Mother… And The Londoners

Blog star mother – aka student landlady extraordinaire – hasn’t been caught on camera for some time.

But here she is… rhapsodising about meeting two new London students straight off the Megabus for an unscheduled guided tour of Preston – and recalling the time her and my father stumbled across some alternative characters at Camden Lock…

<p><a href=”″>Mother&#8230; and The Londoners</a> from <a href=”″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

My Mother… Bosses The Students

Now that my blog star mother is on the road to recovery after her soap opera-style stint in hospital, I thought I would share some previously unseen footage of her doing what she does best: namely bossing students around.

As landlady of a house she rents out to students, my mother is convinced that all of them are utterly simple (see previous blog here) and so every year they get her Simpletons’ Guide To Independent Living.

Back in September, she gave one poor, beleaguered student the full house induction, including (in no particular order): which cupboard they should store their tinned beans in, which washing machine cycle to wash their togs on, how not to set the house alarm (whatever you do, don’t press ‘yes’!) and – bizarrely – where to find a starter motor for the fluorescent tube light in the kitchen.

Here she is at her most brilliant, bonkers best.

<p><a href=”″>My Mother… And The Students</a> from <a href=”″>Palmersan</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

In The Shade Of The Palms

I seem to have developed an obsession with palm trees. It kind of crept up on me. I’m not even sure I actually like palm trees. All I know about them is that they’re prickly, high maintenance and only thrive in warm climates. A bit like me really.


My passion for palm trees developed purely because of my surname. When I was younger, I got called Palms or Palmtree. It kind of stuck.

At Sheffield University, I had a weekly horoscope column in the uni newspaper called ‘Mystic Palms’. It involved a really bad picture of me staring vacantly into a mock crystal ball. I had to come up with 12 different forecasts, as pithy and humorous as possible. Every single week. And I didn’t even get paid to do it.

In the university bar, fellow students would occasionally peer curiously at me and say, ‘Are you that weird Mystic Meg character from the uni paper?’ It didn’t do much for my street cred.

When I was 19 years old, I did some work experience at a media company in Manchester (this sounds a lot grander that it actually was; the reality being that I had to spend a whole week writing articles about gnarly feet for a podiatry website). At the end of the week, the man in charge actually wrote out a cheque for my expenses to ‘Katy Palmtree’, believing my email moniker to be my actual name. I thought this was very funny.

To my knowledge, no one has the surname Palmtree. But there are a few genuine people called Palms knocking around.

I was approached by one such person in Harrogate, resplendent in a cream suit and a man-from-Del-Monte hat – the kind of get-up you’d expect from someone who goes by the name of Mr Palms.

‘My name is Ted Palms,’ he said, shaking my hand. ‘And I wondered if you would be interested in selling me your number plate.’ (My number plate is P4LMS).

‘I’ve only just acquired it,’ I said.

But Ted Palms wouldn’t be palmed off that easily.

‘What’s your surname?’ he asked, suspiciously.

‘It’s Palm-er,’ I stuttered.

Our eyes locked in a competitive Palm-off. He was probably thinking, ‘I’m a bona fide Palms; I deserve this number plate more.’

‘But lots of my friends call me Palms,’ I hastily added.

Ted Palms shuffled off, not before pressing an embossed business card in my, er, palm – if I should ever change my mind.

And then there’s the clothes. Palm tree top? Tick. Palm tree skirt? Tick.

photo-185 photo-186

Palm tree dress? Tick. Tick.


Palm tree shoes? Not quite.

In the first throes of love, the husband was only too happy to embrace my love of palm trees, purchasing said number plate, and then – on the eve of our wedding – procuring a little palm tree pendant from Tiffany’s (cheese alert).


These trendy palm tree slipper shoes, as endorsed by Alexa Chung no less, were on my Christmas wish list too.


The husband, whose interest in all things palm-based has begun to wane, took one look at them and said, ‘Do you actually like these shoes, or is it simply the fact that they’ve got palm trees on them?’

