It’s been around, that Thermos flask. That’s something my mum would not have imagined when she bought it. For her it was a convenience, something that meant she didn’t have to struggle out of her chair too often for a cup of tea when she was on her own, and breathless, and in pain.
For me, it’s been a convenience of a different kind; a way of scattering my grief and letting it float off with the breeze, by taking her in the flask wherever I need to, to shake out her ashes. So far, it’s accompanied me and Charlotte to Paris, me and Jackie to Basildon, me and a couple of aunts to Hastings and Canvey (rounding off with a lovely night at the theatre; I told you it got around), me and Andrew to Southend, and been my sole companion in Broadstairs and Ramsgate and Poplar.
This year, the third anniversary of her death, I was invited to stay with Charlotte and Dave in the country. It’s become a kind of tradition – by an accident of planning I happened to spend the weekend after my mum’s death with them, and now every year around this time I end up at theirs, eating lovely food, drinking wine and dancing round the kitchen to whatever DJ Dave puts on the decks. This time I did my share of DJing from my iPod, and on Saturday night we danced and laughed and ate and drank. On Sunday, the anniversary itself, we walked for miles in the unexpected sunshine, ending up in a pub. It’s what my mum would have wanted.
And this time, the scattering didn’t seem as necessary. She’s gone where I needed to put her, where she might have wanted to be if ever she’d thought about it or been asked. But of course the scattering has been for my benefit rather than hers, and whilst it hasn’t kept me frozen in grief, clothed in black, wearing a veil and not leaving the house, it does seem like the right time to put the famous Thermos away and think about something more permanent.
My dad’s ashes are buried, unmarked, in a plot in Southend Cemetery, and it seems like a nice place for her to be. I’ve run it past my brother and he agrees that it’s a good idea and doesn’t see why the council would object. It’s true: how can they refuse? I will cry at them if I have to.
So, all that remains is for me to make some calls, think about what to say on a plaque that will commemorate my dead parents, and shake a few last ashes into that Thermos before it goes away, because, after all, I haven’t stopped travelling yet, and I’d like to have something available should I go somewhere that meant something to her. And besides, there’s no way I’m ever drinking tea out of it.