I thought I would be writing those words nine weeks ago, and in a way it would have been true. That’s when my mother stopped being able to read and discuss my pieces here. Many of which grew out of conversations I had with her.
At 94 she could still steer me towards interesting subjects and sometimes find the flaws in what I had to say about them. Until her last frustrating illness, she was good company.
Unlike her elder sister, the nuclear historian Lorna Arnold, she will not make the obituary pages of the national press. But hers was, as a friend put it to me, an engaged and interesting life.
As a war-time student evacuated to Cambridge, she studied under the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. “Under” is about right – as a woman, she was beneath his notice.
She took the title role in a university production of The Duchess of Malfi and for a moment an acting career seemed to beckon. But then came service in the London Fire Brigade, where she survived Hitler’s bombs and met my father.
Later, they both helped in the campaigns that first took both Tony Benn and Shirley Williams into Parliament. Like so many others, my mother grew disillusioned with Labour in the despicable Tony Blair years. She rejoined the party after the 2010 election defeat and was enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
The period she reminisced most about in her last years was the late 1950s, when she was chairman of the education committee in Yorkshire’s West Riding. She was in on the establishment of England’s first middle schools and was on the team that founded York University. Both my parents urged and aided the move to comprehensive schooling.
They were both offered safe Labour seats in Parliament. Both refused. He reckoned – rightly, I think – that he could do more good in the world as a headteacher and union official. She had four young children, including baby me.
She turned for a while to writing for children. Her one book to appear from a major publisher came out in 1958. The Apple of Healing was a magical adventure story very much in the tradition of E Nesbitt. A period piece now, perhaps, but worth a place on the shelf alongside Clive King’s Stig of the Dump or Susan Cooper’s earliest books.
After my father died in 1993 my mother returned to her first love – acting. She enrolled at drama school in her mid-70s and went on to appear in a number of small, uncredited, TV and film roles.
With that experience behind her, she set up a small acting group at the sheltered housing block she moved to in East Anglia in her late 80s. The group’s other members were all first-time actors at ages from 70-odd to 100-plus. She was still leading and writing for them up to the eve of her last illness.
In her case the words “peacefully, at home” are literally true. I know, because I was there.
Though many people will have varied fond memories of her, there will be no funeral. She left her body to the Cambridge University anatomy department. As she put it: “It will be no use to me when I’m no longer inhabiting it. If someone else can get some use out of it, great.”
It seems a fitting end for someone who believed in science and had less and less patience with religion. And who was committed to reusing and recycling long before the rest of the world caught up.
Are we ready for a leap in the dark?
Three days from now we’ll know whether Britain, in its collective wisdom or madness, has chosen a leap into the unknown or to step back from the brink. Or, to put it another way, whether we have chosen freedom.
Whichever way you see it, it may really be – as both sides want you to believe – the most important collective decision we’ll take in our lifetimes.
Quite why we’ve been invited to take it is another matter. There is a clear majority among our elected MPs for staying in Europe. And that, constitutionally, ought to be that.
David Cameron must have been very confident he’d win to shut up the awkward customers in his own party. He must now be praying he does.
Ironically, Britain is arguably the least democratic country in Europe. Less democratic, certainly, than the EU itself.
The Brexiteers say the referendum is about “taking back control”. But whatever happens, it still won’t be you or me in control. It will still be a party – or what’s left of it – that was given total control by the votes of just 24 per cent of the electorate.
Whatever happens after Thursday, it will be interesting. But it might not be pretty.