It was one of those days. The summer holidays were upon us, the sun was shining, and mum was in one of her "come on, let's do something girls!" kind of moods. No matter that I was perfectly content to stay in my room, trying out new makeup styles and figuring out how to re-create Jackie magazine's latest fashion trend from my eclectic wardrobe.
Nope, when mum got an idea in her head, we all joined in and, because she was always so enthusiastic, we always had a good time. Enthusiasm can turn even the most mundane of tasks in to an adventure - and with mum, life was always an adventure!
We lived in Eastbourne and the sea was a big part of our lives. Summer was spent on the beach - every day without fail. There was a regular group of us who'd always meet up at the same spot on the beach, everyone dutifully bringing along a picnic to share and compare. We'd stay there resolutely until the very last rays of sunlight had left - and we absolutely loved it!
Autumn we'd take long bracing walks along the seafront, and for most people that would be enough. But not for mum. No matter the weather, we always packed our swimming costumes "just in case" and when the sea was at it's fiercest, often when the red flag flying, that's when mum's eyes would light up, she'd gather us together with a rousing "come on girls!" followed by the by now famous rally cry "we're going in!"
So in we'd go - every time. I would have been about 12 at the time, and my sister 8, and we'd all jump in to the waves together. In hindsight, it was absolute madness, but at the time we thought nothing of it. We'd all get bashed around in the surf, swallowing seawater when we couldn't get out from the swell, sand and pebbles collecting in our costumes as we were tossed and scraped along the beach, but each one of us ruddy cheeked and filled with the exhilaration and joy of being alive. That was how mum was.
So on that particular summer's day, I knew there was no point in protesting, I just went downstairs to find out what mum had in mind.
While mum always made sure we didn't go without, we were always short of money and I know she struggled with that huge burden of worry for many years. With no man in the house, she fiercely maintained her natural independence and cheeriness and, to her, nothing was impossible. Never one to give up, many a seemingly mad-cap plan would be discussed and then executed to perfection. When we needed new sofas because the old ones were literally falling to pieces, she enrolled herself on an upholstery course and then completely re-covered them all herself.
"Oh, Dee dear, you're such a clever girl!" my nan would regularly cluck, followed by the less charitable addition "of course she gets that from my side of the family" which would always sting mum, no matter how often she heard it. My nan had a constant need for praise and approval, which she felt she'd never had from either her parents or her husband. But she never noticed the hurt she would cause in others when she clambered over their triumphs to make herself feel important.
Mum had always wanted some outside furniture, so today she'd decided we were going to make our own. She'd rescued a handful of old rusty chairs from somewhere (I believe they had been in a neighbour's garage, ready for the tip) along with a set of metal legs that used to hold a table top. To other people, this collection would look nothing more than a pile of rubbish - but to mum, they held the potential of something magical. As, indeed, did most things.
So, my sister and I (quite accomplished builders assistants by that stage) got to work brushing down the rusty old metalwork ready for painting. Mum, certain that we'd complete the task in time for lunch, busied herself preparing a roast chicken meal for us to enjoy in the garden on our new furniture.
We found bits of old wood and sticky-back plastic to make the chair seats and backs, and cobbled together a table top from the left-over planks mum had been using to make a walk-in wardrobe (that's another story!). Using sandpaper, brillo pads, lashings of elbow grease and a mountain of nails, we finally had our four (nearly) matching chairs and a table. We painted the legs and varnished the table and decided it was ready to be christened with it's first family meal.
The plates were ones we had been collecting with points from our local supermarket. Stoneware it was called, rather too grandly I always thought, and was decorated with a browny yellow floral display - none of them quite matching the other. "Delightfully rustic!" mum would enthuse to counter my teenage disapproval.
She was a great cook, and took great pride in being able to rustle a wholesome tasty meal out of just about anything and at the drop of a hat. A useful skill, since Abigail and I would often bring our growing group of often hungry friends home for a little snack or two.
The chicken was carved and plated, along with the salad and some fresh bread, and the whole lot was taken outside for us to enjoy 'al fresco'. The varnish wasn't quite as dry as it could have been, and the plates stuck a little bit to the table top - but we didn't care. "Anyway, it was always going to need a second coat!" mum had reasoned sensibly.
We must only have taken our first mouthful when, in typical english style, the heavens opened. Small drops at first, but steadily building to quite a downpour, the skies turning decidedly grey at the same time. Did we move? Did we take our meal inside to the warmth and dry of the dining room? Did we heck as like!
"Come along girls, we're jolly well going to stay out here and enjoy it!" my mother encouraged, as yet another large dollop of rain bounced off her plate and on to the table. And so we did.
To anyone who could have seen us that day, we must have looked absolutely absurd. The food on our plates was practically swimming, it was cold and wet, and we were all soaked to the skin - but we were happy. We'd finally got the furniture we wanted, and mum had shown us once again that we can achieve whatever we set our hearts on and proved that it's up to us how we respond to life and it's uncertainties.
"Hmmm... rain for gravy... now there's a new idea!" she had mused, chewing on a mouthful of particularly soggy chicken, while yet another mad-cap plan was clearly beginning to take shape.