What The Dickins: A Tale Of Edinburgh City

Louise’s Tales: What The Dickins April ’21

“As a well-spent day brings a happy sleep, so a life well spent brings a happy death.” Leonardo da Vinci

If you follow Dickins on social media, you may have seen that my woooooonderful mother, Marianne Dickins, died completely unexpectedly on 11th April. I say woooooonderful, because if you ever met her, you’d know that that’s how she said wonderful in her unforgettable, deep chocolately voice. A voice that many people have told me they can close their eyes and hear still, even if they only met her a couple of times. If you met Marianne Dickins, you never forgot her.

Ma in all her glory.

I never imagined that my second Louise’s Tale: What The Dickins would be about my Mum no longer being here. But so it is and there’s much to celebrate. I’m sitting at my desk this morning for the first time since she died, listening to the playlist I made for her and feel ready to write this.

A Life Well Spent Brings A Happy Death

A life well spent brings a happy death. In Ma’s case this is what happened and what she deserved. She lived her last day as she lived every day – at 100%. My boys saw her that morning full of life. They put bets on the Grand National together, she had money on Jordan Spieth to win The Masters, a friend came for lunch, she had a laugh, drank some Sancerre, smoked some Camel Lights, played her piano and went to bed not knowing she wasn’t going to wake up. She had a tear in her aorta. It would have been instant. It was the perfect death.

My Mum was a force of nature, una forza della natura. Not a snowflake but a hurricane, storming through life with a glass at her elbow and a Camel light close by. Everyone who came into contact with her was touched by her uniqueness; her energy, her spirit, her sense of fun and naughtiness, her massive enthusiasm, her way of looking at the world, her no nonsense stance, her interest in you, her hospitality and her generosity and kindness.

Our Viking Genes

Born in Sweden in 1941, she grew up in Halmstad and in the summer in nearby Tylosand by the sea. Not a keen scholar, her talents lay behind a piano and on the golf course, where she shot a hole in one as a teenager and showed exceptional promise. Ma’s always thought her Viking genes meant she was indestructible and so she lived life as though nothing could touch her. She was our Lagertha. The matriarch of our tribe.

Ma showing my boys how it’s done on the kids course at North Berwick on her 78th birthday.

Mormor, my Swedish Granny, organised for her to attend the Bell’s School of English in Cambridge and there, she met my father, Peter. I am the first of four daughters. Charley, Sophie and Emily followed. We are quite a force to be reckoned with too!! Being one of four same sex siblings has always felt cool. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, but one of the great things about the days since Ma died, is the way we sisters have come together again, full of love, respect and gratitude for one another and our sisterhood. It’s been special. Ma will be so pleased looking down on us too.

The Dickins sisterhood.

In the UK, there is no culture of death. So, you come to this moment, this moment that was definitely going to happen, completely unprepared and with no user manual. I’ve felt rather envious of other cultures to whom death is a natural part of life in recent days. Why don’t we talk about death, why does it feels like an uncomfortable subject? It’s so unhelpful. Writing about things I care about is something I do and sitting here, writing about my Mum feels comforting.

The No User Manual School Of Life

Ma taught me and many others how to approach life with no user manual though. One of her key skills was seeing the potential in people and then finding an opportunity for them to see that for themselves. She did it for me countless times.

Dickins was started by my Mum in our dining room in Ann Street. It was borne out of necessity. We’d moved to Edinburgh in 1988 and Ma needed to bring in some money. Her career to date had been pretty much always entrepreneurial and often came about when she needed to put her shoulder to the metal and just get on with it. No moaning allowed. No user manual. Rare in the world of women then. Rare even now. She’d made food for freezers, sold houses, sold potatoes – that period in the 70’s was bloody tough for so many people, owned and driven a beautiful 1960’s Rolls Bentley that she hired out for weddings and funerals, sold musical greetings cards – funny memories of us children ‘testing’ hundreds of them to see if they worked.

