This post is quite personal and my apologies for that. Equating everything into beer and written word is clearly my coping device.
It was only last weekend when a friend of mine asked me where to go in Liverpool for beer and I extolled the virtues of the Philharmonic Dining Rooms. I said how sitting with a pint in either the Brahms or Liszts rooms is the most satisfying pub experience in the country. I will make a point of visiting the pub every time I come to Liverpool (drinking) and I’ve even dragged friends and girlfriends with me. But the very first time I was taken to the Philharmonic was by my mother and my Nanna.
I can’t remember the exact year but I’m guessing it was either ’07 or ’08. My Nanna was already in her late 80’s by then and it was possibly the last time I ever went anywhere with her where she seemed perfectly mobile and capable. We did a mini pub crawl that day (entirely their idea) – sitting earlier in the War Office room at Ye Cracke before venturing to the White Star in the city centre later. It’s an odd but fond memory for me as both my mother and Nanna have never given any suggestion they enjoy pubs, never mind know the best ones to take me to.
Having said that I do associate the pair of them with Guinness and Murphy’s Irish Stout; they were my alcoholic drinks of choice in my late teens because it was what I knew. Guinness was for the pub; Murphy’s was for at home – though my Nan collectively called them both Guinness. “Would you like a Guinness?” she’d offer at all hours in her house meaning there was Murphy’s in the cupboard. Always in the cupboard too, never kept in the fridge. Sometimes her and my mum would share half a can each and I’d have two or three. Murphy’s always tasted delicious at my Nanna’s. It was the experience; the old TV, the smells, the furnishings, the Liverpudlian accents and this warm Irish stout served in a bobbly tequila glass. Perfect.
So I couldn’t think of anywhere else to come yesterday. It was my idea but my mother and Aunty joined me. We stood by the fireplace in the Brahms room of the Philharmonic and raised a glass of Guinness to my Nanna, whilst the rest of the world enjoyed the 25° heat outside.
My Nanna reached 95 and was still offering out the “Guinness” in her wonderful relic of a house. It took less than 24 hours between the ambulance call and the visit from the police. There are all sorts of awkward phone conversations that follow and revelations to colleagues and odd moments where you don’t realise you’re just stood still in odd places.
I made it home the day of the phone calls and sat in my kitchen for a long time. I realised I felt like Anya trying to come to terms with Joyce Summer’s death. I didn’t know what to do because nobody was explaining it to me. There were no instructions. I didn’t really know where I was supposed to go or what the protocol was. Am I supposed to be at the hospital? At my Nan’s? At my sister’s? Will work just expect me to be off tomorrow or do I have to ring them? How long is it normal to be off? Will I be expected to be elsewhere over the weekend? Where am I supposed to be?
I’d walked home along the canal earlier after hearing the news. It was really beautiful. It wasn’t a Hollywood cliché of thunderclouds and drizzle that encircles such life events. It was the kind of Spring day that were much more common in my youth. The first bluebells I had seen this year littered the banking. And there were butterflies; so many butterflies. More than I’ve ever noticed at a single time. One beautiful Orange-tip fluttered in front of me; keeping at my pace along the canal path at eye level for nearly a full minute. A more faithful person may have taken it as a sign from nature that a special person was watching.
This is why Anti-Religion talk upsets me so much. Both my Mother and Nan were lifelong church-goers with strong faith. For years my mum has lit a candle after mass each week as a prayer to keep my Nan well and going strong and boy has it given her strength. Her faith has helped her through many a tough time as it will now.
To keep my Nanna going, my mother made her a milestone list to reach that was kept on the fireplace. Just one milestone at a time. It started before my 18th birthday and since then she’s made many other milestone birthdays, weddings, Christenings, graduations and the birth of two great-grandchildren; all her family's achievements in a list for her to see each day.
But it’s here, as my mother and Aunty leave for the hospital to fill in forms and I have one more Guinness in the solitude of that Brahms room, that it finally hits that the next milestone on the list is her youngest Grandson’s 30th birthday in six months. And for the first time in 30 birthdays they’ll be no card in her trademark beautiful handwriting to adorn my window sill. They’ll be no more milestones to reach.
I think my mother will keep lighting that candle after mass each week, even if the meaning has shifted slightly. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to drink Murphy’s again but something tells me it might suddenly appear in my cupboard much more frequently. It might never taste as good again but the memory of it will stay with me forever.