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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Wednesday 13 February 2008

My mother always bought flowers, fussed about in the kitchen, read Woman's Own magazines and listened to instrumental music on the radio.

It was the Sixties then and I, a little girl in Singapore.

Dave Brubeck's jazzy Take Five tune was tied to warm memories of marshmellows soaked in hot milk, broken Andy Pandy dolls and my father' car rides to forgotten coffeeshops that whipped up tasty Chinese noodles in antique porcelain bowls. Oh...and always ketchup on the side.

I often watched my mother as she dipped into countless romances stored in those colourful 64-page Women's Weekly paperbacks which she picked up religiously from newsvendors, who ordered them, as it was boasted, all the way from England. The pretty little books which advertised Cliff Richard concerts or a messy Beatles' mop, were hung up like buntings in their crowded stalls.

Later, as my mother bent closely into the pages, she would smile her small, secret smile and I wondered what it was all about.

On quiet afternoons, she relaxed in a floral housecoat on her favourite wicker chair and I stared at the way the nail-polish on her toes glittered like a startling watercolour show.

When we returned to Malaysia, my mother a schoolteacher, filled her shelves with an assortment of Mills n Boons.

As a teen I read them too. I mixed it up with a few of the classics and other contemporary novels and definitely, I couldn't avoid the charms of Pearl S. Buck.

My mother and I had very little in common...I was always my father's daughter. It was he, the voracious reader of serious social commentary, the tireless walker and the avid traveller who taught me to do the same.

But I still remember the way we sat together and once before, reading those romances ever so diligently; never speaking...except when we exchanged copies but otherwise, scouring and turning each page with ferocious speed.

I wanted to be so like her... my beautiful mother but never quite succeeded. She was a do-er rather than a talker and it was hard to read her thoughts. I heralded each moment of delving into a Woman's Weekly love story as one of a spiritual communion. Today, I recall happy-ever-after plots affectionately and marvel at the remembered reverence that was so quiescent, I could have caught the silence with my fingers.

My schoolfriends who battled stricter parents told me I didn't realise my good luck.

But unlike my chums, my mother and I would never again hold anything in common.
Now, in the middle of my passionate quest with universal literature and returned to my own graceful world at last, I think if destiny throws up too much nostalgia, well... there's always the marvellous Ripping Yarns bookshop in North London. Then hopefully, the swaying memories will sink into repose like an anchor in the dark.