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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.