|Sarah Gillespie with her mother|
Sarah Gillespie writes about her concert in Kings Lynn to raise funds for Norfolk Hospice:
On a map of Britain Norfolk is a round lump that sticks out of the east coast of England. Annexed from the main traffic routes looping up and down to London, it was a region largely untouched by otherness. Hence the county remains stigmatised by folk laws of webbed-feet fenland clans who wantonly hatch offspring with siblings and pick carrots for tax-free cash. While this is obviously a stereotype, it was certainly the case that, when my parents moved to Kings Lynn in 1975, my Midwestern mum was ‘the only American in the village’. I spent much of my childhood squirming in the back of the car as she snapped pleasantries like ‘you-goddam-son-of-a-bitch!’ at startled local farmers who trespassed onto her preordained car park place at Tesco’s. My mum used to jokingly describe Kings Lynn as ‘a 2 horse town’ but even this slightly disparaging phrase leant a veneer of glamour that the town couldn’t quite live up to. The beaches and flatlands that surround Kings Lynn are breathtakingly beautiful but the comical strangeness of the region persists. Just last week the headline news broke that someone had snuck into a farm at night and escaped with 500 potatoes.
My mum passed away at home in Kings Lynn in August 2011, 14 months after being diagnosed with bowel cancer that had metastasised to her liver. After the shock of her diagnosis I spent every day locked in cold dread. Anyone who has been through the common scenario of losing a loved one to a terminal illness knows there is nothing more tormenting than the knowledge that a person you love is destined to be in pain. You have to cope with fear and sadness compounded by the sharp sting of your own impotence. However, when my mum finally died at home with my father and I next to her and a Gregorian choir beaming from the stereo, I realised she had probably had one of the most blissful deaths possible in this unholy mess of a planet.
During her final weeks, while my mum was bedridden in our living-room, Macmillan sent nurses to help us care for her and the local hospice Tapping House unleashed the heroic and hilarious Nurse Johnston (a close friend of my mothers) to keep her entertained while my dad went foraging for presents, flowers, chocolates, ice cream and anything he could think of that would put a smile on my mum’s face. My aunt Mary Lou, visiting from Minnesota, was flabbergasted by the level of care my mum received free of charge. In the United States, she claimed the equivalent aid would set you back tens of thousands of dollars, money that most people simply don’t have. My mother, who never cried once or expressed a bat-squeak of fear, reiterated over and over how thankful we must be for all our good fortune and for the care she received. Or as she put it ‘Isn’t it wonderful that no one’s sending me an invoice?’
This is why I wanted to put on a gig for Norfolk Hospice, both for my mum and to say ‘thanks’ from all of my family. I can’t imagine how much harder the everyday ordeal of palliative cancer care would have been without their help. Tapping House receives a piddly 13% of their funding from the NHS. The rest is raised at the behest of charity functions and private benefactors. So far they lack the funds required to finish building a much needed residential unit for terminally ill patients who are unable to be cared for at home. The whole of North Norfolk lacks this elementary facility. While we are obviously unlikely to raise anything like the amounts needed, it might go some way to help someone else benefit from the vital day care provided for my mum.
Our concert is in the gorgeous Tudor Town Hall in Kings Lynn on Thursday 15th August with support from a great local band ‘Jessie’s Ghost‘ and hosted by by childhood friend and comedy writer Nick Welthall. My brilliant band that night consists of fellow Norfolk bumpkin Kit Downes – piano, Ben Bastin – bass and Koby Israelite – drums.
Tickets are £12 from Tapping House online shop HERE or call 01485 542891
If you would like to donate to the hospice please do via their Justgiving page, if you’re in or around Norfolk, come and join the party. But please bring your own potato.
A song for my mum: ‘Postcards to Outer Space‘