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Del Hughes comes out of the closet

19 May 2024 14 minute read
Ancient History, image by Del Hughes

Del Hughes

It’s been thirty-one months, almost to the day, since she died, but finally, I’m here, facing off against a vast expanse of painted panelled doors.

If life was a fairytale, this would mark the entrance to Narnia… But nope, no loquacious lions, furry fauns, or literary lampposts here.

Instead, this bedroom suite is rather a portal armoire, a gateway to a less enchanting realm, where bygone fashion fads and timeless elegance coexist, and provide compelling confirmation that my mother was a serious shopaholic, albeit a très chic and stylish one.

In fact, sifting through the neatly hanging racks, it’s clear that the only adventure I’m going to have today will be a lengthy, and slightly dusty, dissection of Mum’s fashionista flair.

The First of Many, image by Del Hughes

Worry

I’m aware that getting to this point has been a long, long time coming, but in mitigation, I’ve had some issues.

#1: Neither my health nor my head have coped particularly well since Mum popped her clogs. A surly spine and grumpy gallbladder led to lengthy periods of enforced immobility, and being home – alone – meant far too much time for moody introspection.

The inevitable knock-on effect was a bonce awash with worry, not helped by steadily increasing financial pressures and the spiralling red tape of tying up Mum’s estate.

But ironically, despite the cognitive overload, I was brimming with ideas and schemes, ones that I couldn’t contemplate, or even voice, whilst Mum was alive; we’d already had a major falling out when I’d suggested that Tim and I should sell up and move to a park home in Blackpill.

Innocuous enough you’d think but, if you’ve watched the Gavin & Stacey engagement party episode, imagine a less sweary, but more hysterical Pam, and you’d be close!

Pipedreams

But now, Tim and I could escape the rat race (of Killay! Lol!), move to a small croft in the Highlands, downsize to a houseboat, or even buy an RV and spend our lives on the open road. Lush!

Of course, reality has a nasty habit of puncturing pipedreams. The final size of our lurchers (XL), combined with my discomfort in most motor vehicles, meant that a nomadic existence was impractical; and since I can’t walk comfortably on dry land, a languid life afloat was out the window too.

And, when I realised that Tim’d be old enough to retire in a couple of years, meaning we’d be at home… together… 24/7 (thousand-yard stare!), downsizing of any description was completely off the table. (We’d need to keep as much floorspace between us as we could or, come 2026, you’ll be reading features entitled, ‘Del Does Porridge’ and ‘Adventures in Solitary!’)

Clutter and clothing

#2: I’m lazy, and since there was more than enough storage at Mum’s to keep the clutter and clothing concealed, it morphed into an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kinda deal.

Plus, Stepdad seemed soothed by a dressing table that still held brushes, curlers, and cosmetics, ‘because it’s like she’s still here.’ Aw. I’m not crying, you are.

#3: Last, but certainly not least, I’m fat. And this is the kicker because I’m currently betwixt and between a wide range of sizes, and am definitely not trim enough to wear any of Mum’s classic garments. Plus, in our two-bed semi, we just don’t have the storage space.

My wardrobe is a mini walk-in, but thirty-five years of yo-yo dieting means it’s crammed with various sorts of sweaters, shirts, and jeggings, in a whole span of sizes. And I can’t contemplate throwing anything away, on the off chance that I balloon/shrink again. (And TBH, given past experience, that’s 100% likely.)

Tim reckons that I’m making excuses to avoid having a damn good purge, and I guess that’s partly fair. But he doesn’t believe in the effects that medication and menopause can have on a woman’s water retention, bloating, weight gain, and muffin-top, all of which, in his blunt Yorkshire dialect, is apparently ‘muckment!’ Men! Hard eyeroll!

But though my analgesic and age-related struggles are very real, the trouble is that I enjoy eating, a lot. Being mainly sedentary and stuck at home doesn’t help, as it leaves excessive amounts of time for boredom, brooding, and generous grazing.

Aaaannndd we’re right back at issue #1. Heavy sigh.

