The bottom of the wardrobe and other stories

Before I am even dressed on Sunday I decide to clear out the bottom of the wardrobe. It has to be done in the face of our impending move but crouching and bending positions don’t sit well with breathing so I go at it like a mad thing, pulling everything out and then looking at it. Lots of things will go to the charity shop but there are some fabulous memories there among the dusty shoes and boots. There is a pair of sand coloured suede slip-ons, hand-stitched by Tsonga and which I loved. We bought them in Knysna in South Africa about 11 years ago. We had flown out there as a family of 4 and stayed with a friend in Simon’s Town, just outside Cape Town. The naval harbour had been built by the same craftsmen who built the harbour in Portsmouth so looked very familiar to us. We spent a few days in Cape Town, eating fabulous food, visiting the penguins and doing the inevitable trip to Table Mountain. Mrs Safaie was a teenager then and decided to abseil from the top of the mountain. There was not a lot of supervision and I was torn between watching out for her (she was told to ‘just make her way back to the top’ after her abseil) and looking after Mr Mason who is not good with heights. He could only stand in the middle of the plateau looking faintly green while Mr Mason jnr and I tried to look at the view. Once Mrs Safaie had made her way back to the top, hot and dehydrated, we went back to the car, looking for her watch which she had realised was missing while at the top. It was a present from her grandparents so she was keen to find it. We did find it. We found it had been splattered into the tarmac by probably a steamroller, so far down it was pressed. She was very upset and I said the immortal phrase “One day you’ll laugh about this”. Periodically I still ask her and she still says it’s not funny but I think she’s just about coming round.

I find a burgundy velvet hat, embroidered with gold thread and mirrors. This takes me back to the Alhambra Palace. The hat belongs to Mr Mason jnr who, when young, loved wearing hats. We were in Scotland once when he took a liking to a deerstalker. There was some mad Scottish reel being played in the shop and we chased him round, retrieving the hat only for him to grab another deerstalker and run off with it again. Fast forward a few years and we are in Spain and he has another hat – the burgundy and gold velvet number. It is very hot and we wander round the cool palace, taking in one amazing room after another. In each room there is a Spanish lady, usually an older woman, who can give you information if you need it. Mr Mason jnr was very blonde in his youth and no Spanish lady can resist ruffling his hair and pinching his cheek. They are also perplexed by his hat and one whispers to me, asking whether he is Jewish? No, he just likes hats. The hat I am keeping.

A pair of black, pointy suede shoes with patent tips, bought to attend an important meeting in anticipation of winning a big NHS contract sit disconsolately at the back. These shoes I wore once, for a few yards. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, one of my contracts was with a company who wanted to provide services to the NHS. I worked with them pro bono to bid on the contracts they wanted as I had experience in this area where they did not. We were invited to a meeting where we would be questioned about our service and then told whether we had met the criteria and would be awarded a contract. It was a very big deal, across a wide area of the country, and in anticipation of the meeting, I bought new shoes. I wore them one morning when I was going to sit in court and before I got there, the back of my heels were in ribbons. I limped into a shop and bought socks and blister pads. I limped to court and phoned Mr Mason, asking him to bring me shoes without backs so I wouldn’t have to walk around court bare-foot. Actually, I don’t think that would have been allowed but there was no way I could have worn these shoes. For the big meeting I wore an ordinary pair of shoes and yes, we were awarded the contract. When I was diagnosed, I assumed I would be able to work through my treatment. After all, I mostly worked from home and only travelled up to the Midlands once a week, sometimes twice. I remember sitting in a meeting in Manchester, fiddling with my hair and watching handfuls come out. It was probably about that time I realised I was not going to be able to carry on as though nothing was happening. I agreed to do slightly less work and then, after a month, I was quietly let go. In amidst the fear and anguish of cancer, I didn’t have time to be upset or angry about work. It was something that used to matter but didn’t any more. Most of the people there I worked with slipped quietly into my peripheral vision. My illness was an inconvenience that could be dealt with and their focus turned away from me. I was fortunate in that we could manage because we had savings to fall back on but in work terms, I was quickly forgotten.

Finally, there is a flat box from Liberty which once contained a silk scarf, bought for our 10th wedding anniversary by Mr Mason. I still have the scarf but the box makes me smile because of the story behind it. Mr Mason went into Liberty’s and thought he would buy me something lovely for our anniversary. He looked at the cotton scarves and found one he liked. When he pointed it out to the assistant, she brought him the silk version which was, of course, a lot more expensive. There was that dilemma for a few seconds. Was I worth the silk scarf? Should he buy the cotton one which he had intended or the silk one which he hadn’t even considered and was a lot more than he intended paying? It was our 10th anniversary, after all. As you know, he went for the silk one and 25 years later, I still have the scarf and I still have Mr Mason.