Sitting at our dining table, revising for my finals, she asked me if I wanted to make some money. Of course I did. It was the early days of Dickins and she was renovating a flat and needed furniture. I was given a list of furniture and a budget and the instruction that whatever discount I could negotiate, I could keep. Sir Alan Sugar, eat your heart out. Ma was a living, breathing version of The Apprentice and boy oh boy, would it have made great TV if there had been a camera present!!

Ma learned what she needed to know about letting homes and renovating them along the way. Dickins moved from our dining table to Charlotte Square and finally to our office on Dundas Street. Ma’s desk was in the front office. Ashtray on top and dogs underneath. She was often found by the front door, checking out the comings and goings. Are you a Hibs or Hearts fan was a key question for any potential tradesmen. She was a character and people loved her. Her gut feeling for people was spot on too.


The Final Reprise

The Final Reprise – We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back was the piece of music we found on Ma’s piano after she died. The last thing she played. It’s from Salad Days, but when you don’t know that and read the words, it felt quite extraordinary. A message for us.

If I start looking behind me and begin retracing my tracks, I’ll remind you to remind me, we said we wouldn’t look back.

And if you should happen to find me, with an outlook dreary and back, I’ll remind you to remind me, we said we wouldn’t look back. 

Our Swedish cousin and Ma’s nephew Daniel write to us so beautifully about Ma last week. He said:

“I have always seen her as a hero though life, a lady that never came close to the word reverse. When she wanted to accomplish something or try out completely new paths in life, there were only forward gears to choose from. What a source of inspiration.”

Finale Reprise – We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back


Her funeral was on Wednesday and, despite Covid restrictions, we managed a send off she would have been delighted with. She arrived in a Landrover (thank you Prince Philip for the inspiration) her wicker coffin festooned with the most beautiful flowers. She had a deep faith and her favourite clergy Bishop Kevin of Glasgow and Galloway presided whilst Father Dermot read the lessons. My sisters and I spoke. There was beautiful music. It was perfect.

Afterwards, we walked in the sunshine along the Meadows with the cherry blossom in full bloom to my Mum’s garden. There was no chance whatsoever that it would rain. Kate Howells of Stems who loved my Mum and had created her flowers, created hand tied bouquets which the guests took home with them.

Kate Howells of Stems. Floral magician.

Ma feels at peace. Not just that she feels jubilant. I can feel her around me. It seems like she’s appearing to me as a magpie. Ma would be laughing her head off about that as we were both so superstitious about seeing them. I’ve seen magpies everywhere since the 11th April and always flying, soaring free and happy. My superstition about seeing a single magpie has gone!

And so, on goes life without her. The hole she leaves for me is massive. We’ve shared so much together. We’ve worked alongside each other, seen 20 International Festival productions a year together, adventured and built houses in Italy along the road from one another. We’ve laughed and loved together. She’s without doubt been my greatest teacher. She’s taught me well. I walk on proudly. Only forward gears to choose from. Thank you Mama. Thank you for EVERYTHING.



  • Gwyneth Nixon

    June 9, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    Thank you for sharing such a beautifully piece about your mum ,what a remarkable lady.


    • Dickins

      June 23, 2021 at 4:30 pm

      Thanks very much Gwyneth. She was!

  • Cinzia Hardy

    May 12, 2021 at 8:26 pm

    What a moving tribute for the wonderful Marianne. You and your sisters are blessed to have had her as your mother. I met her in Italy and spent many happy times in her beautiful home in San Gineseo and I will never forget her warmth, generosity and humour and of course that wonderful voice. Cinzia xx


    • Dickins

      May 21, 2021 at 6:12 am

      Thanks so much Cinzia xx

  • Paolo Pieraccini

    May 9, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    Ciao,Louise,il mio messaggio di condoglianze per la perdita della tua cara mamma non è stato pubblicato.Perchè?Che cosa è successo?Comunque ti sono vicino in questo brutto momento della tua vita. Un forte abbraccio,Paolo


  • Susie V Anderson

    May 9, 2021 at 4:27 pm

    What beautiful and heart felt words. So hard to lose our mums – difficult to navigate but it sounds like you had a blast together . A special breed the Swedish mum : independent, colourful, unique, mischievous and charming …. you have her genes
    Love Susie


