One fine spring morning, when I was 15 (35 years ago, almost to the day), my mother came into my bedroom, perched herself on the end of my bed and told me that in just a few weeks' time, she would be leaving England and returning to her native Australia - permanently. I sat on the bed quite still, in total silence, too stunned to speak, much less cry. I hadn't seen this one coming. I'd probably assumed that, like most kids, I'd be the one doing the leaving some day. But not yet.
My mother explained, calmly and unemotionally, that I was welcome to come too, of course - but that I probably wouldn't want to. She was returning to live the sort of horsey rural life she'd grown up with - and left far behind when she and my father had emigrated to Britain 20 years earlier. And while a horsey rural life would have been perfect for me at nine, at nearly 16, with a taste for vintage stilettos and asymmetric haircuts, this idea was anathema.
More importantly, there was the fact that she was going with Arthur, her partner of 18 months or so and my mother's third "boyfriend" (he was in his 50s) in the six years since my parents' own difficult relationship had finally ended with my father's departure. My mother's acquisition of Arthur - whose wife had been a close friend of hers - had been, to say the least, messy.
Arthur was an alcoholic, and I became weary of locating whisky bottles hidden in cisterns and pouring the contents down the loo. I loathed the sordid squalor of alcoholism: the pointless foul-mouthed rages and the constant passing out in a blind stupor (beer binges were bad, whisky binges far worse).
But most of all, I hated the fact that Arthur was so intensely consuming that at precisely the point in my life when I needed my mother to show me how to be a woman, she was not only emotionally absent but, increasingly, physically absent too. I would occasionally arrive home from school on a Friday afternoon and find a note saying she'd be away for the weekend (one, memorably, was scribbled in biro on the back of a paper plate and asked if I could please tidy my bedroom. I still have it).
Mum would usually leave me 20 quid. You could do quite a lot with 20 quid in 1978; I recall going to Miss Selfridge first thing on the Saturday morning and spending the rest of the weekend living on tea and crisps.
Unthinkable now, of course, but it never occurred to me to talk to anybody about this. Who would I tell? I was an only child, with no blood relatives in this country, apart from my parents. My Dad had his own life, and though we were in regular amicable contact, that life seemed so far removed from my own as to be entirely irrelevant.
Instead, I became a habitual truant, did badly in my O-levels, fell in with a crowd of bad boys, and stole lip gloss from the Miss Selfridge Kiss and MakeUp counter. By the time my mother sat on the end of my bed and told me she was going, she was, of course, already well on her way.
Within weeks of this conversation, having just turned 16 (I remember nothing about that birthday. Erased), I was living with my bemused-but-bravely-stepping-up-to-the-paternal-plate father in a hastily bought two-bedroom Maida Vale mansion flat just around the corner from his previous bachelor one-bedder. Bizarrely, I'd said "goodbye" to my mother after a lengthy Tube and bus journey from Maida Vale to the middle of Kingston Bridge. For some reason this was convenient for her and Arthur as they were driving to the airport. (From where, I have no idea; the relevance of Kingston Bridge still eludes me).
The next time I saw my mother was the following Christmas, as I arrived jet-lagged after a Singapore Airlines flight (Flight SQ84, for the record) that, for numerous reasons, took several days to get me to my destination. Eventually, after a connecting flight to Canberra, I was met by a mother I only half-recognised for the simple reason that she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant. She "hadn't wanted to tell me on the phone", apparently.
She also asked me not to tell my father who, extraordinarily, was at that point still paying alimony. Things hadn't been going brilliantly, she said, and she and Arthur needed the money for the new baby. I shrugged, indifferent. Not my problem, right? I was growing-up fast - toughening up.
My half-brother was born during my stay, and, of course, I told my father of my brother's existence within five minutes of being met at Heathrow on my return. I suspect he'd cancelled the alimony payments by the end of the day. And who could blame him?
Arthur died when his son, his only child, was nine. My mother claims he'd been sober for several years by then. However, the last time I saw the man who stole my mother was in the first few days of 1982, after I'd flown out to see my little brother celebrate his first birthday. Arthur was on a bender during my trip and, with his being particularly poisonous, his insecurity was somehow magnified by my presence. "She doesn't want you any more," he hissed in my ear. "She has a new family now."
Intellectually, of course, I knew this was the drink talking; emotionally... well, I didn't see or speak to my mother or brother for five years; for a few of those years I didn't even have their address or phone number. During this period, my mother and Arthur married, though I only found out years later - and not from my mother.
Once-upon-a-childhood-time, I really and truly believed that my mother was absolutely right about everything and I loved her unconditionally. I loved her kindness and her sense of humour and her wardrobe of beautiful clothes and shoes, and I revelled in her company. The pedestal started crumbling 35 years ago and, very gradually, entirely disappeared.
I've seen my mother on (and excuse me while I count on the fingers of two hands) eight separate occasions since 1982. The most recent was Christmas 2013, when I cooked a goose and sat around the table in my own kitchen, alongside her, my father, my two sons, my partner, my brother and sister-in-law, and my nephew. "So when was the last time you had Christmas with your mum and dad, Kate?" asked my sister-in-law. We worked out that it was 1973. Statistically, it is never going to happen again.
Since then, I've spoken to my mother two or three times - though not for about a year. I left her a phone message on Christmas Day, but she didn't call back. She doesn't send cards, and nor do I. Happily, there have been other women in my life who have picked up the maternal baton (special Mother's Day thanks to Shirley Nathan, who has kept an eye on me since I was 16), but growing up effectively motherless leaves its scars.
However, after the almost-inevitable therapy, these scars can work to one's advantage. For example, in common with all the other "motherless" women I've ever met - with whom I often "connect" long before I know about their "motherlessness" (and most of whom are properly "motherless") - I'm a bit brittle and brusque on the outside, have a very good (if dark) sense of humour, am domestically capable, self-starting and almost pathologically driven to create a physically nurturing and attractive home for my family - as if this will, in some way, make up for all the skills I so obviously lack.
I am damaged but mending, I suppose - and have habitually found partners who love-me-and-leave-me (though sometimes I do the leaving, just to save them the bother). Whatever. Like everybody, motherless women are the sum total of their life experiences -or, in our case, lack of them.
Unsurprisingly, I have a fairly ambivalent attitude to Mother's Day. After the break-up of my relationship with their father, the biggest regret of my life, by an Outback mile, has been failing to provide my two beautiful and brilliant boys with the kind of happy, nuclear-family-style stability they deserve - and of which I dreamt. And while my children will be spending today with me, there's a very good reason why I won't be in touch with my mother this weekend - as I found out many years ago, having travelled 12,000 miles to arrive unannounced on her doorstep, bearing flowers.
"Hi! Happy Mother's Day!"
"Oh, it's not Mother's Day here, darling!" said my mother, laughing through her tears.
It didn't really matter, she was definitely pleased to see me - and even though I can only tell mine, there are, of course, two sides to this story. Meanwhile, I'm sure that even my Awol Ma would agree that as much as mothers appreciate the flowers and cards, for us it's Mother's Day every day, wherever our children might be.