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    This was back in the early eighties and my parents were heading for a bitter divorce. Mum suspected that my Dad was having an affair so she hired a private detective to follow him. At the end of one surveillance trip of 80 miles he reported to mum that he’d followed Dad to a town in Kent (where Mum knew the “other party” lived). Mum challenged him about it. He said he’d gone fishing with some work mates and then spent the evening in the pub. This from someone who rarely drank, didn’t know one end of a fishing rod from another and who never missed an opportunity to lecture us about the evils of the public house.

    Now when I think back, the signs were there; shirts open to the navel, big clunky Mr T medallion, the waft of Aramis and sudden offers of ‘overtime’ at work. All that was missing was the shiny red car with the long bonnet.

    When he finally admitted to the affair Mum hit the bottle with a vengeance.

    Mum would come home from work at 4.30, pour her first drink of the evening, do the dinner , drink more, get morose, watch TV, pour another couple, cry a bit and then head off to bed. She often fell asleep in her clothes. The next morning she would get up, wash the trousers she’d slept in, run them through the spinner (thank goodness for crimplene) have a shower and head off to work again. I tried a few times to talk to her about the drinking but she was having none of it. She dismissed it with a flap of her hand and insisted she “enjoyed a drink – so what?”

    They divorced in 1984, sold the house, and Mum’s drinking escalated. Bottles hidden at the back of the pantry and in the towel drawer. Over the years I approached her about it but she always got defensive and then furious. I inevitably chose the wrong moment and she lashed out, full of vitriol and sarcasm. We managed to make it up but there was always the feeling that the next ‘bout’ was never far off.

    “Mum, I’m really worried about you. Your drinking is out of control” I would say. “Why do you do it?”
    “Because I like it!” she’d insist. ”I am not an alcoholic and I don’t have a – she made the quote marks in the air with her fingers – “problem”.

    Fast forward 1998 and to a board games evening. We were trying out a new game called Taboo. There were six of us playing. The idea of Taboo is to pick a card which has on it a word or theme. You have to describe this word or theme to your team-mate within a time limit. An egg timer was provided for this purpose. However, there are always 5 “Taboo” words written on the card that you cannot use when trying to explain it.

    For example, if the word I had to get across to my team-mate was PERKS, the five taboo words would be JOB, EXTRAS, CAR, GIVEN and FREE. If I mentioned one of these words then our team would lose.

    Mum was my team mate. I took a card from the top of the pile and looked at the word I had to describe to her. SAGITTARIUS. What a gift. This was Mum’s star sign.

    “Ok. Here we go” I said. The egg timer was stood end up and we were off. “Er…Archer” I said. She replied “Jeffrey”
    “No. Er…. 12th Month”
    “December”. She said. Good, good I thought, we’re on the right track.
    “ Uh, let’s see….. OK …. er … Mystic Meg”
    “Oh, Astrologer. Is it Astrologer or Astrology?” she asked. I shook my head, glancing at the egg timer.
    “Er…2nd Day of 12 month”.
    “Oh, that’s my birthday. Is the word BIRTHDAY?”
    “No. Er …Air, Water, Fire, Earth?”
    “The Four Elements?” she said.

    This just wasn’t working. I was running out of ideas and time.
    “OK” I said. “Aquarius, Libra, Scorpio etc”
    “Er….. star signs? “she ventured.
    “Yes, yes” I said encouragingly, willing her to make the connection.
    She looked at me blankly.

    There was about 5 seconds left on the egg timer. Racking my brain as the last of the sand trickled away I had a flash of inspiration. “You’re one of these!” I said.
    As the time ran out her eyes lit up with glee.
    “ALCOHOLIC!” she cried, and slammed her hand down on the table triumphantly.
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