The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune

Once upon a time a long time ago, a pretty girl was swept off her feet by a dashing young corporal in a smart uniform and a devilish twinkle in his eye. Plucked from a small town in Ireland, she began army life on the move. Babies landed here and there – Northern Ireland, Germany, Malaysia, England and Malaysia again. My mother lapped it up, throwing herself in at the deep end as the perfect army wife. She loved the friendships and the sense of belonging, and she really loved the parties – especially the posh frocks.

After demob, my parents ran a backstreet shop – selling booze and bread and all things in between. It was a good little earner. Even during the dark days of the 1974 three-day week, they kept the lights on with candles from the cash and carry. And for the late Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations, Mum helped throw a street party. The till rang non-stop as the bunting fluttered in the summer breeze.

After a few happy and fruitful years on Civvy Street, Dad died, quite suddenly. Mum lost her husband, her living and her home – all at once. What did she do? She picked herself up, dusted herself down and soldiered on alone as a single mother.

After Dad died, Mum remained resolutely single for the rest of her long life. In fact, she was a widow for much longer than she was a wife. She called herself ‘the only virgin in London’, without the slightest hint of bitterness or irony. Liam called her ‘One hell of a woman’. He wasn’t wrong.

Mum was a grafter too. Not many people would catch a night bus into London’s West End five days a week to clean offices – something she did well into her seventies.

At 81 years young, she came to Turkey for my surprise 50th birthday party. She was the belle of the ball, a big flirt in a long blonde nylon wig, dragging up the fellas for a turn around the floor. But flirt was all she ever did, preferring to share her bed with a mug of tea, her puzzle books and a pack of cigarettes. ‘Keeps my brain active,’ she said. The puzzles that is, not the fags.

And she loved nothing more than recalling the stories of her flirty days of old when her dashing corporal fought for her affections with Alec, a Scotsman of some considerable means.

But Mum married for love.

When she turned 90 we threw her a bit of a do – a full house to honour our grand old dame. Despite being a bit mutton and increasingly frail, she was in fine fettle, loving all the fuss and fun, surrounded by family. The big pile of scratch cards went down well too.

Mum’s boogie nights may have been well behind her but she and I still shared a slow smooch at the end of play.

Truth be told, my mother was a bit of a fraud. How so? Well, a while back, I ordered her birth certificate. Turns out Mum was registered in the name of Dora, not Doreen. Who knew? Certainly not Doreen.

How can I describe Dora? Stubborn and contrary? Fiery and maddening? Or maybe feisty and canny, loyal and wise? Truth is, she was all these things and much, much more. An extraordinary woman, who lived an extraordinary life. A life lived in technicolor; the last of her siblings.

One thing I can say with absolute certainty: our old girl was never boring.

She would have loved her send-off – the service, the tributes, the tears and, in particular, the boozy do afterwards.

As they say on the Emerald Isle…

‘The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.’

Doreen Fenwick

1929 – 2022

15 thoughts on “The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune

  1. Love this. Would have been great to have her and my dad meet up in Turkey. Dad was a terrible flirt which I never realised until mum passed away. I’m sure they’d have had a few laughs together x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A lovely tribute to what sounds a remarkable woman. May she rest peacefully, and always be remembered with such love and admiration. Deepest condolences ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a sweet sweet tribute. My own mother outlived three husbands and still a virgin. 😂 She was such a flirt. In hospice the nurses had to tell the doctors that they weren’t getting a true assessment of her state since she perked up so much when any man walked in. Even the priest!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m sorry to read this but what a fine age she lived to. And lived she did … I recall her being the life and the soul of your 50th party! A life well lived 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You have such wonderful memories of an amazing mother, and being able to make her live on in your writings is amazing too. She will be much missed by all who knew her. I think I must have met her at Sarah’s wedding in Bristol.

    Liked by 1 person

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