COLUMN: PG’s Tips with Pete Gillings: ‘My mum’s good innings and still peeling spuds at age 90’

Diss, Norfolk. Pete Gillings - Christmas Vox Pop
Diss, Norfolk. Pete Gillings - Christmas Vox Pop
Share this article

My Mum, Mary Ellen Gillings (Nellie) was born on February 20, 1914, so, had she lived, she would have been 100 yesterday.

Her father, Paddy O’Farrell was a regular soldier and was one of the first to go to the front in the First World War. He made it to the end (apparently), and was posted to India which was where Mum first saw him five years later. She was bought up in a convent and spoke enough Hindustani to get by with the locals.

Word has it, she crept through the brush with a friend to watch an illegal burial one day where the wife threw herself on the funeral fire to be with her husband, long since banned by the British Empire. Coming home on the troop ship, she also witnessed a burial at sea. Quite a lot for a child to take in.

After the First War she worked for a sweet factory in the East End of London. When the firms’ sports day came round and their champion speed walker didn’t turn up, Mum said she would do it, so they pinned the number on her vest, and she won. She said if someone had told her it was from London to Southend, she wouldn’t have done it.

She gave birth to my sister Jackie as Hitlers bombs were dropping on London, and told me that one night in the blitz the whole of London was ablaze, in the end the fire brigade gave it up and let it burn and it became known as the Second Great Fire of London.

After the war she met, fell in love, and married my Dad, and had me. As a famous lady once said at her funeral “not necessarily in that order.” A few years later she gave birth to another sister, but the baby didn’t make it. The nurse came to Mums’ bedside and said “your baby didn’t live Nellie, there’s an old lady a few beds’ down that had never had children that’s just died, would you like us to put her in her coffin?” So Mum thought that would be fine. How times have changed.

Mum lived to be 93, in her own words she had “a good innings.” She lived above our scrap yard in Mission Road where I live now, and when she was 90 I took a picture of her peeling spuds at the kitchen sink and it reminded me of a picture of her doing the same in a Southend beach hut all those years ago.

I put it in the Diss Express to celebrate her birthday, Anglia Television saw the picture and came down to film her “still peeling spuds at 90.”