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Old grief gets some welcome comic relief | Parents and parenting

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Yesterday was the 29th anniversary of my mother’s death and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Not about the death itself – I’ve been pretty consistent about considering it a bad thing – but, rather, how to compute the fact that it’s nearly three decades ago.

I should know how I feel by now. Not only does that period comprise 95% of my conscious time on Earth, I’ve spent most of two years writing a memoir that goes into this childhood loss in some detail. No greater sign of how oblivious I was at that time is that the book’s title, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?, is the phrase with which I cheerfully greeted mourners at her wake, unsure what tone to strike.

As time went on, I came to understand my mother’s death was permanent. But as pain subsides – and it does, thankfully – loss finds new ways to be incomprehensible. I’m less confused than I was at five, less hurt and angry than at 10, or 15, but still my brain flips funny little switches every so often, jolting me with some sharp, new reminder of her passing; things I miss, or missed out on.

As I look forward to watching my own son grow up, things hurt differently. My mother didn’t get to kiss any more grazed knees or carry me to bed when I pretended to fall asleep in the car after long journeys. She wouldn’t cock an eyebrow at the socialist-tinged T-shirts or abstruse electronica of my teens. She never got to smile politely at girlfriends she detested, or text me to say she loved them. Sheila O’Reilly never sent a text message, full stop. She didn’t even live to see Bryan Adams’s Everything I Do (I Do It For You) get knocked off UK number one, where it had been for the last four months of her life.

My son is too little to notice the asymmetry of his grandparents. He’s content to know he has a ‘nana and grandad’ in Dublin, and a ‘granda’ in Derry, and adores them without thinking about whether any are missing. I quite often think about the conversation we have ahead of us. This week I even had a dry run, when I saw my nephew Ardal.

Ardal, like most four-year-olds, is sensitive and wise. He balances a probing thoughtfulness with a passion for jumping off couches and thumping his little sister Nora on the shoulder. He’s known for some time that Granny O’Reilly is deceased, but the full effects have only begun to sink in. My sister Maeve had been talking about visiting my father, when Ardal suggested she might see her mummy while she was there. Maeve quietly reminded him that this was impossible only for him to reply, with the sort of cheery earnestness neglected by most grief counsellors: ‘Of course you can see her! It’s just she’s a skeleton now.’ I rejoiced in the simple kindness of his answer, and must admit I can’t fault its logic one bit. I could have used someone with his clear-sightedness many years ago.

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats



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Cryptic crossword No 28,274

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Lockdown inspires hobbyists model railways scalextric hornby

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Rod Stewart has led the way as kids and bigger kids rediscover the pleasure of laying tracks in the attic

It started with a standard Scalextric set: two slot cars, some track, a 10-year-old boy and his enthusiastic father. Six months later, Ben Martin has a 75ft raceway in his loft and a growing collection of cars.

“I went down a rabbit hole with my son,” Martin said. “There was a time when the postman was bringing track every day. He was laughing, ‘What’s all this about?’ But you can never have too many straights. It’s fulfilling a childhood dream. I played with Scalextric with my brother and I always wanted a track in the loft that lived there, that you could use whenever you wanted, not just taking over the living room for a few days before your parents made you pack it up and maybe get it out months later.”

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Sunday with Gary Numan: ‘I don’t listen to music at all’ | Life and style

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How do Sundays start? With my girls in the swimming pool here in LA. Unless there’s a grand prix on, in which case I’ll be in front of the television. I live for my Formula One.

What’s for breakfast? A bacon sandwich or scrambled eggs with hash browns. I never got into the whole Californian juice thing. I was 54 when I moved here, and you’ve pretty much established the way you live by then. I came here and just carried on being English.

Sunday soundtrack? I don’t listen to music at all. Not for pleasure. It’s impossible to listen without picking it apart, so it’s a bit like working. Also, I’ve got three children, four dogs and a very noisy wife, so if I do find a quiet moment I treasure it.

A trip out? Whale watching. There’s a place called Newport Beach where you can take a boat out and see whales pretty much all year round. I’ve seen blue whales, humpbacks, all kinds. But no way am I going in the water – they’ve got great white sharks here, too.

Sunday lunch? We might go to Wahlburgers on Sunset in Hollywood. My wife and kids have the vegetarian ‘Impossible Burger’, and they do a meat one for me. I want to be vegetarian, but I’m not there yet.

Sundays growing up? We all loved to drive, so often we’d just get in the car and go somewhere new and it felt like an adventure. I’ve always been into aeroplanes and the Second World War, so my mum and dad might take me to a tank museum or to Heathrow to watch the airliners coming in. I had a brilliant childhood.

A perfect Sunday afternoon is…The family watching a film together. After our meal we’ll almost invariably end up at the cinema. We just watched the Secret Garden. It was magical and beautifully filmed – I loved it.

(R)evolution: The Autobiography by Gary Numan is out on 22 October (Constable, £20). Buy it for £17.40 at guardianbookshop.com


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