The Second of Many, image by Del Hughes

Paraphernalia

Anyway, the point I’m tortuously trying to make here is that relocating shedfuls of Mum’s paraphernalia into my already bursting bedroom is nigh on impossible.

But impossible or no, it’s got to be done, because Stepdad is moving to an extremely smart bungalow in Morriston, and Mum’s house has been sold. So, with an immutable May 31st completion date, the whole place needed emptying, ASAP. Deep breaths. Okay… I’m going in!

Simply opening the doors prompted a sensory tsunami, with the first brief whiff of Mum’s lavender-scented bed socks evoking childhood weekends at my grandparents’ house.

I’d spend hours at Gran’s dressing table, draping myself in her ‘jewels’ (marcasite, Bakelite, paste), caking my face with loose powder, and completely missing the clue in the word lipstick by liberally using it as eyeshadow and rouge.

Then I’d unlock the mahogany cupboard, sweetly fragranced with lavender oil, rifle past Grandpa’s overcoat, suits, and vests, past Gran’s housecoats, and her two best dresses, ‘til I’d reach the rich sleekness of my desired dressing-up item.

Once released from its camphored confines, I’d swathe myself in Gran’s pride and joy – a calf-length mink coat. Gulp! (I know, but it was a different era, and thankfully that pelage was disposed of years ago.)

Bewitched

I even had my own backing track, rewinding/replaying the ‘Reader’s Digest, Music for Lovers, Tape 2,’ at high volume, as I swept around the room, pretending I was Glen Campbell’s ‘Everyday Housewife’, or sometimes, Samantha from ‘Bewitched.’

But back to Mum’s sartorial stash, and there were no mothballs here. Instead, it was her perfumes which jockeyed for olfactory dominance; Chanel and Dior battled bantamweight Blue Grass, but none could touch Arden’s pheromonic big gun, and Red Door took the crown.

And it’s not only clothes I’m ploughing through. Mum had a whole host of creams, crèmes, masks, masques, and many concoctions, all suffused with Retinoids, Exosomes, and Peptides, along with hefty amounts of assorted acids. Hmm?

Mum’s Dressing Table, image by Del Hughes

Blingy allure

Despite, quite sensibly, wanting to keep corrosive compounds as far from my face as possible, there was no doubt that Mum was glamorous and gorgeous until the very end, and I did consider snaffling some of her ‘miracle’ cures.

But, after unscrewing and investigating many tubs, jars, tubes, and ‘serum pearls’, I decided against it.

The ’24 Carat Gold’ facemask had a blingy allure, but after months without use, had morphed from an unctuous treacle into a solid ingot, and I’d swear the optimistically titled ‘Ten Years Off in Ten Minutes’ was merely curdled milk – in both texture and smell. Ugh!

Bugger it! I’ll stick with my wrinkles, crow’s feet, and patchy imperfections, all of which imbue my visage with character, gravitas, and wisdom. (That’s my new mantra and I’m sticking with it!)

We binned the cosmetics, Tim took the first of many trips to the tip, and then it was time to tackle the racks. Nervous swallow.

In earlier articles, I’ve explained that I’m not great at dealing with emotions, especially those that induce sobbing, snivelling, and sniffles. So, that every single hanger held modish memories of Mum was initially overwhelming, and I felt a familiar lump in my throat as I began to trawl.

Recollections

Hanger one, and recollections of a two-week holiday on a narrowboat. (We’d invited Mum and Stepdad to spend a few nights aboard, hoping their presence might help distract Tim from the ‘no Wi-Fi’ situ that had got old, fast – Day 2.)

Moored near a waterside pub, we easily spotted Mum, striding down the – wrong – side of the canal, oblivious to our exuberant, and hysterical, signals and shouts. (Poor Stepdad tramped along in her wake, loaded with more luggage than we’d packed for the entire fortnight.)

And to be fair, she did stand out, wearing a Breton jersey, anchor-embossed scarf, wide-legged sailor pants, proper deck shoes, topped off with a jaunty mariner’s cap. LMAO! Yep, nutty as a fruit cake, but she was a woman who undoubtedly knew how to dress the part.

