuits, was an astute and right thinking soul. Incredible.

Ma Nairn and I had got off on the wrong foot yesterday, but ended up very much in the kick of frivolity by the end of this morning. Hades’ teeth! The lady is unstoppable at the best of times, but when in full party mode she could walk through brick walls – a feat she managed to complete successfully approximately seven hours ago, breaking her glasses and most of the rose garden’s crumbling masonry in the process.

My dear Mater stumbled into the breakfast room with an uncanny lack of grace at around mid-morning, her dressing gown inside out and flecks of clay brick still clinging to her blustered hair. She sat awkwardly and declared, “Coffee!” in no uncertain syllables. Unbeknownst to her, this vocal eruption was a trigger for a new and splendid surprise aimed in her favour. She could have yelled, “Tuesday!”, “Bonobos!” or “Market Snodsbury!” and still the same gears would have turned.

When the sudden and brilliant bouquet of rare and exotic flowers landed on the placemat in front of her, she half choked on the words that were beginning to form in her throat. By the time the porcelain ornament of Bismarck and bronze bust of the late Pa Nairn joined them, she had gone through such a range of emotions that drama school talent scouts would have sold their grandmothers to sign her up! She flapped, smiled, thanked me for going to such lengths, declared the bust of Pater most handsome, and then re-declared the earlier demand for coffee, which duly arrived alongside a plate of Eggs Benedict and a shelf of toast. There were few words now exchanged as she sat admiring her new gifts with an increasing glow. She even patted Mrs. Clutterbutt’s hand in gratitude when she arrived to clear the table; Mrs. Clutterbutt’s flinch went unnoticed.

It comes to me now that I did have a brief moment of despair during the weekend’s festivities. I could have sworn that I’d seen old Honk wallowing contentedly within the ball pool last night. When I ventured over to join him, the man was not to be found, and I, in a fit of confusion, surmised that he’d succumbed to a fearful drowning. Inflating my life jacket, I began a desperate search for his remains. I realise now that I’d missed him by mere moments; dear Gezza was, to all intents and purposes, fit and well and heading towards the patio for a natter with a chum. As for myself, I feel only sincere embarrassment at knowing that onlookers would have seen the man of the house flailing about in a tub of snot-green plastic globes and yelling “Honk?!” at a distressingly high volume while his mother attempted to secure to his head a cheap felt topper with the word “Genius” emblazoned on the front.

Dear me!

St. Patrick’s Day and Mothering Sunday both occurred recently. H.H. would appreciate any suggestions for how to celebrate either festivity next year.

Honk wishes to make it known that his mother very much enjoyed her mandolin recital, an incendiary version of Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’ going down particularly well.

 

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