Collywobbles – A love letter to my Mum

My mum used to refer to the ‘collywobbles’ quite a lot when I was a kid –

“If you eat anymore ice cream it’ll give you THE collywobbles”

“No wonder you’ve got THE collywobbles what with all the rubbish you’ve been eating!”

It was always ‘THE’ collywobbles and it was perhaps the use of the definite article that led me to believe, until very recently actually, that collywobbles was indeed a serious medical condition brought on by the ingestion of certain quantities of certain foods. Foods, conveniently enough, that were always considered ‘naughty’; Pick n’ Mix, Rolos, Pickled Onion Monster Munch, Mini Cheddars (of which I still regularly gorge myself on).  So yeah.  I now realise that collywobbles is not an actual malady but a made up word that my Mum, and others like her, conned their children into believing would be a bad consequence of eating too much crap. The symptoms were never explained, but they were implied. And it was my trust in her that meant the implication was that collywobbles were a dire thing indeed. Mean, mean Mummy.

How did I come to the realisation of the falsity of this heinous syndrome a mere 39 years later? Answer: A conversation. A conversation that has now led me to doubt so many things in my life…

One day, when Moo was acting a bit grumbly and grizzly, a friend asked:

“Oh, is she OK poor thing?”

“Yeah. I think she might just have a bit of the collywobbles actually as she had an ice cream in the park”


“Errrrr, yeah. Collywobbles. You know. Bad tummy”

“HAHHAHAHA I think that’s such a cute word! Oh you are sweet, bless you.”


The problem I have is, if that’s not true, what else isn’t? Am I NEVER going to be a Superhero? Am I NOT destined to play for England? Will I never find a real Gizmo in a dimly lit thrift shop? DAMMIT AM I NEVER GOING TO HAVE A TRAINING MONTAGE WITH COOL 80’S MUSIC PLAYING LEADING ONTO A FIGHT THAT I WIN AGAINST ALL ODDS AFTER THE BAD GUY DID ME WRONG?


Lies aside my Mum was a hero when we were growing up. An absolute tour de force. Still is! She already had an 18 month old at home when she got lumbered with me in the middle of the summer of 1976. A summer that we still refer to in this country as being ‘cocking hot’, much to the confusion of our Southern European cousins who are perpetually bemused by people who would talk about a summer four decades later. That’s because Britain IS Westerors and Winter is ALWAYS coming. (My second reference to Game of Thrones. I’m not a geek. Honest!)

I was born blue. My Mum had to literally fight various GPs and ‘experts’ before one would agree with her that something was seriously wrong. A year later they finally diagnosed me as having a ‘crap heart’ (a technical term, but I don’t wanna blind you with science so I’ll keep it light) and that was fixed (ish) at the age of 13 months via open heart surgery. It was only when Moo hit 13 months did I realise what a ridiculously scary thing that must’ve been for my Mum and Dad. Especially as this was the 70’s and the only beds they had in the NHS were made of straw, and anaesthetic was a neat idea no one had thought of yet. Well, not quite. But it was a fairly early pioneering surgery. I just can’t imagine having something so small and defenceless, who trusts you implicitly, who is unknowing of what is going to happen, have to go through that. My overwhelming feeling during my wife’s labour was of how utterly useless and powerless I felt. I would struggle with the true sense of powerlessness if I had to go through what my Mum went through. I am in absolute awe of the Mums and Dads out there that go through similar situations (and worse) today.

The surgery was at the amazing Great Ormand Street which was an hour and half door to door on trains, tubes and buses from our house and even though we had barely enough money my Mum would make the journey everyday. However, as people weren’t allowed to stay over night she would have to leave me every evening at the point when I was dropping off to sleep. When she got home she would call the hospital and she would hear me crying for her in the background. If this was me and Moo it would break me. I struggle when Moo is crying in her cot to be fair, so to be so far away and knowing I am unable to help, knowing that all that little thing wants, that tiny thing who has been sliced open and has a load of broken ribs and a cracked open sternum and bruising around her heart, all she wants is her Mum or Dad and that they can’t be there until tomorrow…  Too much

Having my own child really has bought so much into focus for me in regards to my parents and how incredible they are. After all that surgery and illness my Mum and Dad never once stopped me from being the clumsy, energetic, ball of energy that I was; and trust me, I was majestically clumsy. I believe I have fallen off or down just about every dangerous obstacle in South West Surrey. Never would they get in the way of my trying to live a normal life like any other boy had. Always would they carry the worry of every bit of trouble or danger I got myself  into. Always were they taking the heavy burden of all that worry on their shoulders and never did they let me see it. In fact, they enabled me to live an extraordinary life and become a Ballet dancer of all things, even when upon trying to secure Doctor’s permissions for entry into a vocational school we had to try quite a few before one would agree that it would be OK for me.

I just hope that I can somehow match up to this and enable Moo to shine. Not let setbacks get in her way and not let ME get in her way. I don’t want her weighed down by what seems like the bottomless pit of negativity that the world presents itself as. I want to carry ALL that for her for as long as possible until she is ready to tackle it by herself. I want her to just get on and live like there’s no tomorrow as that is what I remember feeling when I was growing up.

So, thanks Mum. If I can be even a tiny bit as strong and brilliant as you and Dad are then I know I am at least on the right track with Moo.  I have no idea how, when I turned 30 and had another open heart surgery, you remained so stoic whilst having all those feelings burst up again. Only this time you were slightly more on the periphery knowing that your son was now more independent and even had another lady in his life. I still needed you though! I always need my Mum. Just like back when I was small and blue and got THE collywobbles a bit.

PS: Moo is currently sitting on my lap whilst I write this and this is her first contribution –

nyeseaQWA    M  DSAWA§ V     VI;Y N

I think you’ll all agree she’s obviously a genius child…


2 thoughts on “Collywobbles – A love letter to my Mum

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