‘It’s simply the fact they’ve got palm trees on,’ I said, in a small voice.

Santa never brought the shoes.

Things came to a head in Topshop Oxford Circus this Saturday, where I found myself wrestling with a two-piece palm tree suit. It looked ridiculous.


That afternoon, I had two missed phone calls from Someone Important. Someone Important was terribly baffled because she was greeted by a recorded answerphone message of my 21-year-old self saying: ‘You’re through to Palmtree Productions. Please leave a message.’

She was convinced she’d mistakenly stumbled across some Miami-based TV studios. It took a lot of explaining.

I’m afraid there is no such thing as Palmtree Productions. I’ve had vague intentions of removing this silly message for the last 13 years – usually after a call from Someone Important – but then promptly forget.

‘You need to remove that answerphone message,’ said the husband. ‘It’s really, really embarrassing.’

I told my friend Anna about my intention to purchase the shoes with palm trees on.

‘Be careful,’ she said. ‘A woman I know once decided she liked hippos.

‘She’s now basically drowning in chintzy china hippos. Her house is cluttered with them. Soon, she might start looking like a hippo too.

‘If you’re not careful, people will start buying you ceramic palm tree ornaments,’ she went on. ‘You’ll end up being known as that weird woman with the peculiar obsession with palm trees.’

I’m not sure I want to end up as a mad old woman head-to-toe in palm leaves and surrounded by porcelain palm trees.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to Palms.

My Mother… Landlady Extraordinaire

Regular readers may recall my mother’s role as a student landlady, in which she believes all the tenants are simple (see My Mother… and the Simple Students). She regularly peddles round on her bicycle to impart advice such as, ‘Put the bins out – and don’t forget to lock the back gate!’, and ‘Drinking at this hour? It’s a wonder you ever get any studying done!’.

After the departure of last year’s batch of simpletons, my mother set about her annual summer cleaning of our student house.

But as she hoovered away at the carpet with her trusty ‘little vac’ (the Dyson rendered ‘utterly useless’), she kept feeling holes in the floor of the lounge: holes that my father had been blithely ignoring for the last few years (bringing with it a very literal meaning to brushing them under the carpet).

Finally pulling back the carpet, my mother was alarmed to find large areas of the floorboards has been devoured by a particularly voracious strain of woodworm – a grim discovery that brought about her new saying of the summer, ‘The floorboards were like WEETABIX!’


Rather than immediately consult with a woodworm expert, my 65-year-old mother decided to venture into the bowels of the house herself, squeezing down a tiny hatch she found in the corner of the lounge. On her hands and knees, she managed to crawl, caterpillar-style, the entire length of the underbelly of the property, to inspect the extent of the damage with a torch.

Re-appearing, covered in soot, my mother – the pot-holing pensioner – claimed that no-body over 5ft2 would even make it down there.

My father’s role in this was to investigate a solution. He apparently managed to operate Google and read up on some super-strength woodworm killer, although given the scale of his internet ineptitude (see My Parents… and the World Wide Web), I’m not sure how this was possible.

After weighing the job up at length, the parents decided it probably was time to call in a joiner, who arrived to replace the Weetabix floorboards and told my mother he had replaced part of a joist underneath the house too.

Not content with just taking his word for it, my mother then ventured back down the hatch and slithered underneath the house – torch poised – to see if he really had replaced a joist. Luckily for him, he had.

This September brought with it a new batch of students and further parental eccentricity. I told my mother that I had organised for two Polish girls to move in and she was to meet them at the house on Friday.

My father began making noises about collecting them in person from Liverpool airport. He said it wouldn’t be any trouble. But, in the end, they settled for a ‘meet and greet’ service at Preston train station, and a personal taxi service to the student house. Contracts duly signed, normal landlords would probably wish them well and be on their way.

But not the parents. Oh no… their concierge service continued. When I phoned my mother to ask how it had gone, she said that they had pretty much spent the whole day with the Polish girls.

