for bella

My mum just turned 65. You wouldn't know it though, she rushes around like a mad woman and has a better social life than I do. She's still going to keep working for now, but she'll cut down on her days a bit, and play a bit more golf. And despite never needing to take it, she's quite excited about the prospect of free public transport.

For her birthday, I wanted to make her a present. 
I liked the idea of telling a bit of a story about her life. There's a lot of personalised gift ideas out there at the moment, like this one which list notable places and dates. These are all nice (when done well), but I wanted a bit more detail. I thought about a timeline, a meandering line which touched on places and points of her life. I emailed aunts, uncles and family friends, asking for details of where she had lived, what she had done, who she had known.

They came back enthusiastically. My godparents actually drove around Auckland taking photos of places she'd worked, flats she'd lived in. But then in other places there were large gaps. I had content, but not consistent content. And nothing to tie it all together. I toyed with the idea of maps... a global map? Her journey? But while I had touch points in her story, without going directly to her and asking for dates, places, names, it was just incomplete. 

Then, one morning, while hurrying through Waterloo Station, bound for the 6.32 train from Platform 11, the solution meandered into my head. Tree rings. Each ring a different ring of her life. I could show her whole life that way. A cross section of her story. Gaps wouldn't matter so much, but the whole story as I knew it could be there.


There was a strange mix of happiness and sadness as I complied the tree rings. As I get older and as my parents get older, I become increasingly aware of the distance between London and New Zealand. I feel like I'm missing out on the golden years.

When I wrote in the text about my mum's own adventures in London, the contrast between doing it 30 years ago and doing it now are marked. Mum took a ship to get to London, which took a month or so, and was the cheapest way of getting here at the time. She lived above and worked in a pub in Soho, back before all the creative agencies moved in, and her regular ladies used to leave their pints and cigarettes at the bar while they went off to entertain 'clients' of their own, then return to finish them. She used to write her letters home while sat in the warm soapy smell of the laundromat. 

I hope to piece together more stories, and maybe update it further in the future.
For now, I hope she likes it.

Mum's life so far. A colour band represents a decade of her life.