Today we mourn the passing of my mother, but more importantly, we are here to celebrate her life.
This is an occasion to say a few words about my mother, and perhaps also to share a few laughs, possibly at her expense. She would be quite upset if I were to pass up this opportunity.
The first thing I would like to say is that my mother has been a very lucky person. She was born into a caring family, and my grandfather clearly instilled in her the virtue of modesty and simplicity. She was extremely lucky that when the ferry she was on between Canton and Hong Kong was sabotaged and sank, killing many, she was rescued largely unharmed very swiftly, apparently still holding on to her handbag. And when she went to study in England, as soon as she stepped off her boat at Tilbury Docks, she met a dashing young man who proceeded to sweep her off her feet and doted on her for the rest of her life. And while her children may have been a tad disappointing, she has lovely grandchildren.
My mother can be very charming and kind, but there is also a darker side to her character. She was a disciplinarian with no qualm about using the whip, which my brother and I could attest to on many an occasion. I also recall a time when I was locked in the storage room for my misdemeanour, and could hear our servant pleading with her on my behalf, concerned that I would suffocate, since the hot water boiler was kept in the same storage room. My mother's desire to make sure that John and I did well in school would often go badly overboard when she kept us up half the night before an exam, obliged to sit through her interrogation to convince her that we knew our stuff, with the natural consequence that we would be worn out the next morning. Mum, we forgive you.
My mother is a very fair person, and never shows any favouritism towards either my brother or me. While she gave me the gift of mathematics, she gave John the ability to live largely without it but with untidiness instead. She herself is not very domesticated, as throughout the years in Hong Kong, she had servants to tidy up after her. In later years, my father took over this onerous task. Whenever she decided to do some cooking, she would use every pot in the house, unfortunately a gift she also bestowed on me. Lily, Abby and Sam, you know who is to blame when there is a lot of washing up to do.
What I would like to emphasize today most of all is my mother's courage, her desire to care for others and her distaste of the limelight. She was very courageous when she married her dashing young man. Allegedly, he had no money and only a job. She supported my father unwaveringly while he was making his way in this world. And when he became hugely successful and famous, she never took advantage of his position, preferring to remain in the background. She even famously turned down an invitation to have dinner with the Queen, and instead chose to be in London for the birth of her first grandchild. She took on Ada's evil aunt, and provided Ada with the chance of a decent life.
To illustrate how much her dashing young man meant to her, Mum on one occasion pleaded with me not to study mathematics, but electrical engineering instead, to keep my father happy. Mercifully for everyone, she failed miserably -- just imagine the widespread and frequent power cuts this would otherwise have caused!
Mum was a very worried person when she came to Sydney in March to visit us, not knowing how well or badly I was coping with my cancer treatment. She must have been reassured when she saw that my head was not bald and shiny, and that I still had more hair than my father and brother combined. And when she was very ill and I had to wait until after a final operation before I could travel, against all odds, she waited for me.
Thank you, Mum. Rest in peace. Do not worry. We will look after your dashing young man.