And What Do You Do?



Bank Holiday Monday. And we walk, la famille, nine of us aged between 7 and seventy: great nieces and granduncles. It means we walk like a spring; a group stretched by the disparity between years and fitness levels, strung around the reservoir when the younger and quicker get bored of hanging back. We bounce together when our conscience gets the better of us though, and shuffle then in a huddle that it difficult for speeding cyclists to navigate.


We go the pub afterwards: it’s easier to eat en masse than ramble as a group. We’re better at it too: eating and drinking together; we’ve done if often over the years.  We’ve had more practice at that than communal walking.


We are joined by two of my cousin’s London friends: a futures trader and his wife. I am introduced as Mike’s African Cousin. I am quite plainly not: African. And the eleven years between us and the difference between our complexions (my cousin’s smooth English one, my weathered hide) throws the ‘cousin’ connection into question. I can see the futures trader and his wife thinking: African? No. Cousin …. Hmmmm? Possibly. She’s a lot older though.


She takes a seat opposite me. It is a long time since I was obliged to converse with a professional from London. It’s a long time since I was obliged to converse. But she makes it easy: she smiles and laughs readily. I ask her what she does. She is a journalist on one of the national dailies.


She is pregnant too.


‘Will you work after your baby is born?’ I ask her.


‘I am not sure’, she replies, ‘I think I’ll just wait to see how I feel’.


I tell her she is sensible. Society plants too many expectations on mothers as it is.  Why would we want to exacerbate those by adding the weight of our own? You cannot describe what becoming a mother is like – the job is too huge, too different according to whose doing it, too personal – so I do not try.


She does not ask me what I do.


If she had done I’d probably have said, ‘Oh, I’m JustaMum’. But I would probably have added, ‘I do a bit of writing and I teach Hat’ and I’d have gestured my little girl at the end of the table.


I wonder how she will describe herself once her son or daughter arrives.




Hat says, ‘I once read something called Ten Tips on How to be Happy’.


I know how elusive Happiness can be. So does Mum. So we ask Hat, ‘And what did it say?’


‘Oh I don’t remember them all’, says Hat, ‘just two’.


And she elaborates:


Try to do one nice thing for somebody else every day so that you feel better about yourself.


‘That sounds wise’, says her grandmother.


‘And make a collage of all your achievements’.


Mum – who eight weeks ago shook off Depression’s clammy grip which had pinned her vice like in unrelenting misery for a full six months – smiles broadly; Mum – who until recently would have sniffed at How to be Happy tips – says confidently, ‘In that case I would make a collage with pictures of my children and all their children; for they are my greatest achievement’.








21 Responses to “And What Do You Do?”

  1. Mud Says:

    I’m so glad your mum is feeling so much better. What a treat for her to be surrounded by her loving family!

    I will follow Hat’s happiness advice too.

  2. Tamara Says:

    You seem to have a knack for bringing tears to my eyes with your simple, unsentimental understated wisdoms. Thank you.

  3. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you, Mud; it is so lovely to see her so well again. All colour and smiles and enthusiasm. Even for the outrageous heels I bought myself yesterday. When ill, she’d have wrinkled her nose at them. When well they are my ”beautiful new shoes”.

    Thank you Tamara, wisdom isn’t a word that’s often associated with me. It’s nice when it is.

  4. R. Sherman Says:

    Leave it to Grandparents to put things in perspective.

    I’m glad you and your family are having a good time.


  5. Iota Says:

    I’ve never understood what a futures trader does, but it sounds mystical and intriguing. If you don’t like your life, can you go to a futures trader and change what you suspect is in store for you? Is that what his wife did? “I don’t want to be a journalist any more. Can you redirect my path, and give me a life as a justamum?” And he did. It reminds me of Hat and her crystal ball – well, not Hat, obviously, but Madame Whatever-her-name-was.

    You all sound so happy and contented – it’s a joy to read. New shoes too!

  6. Irene Says:

    What a nice thing of your mother to say and believe it too. I am still trying to find the answer to that question myself and am in great doubt and hesitation.

  7. Mom de Plume Says:

    Hat seems to to be very wise… of any tips for being happy she could remember, I think these two are worthy of note. I would have loved to have seen my Gran’s collage!

  8. Yvonne Says:

    Kids have a way to bring you back to earth. When my son P was 8 he stood and listened while a fellow play worker (local community centre summer scheme) moaned about, housework,lack of money etc etc. He looked up to her and said “Anne, there are more important things in life” Our jaws dropped, talk about a slap in the face with a wet fish, it was just as good as. It makes sense to listen to them.


  9. ExpatKat Says:

    What a lovely idea – to make a collage. Your mother’s words reminded me of just what a gift it is to be a mother.

  10. Potty Mummy Says:

    This would explain – the collage, that is – why my mother and mother in law have them all over their respective homes then…

  11. Teena Says:

    ‘Justamum’ is such an amazing job. I love it. The perks are fantastic, the workplace is fun, the people are adorable and the sense of achievement is beyond compare! We mums are at the top of the tree!! t.x

  12. Lisa Lawrence Says:

    Hello! I have enjoyed reading your blog so much and really wanted to say hi and thank you for your excellent writing. Little Hat is wise beyond her years. Good, good work mum! As for people who don’t ask in return what you do? That always bugs me. I love Teena’s comment!

  13. Mozi Esme's Mommy Says:

    I LOVE mum’s comment!

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    absolutely Mr Sherman: leave to the grandparents. Their perspective is better because their view is: not clouded, more objective, the distance of years and wisdom

    That’s great, Iota. Reminds me of a old Victoria Wood gag when The Body Shop was at it’s 1980s pinnacle, ”Sorry, but have you got this”, and she gestured her body, ”in a size 8?”

    Irene, it was her tone that was so perfect: she was quite adamanat. Her brood her greatest accomplishment, no doubt.

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mom d P, I think she is. Wise. Nothing to do with where she goes to school, of course! More to do with her gran’s influence I think?

    Yvonne, I agree. Kids are all black and white. No muddy grey to navigate your way through. No messing, basically.

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks ExpatKat. Since her remark I notice she has been reorganising photos of us lot and ours. I tease her, ”hey ma, why are there more pictures of baby sit up than me?” “I knew you’d say that”, she laughs.

    PM: and we will too one day, ranks of photographs that we will likely bore our friends with … ! x

  17. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    you’re quite right Teena. You’re quite right x

    Thanks Lisa L, and for dropping by. Perhaps she didn’t need to ask what I did: perhaps it was evident anyway? Do justamums have a certain look about them? is it a give away when we start cutting up the plate of lunch that belongs to the person sitting next to us, I wonder …?

    Thank you Mozi E: good, isnt’ it?

  18. Hadriana Says:

    Futures traders…I’ve met a few of those! A general explanation is that they deal in the “future” price of a financial “instrument” which is backed by a security (e.g. cash, bonds, shares etc). Anyway I’ll stop waffling. Sometimes it’s good to be mysterious and not have a “label” attached to you. Mind you “Mike’s African Cousin” sounds pretty exotic…

  19. Laurie Says:

    What a sweet and uplifting post. I really like your mum, Mum!

  20. Nikki Says:

    My first time reading your blog after a link on another site and your mum’s words brought tears to me eyes. How beautiful.

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Hadriana: perhaps you’re right. No labels, then x

    Laurie – thank you for reading. So do I – like my mum; she’s a pretty cool bird.

    Oh thank you Nikki, that’s so kind. It was a lovely thing to say wasn’t it: that we, her brood, were her greatest accomplishment. I shall try to remember that.

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