How many of us ever stop to think of the women our mothers are? For her piece in Comfort Zones, Alice-Azania Jarvis - a journalist and founder of The Sunday Salon - decided to find out with a heart-felt and honest conversation with her mother, Judy Matheson.
What led you to think of this conversation as the idea for your piece in Comfort Zones?
Tasked with the brief of writing out of my comfort zone, I initially struggled to think of what that might mean – as a journalist (and a generalist), most things ARE in my comfort zone. They have to be.
Then when I was at my parents’ one day, my mum started recounting a childhood anecdote I hadn’t heard before. That’s when I got the idea of talking about subjects we wouldn’t usually discuss together, finding out more about her struggles and how life has changed for her over the years.
You ask how many of us stop to think about the women our mothers are – why do you think that is? Is it because we genuinely don’t think of them that way? Or because we don’t want?
I mean, I can’t speak for everyone but I feel I’m generally very self-centered when it comes to my relationship with my parents. I’ll call to tell them about my problems, my news, or to ask their help, and just sort of assume they will always be available! I suppose as some of my friends have had children, I’ve started to consider how the relationship would work the other way around, which led me to reflect on how my mum might feel about that dynamic.
What was your reaction to the discoveries you made, specifically about your grandmother’s alcoholism and your mother’s sexual assault? The latter, in particular, must have been so hard.
It was incredibly poignant. Mum’s such a colourful, confident figure. She was always the super-glam mum at the school gates, always a bit flamboyant and always the life and soul of any party. She is MUCH cooler than me, and also very robust. She’s very much a “pick yourself up and carry on” person – pragmatic, not prone to sentimentality. To think of her as vulnerable in that way was deeply moving.
As you’ve said in your piece, the topics of conversation became much more than personal stories; they gave an insight into post-war Britain. Were you surprised by your mother’s analysis and opinions on any of these topics? For example, of baby boomers vs millennials? The sexual revolution?
Ha! I wasn’t entirely surprised as the general critique of the baby boomers’ legacy has been a bugbear of hers for some time. I wasn’t surprised that she was supportive of #MeToo either because who wouldn’t be? However, I was surprised to hear her talk about feeling shy in nude scenes. Having seen so many pictures / film stills of her being ultra-sexy, that hadn’t occurred to me.
Judy is incredibly positive towards tech. Why do you think that is?
Oh she loves it! She loves Twitter so much – she is always on it. My whole life, she has been someone who looks forward, looks for the new. She’s always up to date with the latest music and TV and I suppose tech is an extension of that.
She also loves news, and loves debates and humour, and is just a hugely curious person and I think Twitter probably appeals to that. She’s also really sociable, so it speaks to that.
And of course, she has a huge following online because she did a lot of cult films and TV like the Hammer Horrors, Confessions of a Window Cleaner, The Sweeney, Z Cars and Crossroads. It must be exciting to have your fanbase brought together by the internet.
To me, she comes across as so “together”, so confident. You must be proud of her…
Yes! She’s fabulous personified.
And she of you, I imagine…
You’ll have to ask her about that!!
What are you similarities and differences?
We both like people, current affairs, being in touch with the zeitgeist and eyeliner. How are we different? Hmmmm…. When I used to go out to parties as a teenager, she’d always say: “don’t you want to put some lipstick on darling?” I think that probably sums up our differences!
For The Sunday Salon, you’ve interviewed tons of writers – who have been some of your favourites?
Oh God I can’t possibly choose favourites, I love them all! I was really thrilled to interview Rose McGowan and couldn’t quite believe I had this global star in the studio. And I felt similarly about Kate Mosse and Sophie Kinsella. Holly Bourne was my first guest so she will always be special, too. Farrah Storr and Elizabeth Day were amazing. Diana Evans, Ottessa Moshfegh, Laura Freeman, Sophia Money-Coutts, Candice Carty-Williams and Lynn Enright were too. Sorry – too many to pick!
You have to read a lot for the interviews and you’re a writer, too. Do you think there’s a novel in you?
I’ve never tried to write one, so I don’t know. Probably. But I’m not in a rush to do a novel right now– I adore my job as a journalist and find it hugely fulfilling. My “side projects” – the weekly podcast and the monthly live events – take up a lot of my spare time and are my main hobbies at the moment. But I love to try out new things and develop new skills. I’ve always had projects, whether it was making jewelry and selling it at markets as a teenager or training for marathons in my 20s. I find I’m at my happiest and most creative when I have several things on the go so it’s quite likely I’d try something like a book at some stage. But I really don’t feel in a hurry to do one.
In terms of fashion, how would you describe your style? Why did you choose the pieces you did to be photographed in?*
Actually the pieces I chose were a bit of a departure. The dress felt more “proper” than my usual style, which is probably why I threw a leather jacket on too, but it was a lovely cut. How would I describe my style? Hmmmm…. Changeable! It varies quite a lot one day to the next but I like a well-cut trouser, a good jumper or oversized shirt / blouse. I like suits too, and also lots of leather. But I do think fashion is fun and so will often wear bright colours or strange shapes or experiment with trends, simply for fun – because, well, why not?
*Alice-Azania was photographed in Jigsaw clothing, not gifted.