"I'm very sorry to tell you this, Matt, but your Mother's died."
Just like that. One sentence. One earth shattering sentence.
They were the words of Lynch, the duty inspector a few minutes after eleven in the morning on Tuesday the 22nd of November 1988, as he had stepped onto the platform of my bus.
I had just drawn into Ryde Bus Station with a Service 4 from East Cowes - I was a bus driver - to be met by the tall and dark clad form of the duty inspector, Lynch.
I have to say that when I had first espied him leaning up against the destination board of the departure stand my first thoughts were that he was there to grill me about an incident with a motorist or a complaint from a passenger. But of course he wasn't.
Instantly, I was in a state of total disbelief and shock since I had only seen my Mother on the Sunday evening when she had dropped James back at our maisonette after looking after him for the afternoon whilst Leanne and I had gone over to the Luccombe Hall Hotel in Shanklin for a relaxing swim and a sauna. She had also appeared to be perfectly fine as I had kissed her good-bye, unknowingly, for the very last time.
Lynch had then said, "Get off to your mother's house, your uncle and auntie are waiting for you there. Don't worry, I'll pay in for you."
I had then handed Lynch my Setright ticket machine with battered black metal case it belonged in and tatty leather cash bag. Slipping my jacket on, I had then stepped down onto the paved surface of the bus station. As I had done so it suddenly occurred to me that it could have all been a misunderstanding. Perhaps my uncle (in actual fact my great-uncle since he was my mother's uncle on her mother's side), whom was ten years older than Mum, had died whilst visiting my Mother and she needed me there to help. It was clutching at straws, but you do that at times such as these.
As I walked along the bus station and observed my breath condensing in front of me I realised how cold it was, in fact I later learned that it was the coldest day of the year, and without a doubt metaphorically speaking the 'coldest day' of my life so far. It was also the 25th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy, but I didn't realise that till a while after either.
Crossing over the entrance to the pier I had looked out at the grey-green water of the sea and had morbidly thought that anyone who had the misfortune to fall in would soon perish from hypothermia. I soon reached the bottom of St Thomas' Street and within a few minutes of swift walking I got to the junction with Spencer Road and turned right into it. After about another eighty yards or so I reached the stone steps that led down to the front door of my Mother's property - a four-bedroomed, three-storeyed semi-detached house built in the Georgian era. Apparently it had been an apothecary at one time in the past. But for me, though I had been born just up the road in St James's Street, it had always been my childhood home.
As I had slotted the key into the lock my heart had begun to pound not knowing what I was about to confront. Once inside the hallway I could hear voices to my right behind the kitchen door. I pushed it open gingerly and was immediately greeted, if that's the right term, by Uncle Ronald and Auntie Connie (who were seventy-one and seventy-four respectively) both of whom I could see had been weeping, evidenced by the redness and puffiness of their eyes.
We had all hugged for a moment and it was the closest I had ever felt towards them. I also realised in that instant that any remote hopes that my Mother's death was some sort of misunderstanding were utterly dashed.
Still stunned and partially in a state of disbelief my Auntie had suggested we all sit down and have a cup of tea.
Auntie had filled the kettle, placed it on the gas ring before lighting it. As she had done so I had noticed last night's crockery and cutlery on the drainer, aware poignantly that it was the washing and clearing up from my mother's last meal; some of her final actions.
Whilst we waited for the water to boil my uncle explained what had happened - or rather what they thought had happened - with regards to the tragic events of Mum's sudden death.
"I'm sorry, Matt, we couldn't get hold of you any earlier. We phoned the Company but they said you wouldn't be back in Ryde till about eleven, and they couldn't contact you because you haven't been issued with radios. It was Lesley (Mum's next door neighbour) who found her. She had gone round to let Dinah (Mum's dog) out, as arranged, because Sheila (Mum's Christian name) was supposed to be meeting Margaret (her friend whom she had met through the Open University) in London today. Lesley had immediately realised something had been wrong because Dinah hadn't been in the passage. She had then gone upstairs to see Sheila on the bed with Dinah whining next to her. Straightaway she phoned for an ambulance and unable to get hold of you she phoned us. When we arrived Doctor Majumdar was already here, and he was sobbing like a baby. In fact they haven't long taken her away."
At this juncture in the conversation I was attempting to visualise the sequence of tragic events, and desperately wanting to ask a lot of questions. But I had allowed Auntie to continue.
"What we believed happened is that Sheila got up, went downstairs in her dressing gown to let the dog out into the garden for a pee before returning to her bedroom to get dressed. At this point we think in the process of getting ready she must have felt seriously unwell and decided to lie down for a bit. Seconds later she must have suffered a massive heart attack. She was found lying face down half naked with her arms outstretched towards her bedside table upon which there was a glass of water, as though she was reaching out for it."
I had wondered what her last thoughts were and also whether she had suffered; or had even realised she had been dying. But we'll never know. I also thought of all the knowledge and talent she had possessed now wiped out by death; the apparent futility of existence. In addition I was relieved that I had been on good terms with her when she had died as our relationship had been stormy at times with 'unfinished business' as they say. But, the last time I had seen her, as I have already mentioned, on the top of our stairs, I had kissed her on the cheek and all had been well.
After I had finished the tea, made with her tea, her sugar, her milk and drunk in her cups I had made my way up to her bedroom - on the way up and hanging on the stair wall to the left was a framed pen and ink sketch of me as a young boy, reminding me again of her artistic abilities - which was on the first floor and facing north with a view across the sea (the Spithead) of Stoke's Bay.
It was in many ways an anti-climax because there was nothing to suggest that a human being had died there just a few hours earlier; it felt more like she had just popped out and would be back later: the paperback (I forget now what she was reading) with bookmark poking out of the pages resting upon the bedside table underneath the table lamp; the half-drunk tumbler of water; her black skirt and jumper folded neatly upon a hangar which was in turn hooked over the key to her wardrobe.
A little after, Margaret had phoned, rather tersely initially, from London to see why Mum hadn't met her. I had then recounted the tragic events. We didn't speak for long and I knew that her journey back to Tamworth would be a long and difficult one for her; they were good friends.
I then phoned my wife, Leanne, and also my Mother's Auntie, Dorothy, who was known simply as 'Auntie Dodo'. My shocked Uncle and Auntie had then left. After that the events of the day become a blur as I contacted a succession of friends and relatives, relevant authorities.
That evening, about eight, I had returned to the cold and unlit house with the dog, before lighting the gas fire in the lounge and switching the telly on. I remember watching The Taking of Pelham One Two Three but all the time thinking of my mother's body cold on the slab.
Before I went home, a few hours later, I paid a visit to the top bedroom (my Mother's room when I was little) to discover sitting on the mantelpiece a small Christmas gift already wrapped in silver paper for my baby son, James. It was at this point that I finally broke down and cried.