Apparently, they drove them to the University library and actually waited in the car for them while they registered. The girls were then ‘terribly hungry’ – hadn’t eaten for 17 hours, in fact. Ever the hostess, my mother toyed with the idea of taking them back to their house for dinner but instead she settled for dropping them off at Aldi to do some food shopping. She thought they’d feel at home in Aldi, she said, because of its continental connections.

In the midst of this madness, my father – the chauffeur – had produced one of his infamous maps with a highlighted route and instructions on how to get from the house to the University on foot.

They left the Polish girls happily ensconced back at the house, munching on an Aldi pizza and watching X-Box (I think she meant X-Factor).

At the end of this tale, I asked my mother what the Polish girls were like.

‘One of them seems quite sharp,’ she said. ‘Pidgin English – but definitely all there.

‘But the other one is terribly feeble. She barely spoke.’

I just knew what was coming next.

‘In fact, she seemed a bit… simple.’

My Mother… and the Simple Students

Most student landlords fit into the stereotypical image of a burly, no-mess character, who would pitch up at the front door if your rent hadn’t been paid but would largely leave you to your own devices, unless the house was actually burning down.

And then there’s my mother.

My mother – with her cheery nature and natural desire to help – makes an extraordinary landlady. If the students so much as need a lightbulb changing, she promptly hops on her bicycle (she quite contentedly cycles everywhere, having never learnt to drive) and two-wheels down the hill to remedy the problem.

Pitching up at the front door with a deft rat-a-tat-tat, she bustles in, usually berating any poor student caught with a can of lager in their hand mid-afternoon.

‘Drinking at this time? It’s not even 5pm!’

She would then fix the offending lightbulb, wash a few dishes ‘now that I’m here’ and occasionally top up their toilet roll supply, before exiting in a whirl of energy, with a parting shot of, ‘don’t forget to put the recycling out’ – only just stopping short of actually staying to cook their dinner.

The extent of this madness doesn’t stop there. She often offers an impromptu ‘meet and greet’ service to bewildered students when they first land at Preston train station. My map-mad father once even printed off a map of Preston for one particularly feeble student – highlighting the route from the house to the University. It goes without saying that my mother has also been known to wash the occasional student’s bedding.

She puts up a pretence of exasperation with it all, her favourite phrase being: ‘Goodness knows how they are going to be able to do a degree!’

But secretly she loves it.

When I ask my mother what this year’s students are like, they usually fall in one of two categories: ‘simple’, or ‘a bit puffy’, the latter being my mum’s catch-all expression for any boy who acts feeble or slightly effeminate. The quota of puffy and/or simple students my mother encounters seems inordinately high.

Puffiness aside, it stands to reason that over the years, we’ve had our fair share of oddities. One such eccentric that springs to mind was Cameron – an idle character with unkempt, corkscrew hair, who languished in his room for days on end. Too lazy to go to the toilet, he simply used to urinate in a pan and place it under his bed. Not just one pan, but several… which accumulated over many months.

And when it came to moving out, rather than simply emptying his pans into the toilet, he placed them straight into bin liners, leaking his smelly urine all over the backyard – and subsequently the boot of my father’s car (much to his chagrin).

And how could we forget Alvaro, the hairy Spaniard, who barely spoke English – and could only communicate with my mother in exaggerated hand gestures (my mother firmly believes that adopting the tactic of speaking incredibly slowly and incredibly loudly to foreigners will somehow improve their communication). He was dubbed ‘the swarthy foreigner’ – a title which stuck with him for the remainder of the year.

And then there was The French. The French came in a pair, by the names of Idriss and Vincent. This troublesome twosome detested the English and had a strange obsession with leaving the bathroom completely sterile. If so much as a rogue bar of soap was left overnight by a fellow housemate, they would simply hurl it out of the window in utter disgust. Within six weeks of moving in, they had chased away the other three perfectly reasonable English housemates and commandeered the house for themselves, phoning my poor mother at all hours with their unreasonable demands.

Suffice to say, my mother has never viewed the French population in the same light again.

She would rather take a ‘puffy simpleton’ any day.