Hanger two held a white shirt, black trouser suit, tie, with a carrier containing a pair of sunglasses and a trilby attached. And thanks to Elwood-Cam, there are five short seconds of Mum, bopping and high-fiving her arse off, during a Blues Brothers tribute night, and looking nothing like the septuagenarian cardiac patient that she was. And that’s the only video of her I have.

(Regretful note to self: Should have thought to video her more often, should have kept her daily voice mails – ‘Del, this is your mum. It’s <insert exact time> on <insert day & full date>. I’m checking you’re not dead. Call me back so I can stop worrying.’ Lol! I should have been better prepared for the inevitable, but as Tim often says, ‘Shoulda, woulda, coulda, and nowt you can do about it.’ Woeful exhale.)

Clotted knot

Then Christina – who Mum called her ‘second daughter,’ and who’s one of my besties – popped up to help with the clear-out, and truthfully, she was a bloody godsend.

With each shirt, skirt, shoe, or jacket, ad infinitum, she shared stories of Mum, and the gentle humour she brought to the job soon had us chuckling.

She also helped loosen my clotted knot of oesophageal sorrow and kept potential tears at bay. (Thanks, Chris, you star!)

As we steadily sorted and stuffed bin bags for Cancer Research, Pettifor Trust, and British Heart Foundation, I was chuffed that Chris wanted a small pile of evening tops, and a few trinkets as mementoes. And later, when I received a selfie showing her vamped up for a night on the town,

I knew that Mum would have been thrilled that someone appreciated her style, even if that someone wasn’t me.

Chris, Out-Out Ready

Swanky

I chose to keep only those pieces that sparked a sense of saudade. Her leather coat, bought for a posh weekend in London, so she’d look swanky enough for The Goring; her retro houndstooth newsboy hat which she’d lived in during our last winter break in Padstow.

Her crimson-striped hoodie, bought during one Yorkshire holiday from hell, where she’d constantly complained that the dales were ‘too bitter for someone with no circulation’; the mustard duffle, with matching kepi and ‘racing gloves’, donned on the day I’d taken her to Parkmill for her first, and only, lesson on safely driving a mobility scooter.

(On the way home, we’d called into The Gower Inn for a couple of snifters, brandy being the much-needed balm after a truly harrowing half hour!)

And remember Gran’s coat, the one I’d presumed was festering in a distant landfill?

Turns out, Mum inherited it, and for close to thirty years, had kept it tucked away in the dark recesses of her closet, protected by a plastic garment bag, and never, ever worn.

And it’s passed to me. Bollocks!

As a staunch animal rights supporter, I wholly intended to chuck it. But, unzipping the cover, traces of camphor, lavender, and lily of the valley assailed me, and I realized that this fur was anamnestically attached, and couldn’t just be jettisoned.

So, like Mum before me, it’s currently tucked away in the furthest corner of my wardrobe, completely out of sight, if not out of mind.

Ephemera

Next came a seemingly endless tide of ephemera, chipped crockery, ornaments, and the like: framed degree certificates, cap and gown pics, a cake platter from Limoges, musical piggy bank, six champagne saucers, a large oil portrait of me aged twenty, when I sat for a lovely old artist at a masterclass demo. (My parents proudly hung it in their hallway, so all who called couldn’t miss it.)

Seeing it now, this antithesis of Dorian Gray, I feel blue. That canvas harshly contrasts the vibrancy of my past with the rumpled reality of my present, and shows, much too clearly for my liking, the ravages of excess, indiscretions, illness, and time. Alas!

(C’mon Del, remember that mantra: ‘Wrinkles are character, wrinkles are wisdom.’ Whatever! Because with a jolt of empathy, I completely understand Mum’s reliance on all her facial lotions and potions. What I wouldn’t give to recapture that youthful glow. Mournful sigh.)

Pics, Portraits & Paraphernalia, image by Del Hughes

Nostalgia

There are photographs, jewellery (no marcasite or Bakelite, some paste), and hundreds of CDs and DVDs which all need to find a different home, and deffo not ours. Saying that, though we don’t have the means to play either, I have kept a few faves, for nostalgia’s sake.

