My Mum and Me

by Kenneth Williams

'This article appeared in the Sunday Magazine in 1985'

 

Lou WilliamsYou could say I was born rude as well as funny. My dad, Charlie, who was a hairdresser, was pretty free with the insults to customers. My mum, Louisa, has been putting her foot in it with hilarious results-' can't stand this dismal money '(she means decimal) —since the day I came into the world on February 22, 1926, at Bingfield Street, off the Caledonian Road in King's Cross. Mum recalls the event 'Because it was early closing day and Charlie had the afternoon off'.

Mum always reckons she could have been a star. It goes back to the days when she worked for Madame Louise's French laundry in Museum Street, pressing for the toffs.

One day she was wheeling her wicker trolley of fresh laundry to the Hyde Park Hotel and had given her mate Gladys a ride on top. Suddenly, a wheel spun off and the trolley thundered to a halt. In a flash, a policeman plucked a hatpin from one of the flower girls nearby and got the wheel back on its axle

Madame Louise was furious and sent them out again to the Oxford Music Hall where Daisy Dormer, famous for singing After The Ball Is Over, told Lou: 'How very nicely you pressed this linen, my dear. Would you like to be my dressers' Lou still says that she regrets refusing to this day. She's still an expert laundress though. Once I tried to help her by putting all her dresses in the copper when she was on holiday. They all shrank and she told stick to acting !

There is a side of me that's as skeptical and puritanical as my father. a strict, whitewashed-wall Methodist who endlessly told me: 'God can see you if nobody else can'. Mum and dad met over the Welsh rarebit she served up in an Express Dairy cafe.

As a tiny thing I was put up on the kitchen table while she scrubbed round it and sang Are You Lonesome Tonight. I'd listen fervently and think - she's got all the words wrong. She still does. bless her.

My mum has always encouraged me from the days I played the king of some Ruritanian kingdom at school and, one night, voices in my sleep urged me towards my throne. While I thought I was hurling missiles at my enemies, I was in fact sleep-walking and hurling flowerpots from the window-sill on to the street below. One hit my mother's crony, Fiorrie Plume. Her felt hat saved her from being concussed. But for ever after, Florrie Plume walked on the other side of the street. It's all in my autobiography, Just Williams.

Lou is 84 but she goes to the WVS twice a week, as she says: Well, I have to help these old people'. 'You're old yourself', I tell her. But on their seaside outings. it's always Lou who counts the deckchairs.

Then there's her Old Time dance class twice a week. She takes the bus to Archway with her mate Nelly. They were joking with the conductor one day when Nelly said to Lou 'If you joke with these men, they'll take you up an alley . . .' 'Don't be silly, Nelly', mum replied. He can't leave his bus.'

She watches the pennies, does Lou. I owe my bargain-hunting mentality to her. Lou's been around the world with me a few times on cruises since I became successful. Mind you. I did make a boob on one trip. I told her we were going on a banana boat. so to bring her old clothes and a raincoat because it would be grubby and oily. I felt terribly guilty when we sat down among the glittering tableware and bejeweled passengers. I was in the dog-house for days. Then we had a good laugh as usual and made up.

Another time. we were just about to tuck into our baked apples when the ship shuddered, sending the crockery sliding across the table. The captain, officers and passengers vanished, wide-eyed with alarm. We completed our meal in the empty room and discovered later we d sliced another ship in half and sunk it.

We live in next-door flats. Lou refused to come and live with me when my father died 'No thanks, I want my own place,' she said firmly.

When mum's gone, I'll be in trouble. 'I don't know who's going to do your washing,' she says. Because of her careful laundering, I'm still wearing the Sea Island cotton shins I had in 1960. I don t cook. She does it all and I join her for my meals. I vacuum clean once a week. She goes round every day without fail. Lou's a stickler for cleanliness.

The other day, I noticed a bump on her nose and asked her what had happened. Oh, the lav seat crashed down on me when I was cleaning it.' 'Well. put it down first.' I told her. She wouldn't put antiseptic on it, just Fuller's Earth. She swears by it, uses it for everything.

Every night she thanks the good Lord for what she has been sent. I sit in my bedroom every night and write my diary and confess my sins.

Lou used to worry about when I was going to settle down and marry 'A healthy, clean-living girl', as she put it. She's given up on that. Now her worry is whether l m wearing clean underpants just in case I am wheeled into hospital. 'You're too selfish to share with anybody.' she scolds. It's true, of course. My work always comes first.

I get my gift of mimicry from Lou who's not only funny but can sing, too. 'Oh. your son is so talented, people tell her. She replies: He's clever. but I am his producer, aren't I?'

 


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