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    Paul McCartney and his mother Mary (Daily Mail, February, 2013)

    Category: Random Pieces


    We've all said things we've immediately and eternally regretted, and a sudden, thoughtless, inexplicable quip made when 14 year Paul McCartney was told that his mother had died, has haunted the former Beatle ever since.

    "What will we do without her money?" the teenage Paul blurted, not knowing how to handle his shock and grief. Then he went to bed and cried all night, clasping his hands in prayer, promising God that he would be good if only his mother could come back.

    So, it comes as little surprise, to learn this week that McCartney, now aged 70, has told a Brazilian fan that if he had a Time Machine he would like to "go back and spend time with my mum".

    To lose a mother at any time inevitably leaves a well of regrets. To lose one at 14 can be devastating, and it's quite possible that the death of Mary McCartney in 1956 from an embolism after an operation for breast cancer, affected Paul's life for ever.

    Michael McCartney, who was then aged 12, remembers the terrible moment, too, and would later say how, just after their mother's death, his brother Paul's growing interest in the guitar turned into an obsession. Eight months later, in the summer of 1957, Paul was to meet John Lennon, who was also soon to lose his mother in a road accident. Their shared sense of loss helped, Paul believes, their early friendship.

    Decades ago when I was at a Beatles' recording session at Abbey Road studios, Paul took me into an empty studio, sat at a piano and played me a new song he was writing. It sounded to me like a hymn, and, though at that point, he didn't have many lyrics, one phrase he repeatedly sang that night stayed in my head for over a year until the record was released. It was "Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom…"

    The song, Paul would later say, came about as a result of a dream he'd had in 1968, when, although the Beatles were at the absolute height of their fame and creativity, deep fissures had begun appearing in the camaraderie of the band. John Lennon had recently become attached to Yoko Ono, and the future looked suddenly uncertain for the Beatles, which devastated Paul most of all.

    Then suddenly in the middle of the turmoil, Paul found himself dreaming about his mother. "There was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes," he would recall, "and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly 'Let it be'.

    "It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really as if she'd visited me at this very difficult moment in my life and given me this message. 'Be gentle, don't fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will work out.'"

    We are all products of our upbringings, and Paul McCartney no less than anyone else. So what kind of parents did he have, and what was she like, the mother who, at 47, died so young and so suddenly.

    Like many of their generation Jim and Mary McCartney were, when they married in 1941, already in their thirties, an aspirant lower middle class couple in the largely working class city of Liverpool. Jim, at the time, a fire-fighter in the Blitz, was professionally a cotton salesman, and Mary, born Mary Mohin, a midwife.

    In fact, having been in charge of the maternity ward at Walton Hospital, Liverpool, she was awarded the privilege of giving birth to Paul in a private ward, and her ambition for her elder son was that he would become a doctor. Paul's father, Jim, a really lovely man, had had a little trad jazz band before he married, so there was music already in the little family.

    Although the cotton industry was to go into decline after the war, meaning that Jim McCartney never earned much, his wife's wages and ambitions saw the family eventually move to a pleasant estate in the green Liverpool suburb of Allerton. From there both Paul and Michael passed the 11 plus to go to the best grammar school in Liverpool, the Institute.

    Paul was clever and always industrious, but he admits be could be a handful, too. When Mary would correct his strong Liverpool accent, he would imitate her probably slightly and deliberately posher accent, and would then be upset when she was, understandably, hurt.

    And when, one washing day, she found a cartoon of a naked woman that he'd drawn to amuse the boys at school in his shirt pocket, she sternly demanded an explanation. He was mortified with shame.

    But by the mid Fifties the McCartneys were doing well, and, for Mary, life must have seemed splendid when in 1956 she began to complain of pains in her chest. She put it down to the menopause, and her GP agreed. But then the pains got worse, and when Michael one day came home from school and found her crying, she went to see a specialist. Breast cancer was diagnosed and an operation immediately booked.

    Despite instructions to rest, the day before she went into hospital she cleaned the house and washed and pressed her sons' clothes. She wanted, she told her sister, to leave everything ready, "in case I don't come back".

    The following day Paul and Michael went to see their mother after the operation. There was blood on the white sheets. "It was terrible," Paul would remember.

    An hour after they left, as the last rites were read to her, Mary turned to her sister and said, "I would have liked to see the boys growing up."

    Jim McCartney was devastated. Seeing him crying was the worst thing for Paul. "You expect to see women crying…but when it's your dad, it shakes your faith in everything."

    Somehow Jim McCartney struggled through with his teenage sons. Both Mary and Jim had wanted to Paul to go to university, but soon music became everything for Paul as another career beckoned.

    But, as with all those who lose a parent when young, thoughts of his mother never left him. Nine years after her death he would, without the help of any of the other Beatles, write and record his most famous song, Yesterday. Once again it was a melody that came to him in, he believes, a dream. The lyrics, however, might be telling. "I said something wrong," he sings, "now I long for yesterday". Was that a veiled reference to what had, until then, been the worst moment of his life, and the words he wished he'd never said?

    On that night in 1968 when he played me Let It Be for the first time, my impromptu private audience was cut short when a fair haired American young woman in a raincoat turned up at the studio along with her small daughter. Her name was Linda Eastman, and she and Paul were to marry, in the teeth of much fan opposition, a few months later. "It was," he would say, "as if my mum had sent me her."

    From all the traumas and trials of the Beatles break-up, theirs was to become a spectacularly happy marriage, with Linda a rock at his side, helping create the close family life that had been cut short in his own teenage years. Their first daughter was named Mary, after his mother, and when, after the birth of Stella, a son was born, he was called James, like Paul's father.

    For thirty years Paul and Linda were more inseparable than any other married couple one could name, so when Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early Nineties it must have seemed that a terrible blight of history was repeating itself. By this time Paul was vastly rich, but still managing to live as normal a family life as would ever be possible for a man who had once been a Beatle and who still toured the world.

    As mother to their children, Linda was the centre of the family, and when she died in 1998 Paul was for a long time inconsolable.
    That Paul should wish he could go back in time to get to know his own mother better is entirely in character for this very conservative man whose childhood was, in many ways, cut short by her early death. Youth is inevitably a selfish time, and it's only as we get older that we begin to see the world from the perspective of those who've gone before us, and to understand the struggles they made on our behalf.

    By sending her two sons to the locally prestigious Liverpool Institute grammar school, Mary was helping endow Paul with ambition. She didn't live to see how he used that ambition, but one suspects she would have been proud when, with his backing, that school was refounded as the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.

    John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and many others helped make Paul McCartney the man he became, but Mary and Jim McCartney shaped him first. As all our parents first shape us.

    The Ray Connolly Beatles Archive is available as an eBook on Amazon.