Mummy, or Mother’s Day Blues

The Author

Katharine Whitehorn (1928-2021) became, in 1960, the first woman columnist on the Observer, writing until 1996 a weekly column acclaimed for its wit, candour, and common sense. She later became an ‘agony aunt’ for Saga magazine, and returned to the Observer with the weekly ‘Life Class’.

Her books include Cooking in a Bedsitter (1961), a series of short books on How to Survive,  and a lively memoir Selective Memory (2007). She was married to the novelist Gavin Lyall, and had two sons.

The poem

This poem was published in the March/April 1995 issue of the North Laine Runner, a small local ‘community newspaper’ distributed free to residents and shopkeepers in the North Laine area of Brighton.

It was spotted by John McGivering, an active Vice-President of the Kipling Society, who brought it to the attention of George Webb, then Editor of the Kipling Journal, who published it in the issue of December 1995. George Webb writes:

Kipling’s verse, particularly the better-known items, has often been parodied, but seldom with success. Not only is his idiosyncratic word-style difficult to imitate, but his prosodic virtuosity, the nimble adroitness of his rhythm and rhyme, often his sheer pace, can set a standard beyond the capacity of most parodists to follow. The Kipling Journal has paid rather little attention to parodies, because they are mostly not good enough.

“Mothers ‘ Day Blues” – or “Mummy” – is a neat piece of versification, closely modelled on Kipling’s famous Barrack-Room Ballad, “Tommy” (I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer…). It adopts a similar rhythm and comparable rhyme pattern; and has the same number of stanzas. More impressively, it is pitched at a social and vernacular level not far from that of “Tommy”, and conveys a similar tone of heartfelt complaint, with authentic echoes – neither facetious nor over-stated – of the poem parodied.

Nineteen years later, Jan Montefiore republished the poem in KJ 358 for December 2014.