The Best of Don Williams, whose relaxed country tones call to mind a boozy weekend in Toulouse; BBC’s Ghost Stories at Christmas, avidly watched, always with a mug of hot chocolate and an M&S mince pie; and other bits and bats which caused ripples of reminiscence, and a reflexive resistance to letting them go.

I even saved my aunt’s old china – initially earmarked for Pettifors – because I remembered being served tea in those fancy cups, made with three heaped sugars and condensed milk, and with an orange Club on the saucer!

Delish, though with hindsight, it’s probably no wonder I’ve got a weight problem.

Burdens

And, just like that, we’re done. Phew! But what’s curious is that I thought I’d feel relieved, thought stress levels would return to normal, thought the burdens of the past thirty-one months would miraculously lift, and thought I’d finally feel content. But I don’t.

Instead, I’m engulfed by crushing anxiety, obsessively pondering the question: What happens to all this when I die? Yeah, there’s Tim, but he’s ten years my senior and, despite incredibly resilient ancestral genes, might still be expected to pop off before me.

There’s my stepdaughter, stepson, and four step-grandsons, but would they really want the responsibility of carefully curating my family history – the albums, tea sets, clothes, Don Williams, Gran’s sodding coat?

Mum’s Faves & Pauline’s China, image by Del Hughes

Maudlin mood

See, whoever empties my wardrobes will likely ditch the lot, and as I’m the last of our Hughes clan, eventually all will be forgotten, along with me.

That old proverb, ‘You can’t take it with you,’ has never held such meaning as it does today. Sob!

Obviously, my maudlin mood is symptomatic of a swamped psyche, and the flood of reflections Mum’s house clearance generated.

But lest my head explodes, I think I’ve done enough paddling through the past, and fretting about the future, for one day, and so for now, I’m keeping my closet doors securely shut.

But if, one day, I open them to find that frozen Narnian landscape, Gran’s pelts will comfortably fend off the frigid conditions; mind, I doubt Mr. Tumnus will proffer tea and lullabies… not once he clocks that I’m cosily clad in a fair number of his furry pals. Uh-oh! (Sorry little mink, fur-give me?)

Narnian Furry Friends

Pettifor Trust, Killay, has the bulk of Mum’s clothes, shoes, handbags, and knickknacks. We gave the quality stuff to this animal charity because, as well as being local to South Wales, I genuinely felt a need to make amends for Gran’s stupid coat. So, if you’re looking for a bargain, pay them a visit. It’s all for a very good cause.

A Year of Living Dangerously by Del Hughes is published by Cambria Books and also available here.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
27 days ago

Hiya Del, going through similar here…chin up…

Del Hughes
Del Hughes
24 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Aw, Mab, so sorry to hear that. Yep, am keeping my chin firmly towards the ☀️ and trying to soldier on. Hope you’re coping okay your end. Here’s to brighter times ahead 🤞

By the way, I used one of your comments on the back cover of my book! I’ll attach a pic so you can see it. Yours is the one between John’s (blonde dog), feet! I loved it so much, I wanted to include it.

IMG_8681
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
21 days ago
Reply to  Del Hughes

Don’t know what to say but that has made my day, Del.

I said a couple of years ago to Mark Mansfield that N.C and esp the culture page was special and the proof is you Del…x

That’s one copy sold, I’ll order one from my local library too…

Last edited 21 days ago by Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
20 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

‘Best of Don Williams’…

Del, I used to work for Don’s record label in the late 70’s and when ‘Gipsy Woman’ came out it moved quite a lot of singles and LP’s so ‘happy’ days.

Saturday afternoons the Tele sales dept would be empty and me and my boss would sit and knock back a bottle of Gordon’s listening to the man who was paying our wages those weeks…

Remember How Long by Ace that was ours too…

A book signing tour in choice locations when you have the urge, maybe!

Liz
Liz
21 days ago

Ah Del such a mentally and physically exhausting time for you. Well done for getting it done. Loved the image of your mum dressed for the boat!

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