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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

How 5 Became 19

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas MARCH. 14, 2021


[225-365] 14th. March 2021- Today is Mother's Day in the UK. It's the first Mother's Day of my life when I didn't send a card and I didn't send flowers.


More than twenty years ago, it's possible it may even be nearer to thirty, I went into town a few days before Christmas to do some Christmas shopping. My Mum was difficult to buy for because she was very unmaterialistic, she didn't like things, ornaments, especially things of no use. Her catchphrase was "never buy me something I will have to dust".


I am not up on what people will like and I am particularly bad at gift buying, particularly for people of the "fairer sex", maybe I am a bit old fashioned. I thought perfume was always acceptable, although I know it is a very personal thing, so I took a gamble and decided it was going to be perfume that year. I know nothing about perfume but I had seen ads for Chanel and knew it was supposed to be the best and the ads were always for Chanel number 5. So that was it.


I went into town bought the Chanel number 5 and when I got home they had given me Chanel number 19 by mistake, I was furious, how careless. I didn't even know there was a 19. Not only that it was now too late to go back and exchange it, so that by default is what Mum got for Christmas. I never heard if she liked it and I completely forgot about the whole thing.


Then last year after Mum died in the middle of lockdown everything changed. Once restrictions were lifted in the summer I had to go to her house and start to sort out all her possessions and we in the family also had to decide what each of us wanted to take home with us as keepsakes.


My Mum was a very private person and rarely showed emotion apart from having a great sense of humour and a wicked giggle. We shared oh so many laughs which is what I really remember.


Sorting through all her possessions was made all the more difficult precisely because she was such a private person so it was a revelation to me when I came across things put safely away that I had given her. In one spare drawer was a large box which contained seemingly every Birthday, Christmas and Mother's Day card I had ever given her.


Then in the small drawer by the side of her bed I discovered an empty perfume bottle in it's original box with gift tag enclosed and the strong scent of the perfume still clearly present when I removed the top. Having never smelled it when I bought it, I had no idea that whenever I visited my Mum and whenever we went out for lunch or any other occasion that this was the perfume she was wearing, but I recognised it immediately and that was a shock and a very moving moment.

So today I made a small still life of three objects. Still Life seems an appropriate phrase, or as the French say Nature Mort. The English phrase is a more gentle and poetic "life stilled" than the French "dead nature" which although more accurate is a bit abrupt and brutal.


The ceramic piece at the back was made by a fellow student when I was at Art College. I didn't know him but I had admired his work for years, I think he was from Brunei if I remember correctly. At the end of our course many students sold off their work rather than try to get it home so I bought two of these pots and I gave one to my mother. This would have been nearly forty years ago. Naturally it was the first thing I wanted and it is now reunited with it's pair, after Mum took care of it for all that time, while I took care of it's partner.


In her later life, after my Dad died my Mum took on a new lease of life. She had been his carer for about two years. She joined a holiday group and with friends and acquaintances, she went on three to four trips a year both to Europe and around the UK. Her last such trip was to Northern Ireland, where top of her bucket list was The Giant's Causeway and The Dark Hedges. This card is the last thing she sent to me before her life stilled. It is a photograph of The Dark Hedges by Peter Nash. It has sat on my desk until today as she knew it was also on my bucket list. We failed to get there as planned last year and have postponed a second time already this year, but we are now booked to fly in September, so we'll see how things turn out.

I found a little piece of paper in the perfume bottle package which describes Chanel Number 19 ......


"Eau De Parfum No. 19 reaches new heights. A longer lasting strength, the enchantment unfolds throughout the day, revealing new harmonies, more contemporary and vibrant than ever."


I can't argue with that after more than twenty years.


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