    • Dickins

      May 10, 2021 at 5:39 am

      Thanks so much Susie, that’s kind. Love, Lou x

  • paolo pieraccini

    May 3, 2021 at 6:37 pm

    Cara Louise,sono molto addolorato per la morte della tua cara mamma.Per quanto scrivi,penso che era una donna dal multiforme ingegno,che non si faceva da parte quando doveva affrontare le difficili prove della vita.Ha saputo trasmettere a te e alle tue sorelle quella forza d’animo che possedeva,una “forza della natura” come tu scrivi,un esempio per voi.Ha fatto una bella morte,la morte che vorrei fare anche io,che ho 86 banni,Quello che scrivi mi ha commosso,nelle tue parole vi è tanta poesia.Ergo,coraggio,cara Louise, la vita continua,come quella della tua cara mamma seppure in altra dimensione,ed io,per quanto posso,mi unisco al tuo grande dolore.Paolo


    • Dickins

      May 10, 2021 at 5:38 am

      Sono commosso dalle tue bellissime parole come sempre Paolo. Grazie molto. x

  • Yoshimi Miyazaki

    May 2, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    Dear Louise,

    I am so sorry for your loss.

    Your mother sounds like a woman who knew she had choices – how joyous for you!

    Thank you for continuing her legacy.

    yoshimi miyazaki


  • caroline ward

    May 2, 2021 at 5:57 pm

    What a moving tribute to your amazing sounding Ma..great pictures and so heartfelt Lou…cherry blossom time will mean more to you than ever now. She would have loved YOUR achievements in this life and been so proud that your innovative energy echoed hers.
    What a light in our sky she will make xxxx my wishes and thoughts, Caroline


    • Dickins

      May 3, 2021 at 12:03 pm

      What a lovely thought about cherry blossom time Caroline. Thank you. xx

  • Adela Baird

    May 2, 2021 at 12:56 pm

    Dear Louise
    So sorry to hear of your loss. The blog you have written is wonderful and I feel I know a little of your mother’s essence. How blessed you and your family have been to have had such a special lady in your life.


    • Dickins

      May 2, 2021 at 2:13 pm

      Thanks Adele and you’re right. We were!

      Best wishes,

  • Maureen Morrison

    May 2, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Louise – that is wonderful.
    I agree with everything you say about the fact that we don’t talk enough about death. My Dad died 10 years ago and Mum last year. They had lots g and interesting lives, they died peacefully,I sense their presence ALL the time .
    Why, therefore, have I lived my life fearing death.
    Thanks for your wonderful words .


    • Dickins

      May 2, 2021 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks Maureen. I’m glad you’re keeping well!

      Best wishes,

  • Terry

    May 2, 2021 at 10:48 am

    A wonderful tribute,I
    lllllove it” as I think she would have said too.


    • Dickins

      May 2, 2021 at 2:10 pm

      You’re right. Thank you Terry.

      Lou x

  • Isobel

    May 2, 2021 at 10:03 am

    Louise, that is so beautiful. I feel like I knew your lovely Mum through reading this. What a lovely, heartfelt tribute at a time when we can’t properly mourn our losses or celebrate lives well loved xxx


    • Dickins

      May 2, 2021 at 2:09 pm

      Thank you Isobel,

      Best wishes,

  • Gary Salmond

    May 1, 2021 at 12:56 pm

    What a very moving story Lou. I never met Marianne but Colin always spoke very fondly of her. Wishing you and all your family well with your wonderful memories of your Ma. Gary x


    • Dickins

      May 2, 2021 at 2:09 pm

      Many thanks Gary,

      Best wishes,

  • Kate Howells

    May 1, 2021 at 10:26 am

    Beautifully written Louise , made me cry reading your lovely words . I will miss your Ma and will always have fond memories of our times arranging flowers together. I was honoured to arrange your family flowers thank you.



    • Dickins

      May 2, 2021 at 2:08 pm

      Thanks so much Kate. You and your flowers were such an important part of Ma’s beautiful send off.

      Loads of love,
      Lou xx

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