My beloved Mum passed away last week at the amazing age of 99 – what a life she had, and what changes she witnessed over the best part of a century.
Going through all the old photographs, I’ve found it fascinating to trace the influences on my character and life choices, so for any who might be interested, I thought I’d share these with you, my extended family.
Our female line has roots traceable back to the French Revolution, where an ancestor, the Baron Gaumont, lost his head to the guillotine, and the rest of the family fled to England. Mum was christened Audrey, but to be pronounced with a French accent. Her mother became so incensed at people using the English pronunciation, Mum’s name was legally changed to Odreé, (Oh-dray) as an attempt at phonetic spelling. As you may imagine, it has been pronounced (and spelled) in many and varied ways, but by good fortune as a teenager she picked up the pet-name Bobby, on account of her favoured hairstyle, and that stuck with her for life – long after the hair changed.
Her name did produce one hilarious situation – the family name was Evans, so when the register at school was called, she had to answer to: ‘O Evans’!!!
The love affair with horses started early, and with a grandfather who was a cavalry instructor, I guess that’s in the blood.
Being fascinated by all things animal (no surprise then, that I am too), she had intended to read Zoology at University, and even before that, had formed a friendship with some of the keepers at London Zoo, where she was allowed into the pens to handle animals the general public didn’t get so close up to.
War closed the universities, and she never made it there to study, but she kept up that relationship with the zoo keepers, and my brother and I benefitted from back-of-house access in the same way she had, which triggered my love for exotic species, particularly snakes (yes, I’ve been a snake keeper on multiple occasions).
Before the war intruded, she became a very glamorous young lady
And then she met the love of her life, Peter, and married him in full knowledge that he would not live long. Peter had severe asthma, which in those days was a death sentence. In keeping with attitudes at the time, his own father disinherited him, because he was so embarrassed that Peter failed the military medical and would not be fighting for his country. Fortunately Mum had enough of her own income to manage, and they had far longer together than expected – 10 years – before he succumbed.
So here we find another of those influences on my life. By this time, Mum was a professional ice skater
I’m guessing this is where my love of combined sport and art comes from – and also my showmanship. Mum performed in many shows, and gave solo performances in the breaks in ice hockey matches at the local rink.
Mum as Little Red Riding Hood.
Widowed at 30, she had no desire to marry again, but took up her other passion of sailing competitively, and that’s where she met my father – she had her own racing dinghy, and he crewed for her. That pretty much set the pattern for their married life, I think!
She even spent the last of her inheritance having a 24 foot Cabin Cruiser designed and built for him, as a wedding present.
Needless to say, my brother and I spent a lot of our childhood on the water, but before we came along, they enjoyed more high-speed youthful entertainment, enjoying their freedom as a two-car family: a saloon for the winter, and an Austin Nippy 7 sports car for the summer.
Mum and Dad leaving on honeymoon 1953
Mum at the wheel, although she never took a driving licence when they came along.
My brother was born in 1956, when Mum was 36 – a scandalously old age to start a family in those days. I came along when she was 40 – even more unusual.
When I became interested in horses, and began taking riding lessons at the age of 9, Mum was delighted. Because her parents had lived in Richmond-upon-Thames she hadn’t been able to keep her own pony, although the local proprietor (Captain Johns, the guy in the earlier photo) was paid a monthly fee to keep one available for her to ride – Topthorne, on whom she won Chertsey Pony Race in 1933.
Having been raised by a family whose weekly shop came from the royal grocer, Fortnum and Mason, by this time Mum was living (in her words) with ‘Harrod’s tastes on a Co-op income’, so when it became obvious I wanted my own pony, she gave up one of her most treasured possessions – her fur coat – selling it to, as she said, “buy another one, but this one with a pony inside it.”
She joined me in riding later on, and when I outgrew the talents of one horse and moved onto another, she took over the reins of the treasured older guy.
See how that competitiveness is still there? Note the red rosette…
Then later on, when she decided she was too old to ride any more, she switched to dogs, competing in Obedience Trials
And she qualified to compete at Crufts in her 80th year, but decided that would be a good point to retire.
As an 80th birthday present, she asked Dad for a writing course (see what I mean about influence?), which she duly completed, making her first sales at the age of 86 years young!
She sold many articles, letters, short stories, and opinion pieces over the next few years, and entered competitions
She also wrote a couple of books, one an autobiography, and the other, a novel based on the life of my Grandmother (another amazing tale of independence, for another day…), both of which I have copies of, and one day I will publish them.
At the age of 90, she had a bad year – a double mastectomy after finding a small cancerous lump in her breast, and a broken femur while out walking the dog. The latter resulted in 10 weeks immobility in plaster, which subsequently brought on a small heart attack. She had a stent fitted, and then life resumed!
Never one to sit around, she became a frequent sight around the village on her scooter, and it was only after Dad’s stroke in 2016 that she lost her enthusiasm for life, and gradually her world shrank, which seemed so cruel to me after such an active life, but she had no regrets, and nothing left she wanted to do. Right up until then, she had also been active online, using Facebook, Skype, and ordering the weekly shop. Eventually she gave that up, and I must admit the last couple of years, since Dad died (aged 98), have been hard on all of us.
But she’d lived a full life, she’d celebrated a 60th wedding anniversary for a second marriage, raised two kids she’d never expected to have, and thoroughly enjoyed supporting me in my competitive ventures and my writing career – both of which, without doubt, I owe to her influence.
Odreé Lush, 1920 – 2019. You leave a huge hole in my life, but an abundance of wonderful memories. RIP