Oh Hazel

Originally Published here:


Oh Hazel

By  on 24 February 2014


 About 20 minutes into Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen (Volume 2) I speak a poem I have written that drastically shifts the mood of the show.

Tonbridge, Kent

Pulling up late
after the party,
they see her,
their neighbour,
standing in the street.

She is looking, she says,
for a lift to London.
She needs to get home.
‘Hazel,’ they tell her,
‘This is your home –
‘you live here, in this house.
London is 30 miles away.’

The door is open.
They take her in
and see she has packed a bag
(if a jumper and a packet of biscuits count as packing).

Oh Hazel,
It is 35 years since you left London
to live, as you liked to say, ‘in the shires’.

But there she still is
that grammar school girl
from Camberwell Green
kissing sailors and dancing
In Trafalgar Square.
It is VE day
and the rest of the century
Is yours.

Hazel Smith is my mother and the incident above was described to me by her neighbours, Paul and Lucy. When I started writing this Leonard Cohen show I had not intended to talk about her but I came to realise that one of my themes was loss and that my ma was struggling with her own losses.

Hazel bravely entered widowhood 10 years ago and did her best to embrace living alone for the first time in her life (she resisted moving in with us), but I knew how much she missed my father. Over several years she began to lose some of the things that had sustained and defined her – she stopped doing the garden, reading novels, making cakes, sending cards and letters. She began to repeat herself and mislay things and she began to drink alcohol in alarming quantities.

arthur-smith© Steve Ullathorne

I was uncertain at first about discussing her decline into dementia publicly – was it disrespectful? Too personal or too sad for what was essentially a comic enterprise? My brothers encouraged me and I did a try out in front of a small audience. I found that the sections in the show about Hazel affected the audience; afterwards several of them shared stories of their own parents and grandparents.

I won’t tell you any more about Hazel – you will have to come to the show for that – but, suffice it to say, she is now in a care home and her situation is miles better than it was last year; in some ways she is happier than she has been for years even though her short term memory is no more. My brothers and I visit her often and are always impressed by how diligent and understanding the carers are.

People say ‘live in the moment’ and I see that you can do this very easily if you can’t remember the last moment and have no idea what the next will be. On a recent visit Hazel and I watched the news headlines on TV together – famine and flooding. I remarked, “What a terrible world we live in”

“Yes,” said my mother, “I would hate it.” We laughed long and loud together.

  • Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen (Volume 2) The Extended Remix at the UK Jewish Comedy Festival – Thurs 3rd Dec – Tickets & Info

4 Responses to “Oh Hazel”

  1. Gaz Hunter says:

    I was lucky enough to get a *freebie* ticket to the R4 recording thanks to one of your Smithereens, and I was moved almost to tears by Hazel’s decline, and your portrayal on stage of it…your humour did not belittle the illness, but served to give your mother dignity. Nor did it hide your pain as much as you may think it did. I lost my father to this horrible evil illness, I confess I wish I had your strength and humour at the time.
    Be safe, be strong Arthur. And thanks for making me laugh out loud. And addicting me to the Keston Cobblers

  2. Miss S Kray says:

    I came along to see your show at the Soho theatre on 16th February 2014. I looked on your Twitter page and thought you seemed amusing and thought it was worth a punt.

    I was quite surprised that, although the advertising splurge said that you would be “reflecting on dementia, enthusiasm, comedy and death”, I did’t compute at the time that the “dementia” focus would be quite so strong. As your show unravelled, it turned out that not only do we (my mum and I) live in roughly the same area as your mum did in Kent but my mum’s path has taken a very similar one to your mum’s. I could identify strongly with all the incidents that happened to you. For example, it would appear that my mum and yours took to having a tipple when they knew their diagnosis – who wouldn’t? – and there were various other incidents that I felt were extremely similar to my own. Thus, what I had bought a ticket for as being one sort of entertainment turned into a completely different experience. Not unentertaining, not unamusing… just different. (P.S. The Segue Sisters proved an ideal accompaniment for your unique Leonard Cohen renditions.)

    Luckily (unluckily?), as I live next door to my mother I am able to keep close contact with her and take her to hospital visits, etc. without too much trouble. I defy anyone who lives with an Alzheimer’s sufferer not to have lost their temper after shouting the same answer at mum for the sixth time. The usual response being, “It’s not that I don’t hear you – it’s just I can’t understand you.” I realise how fortunate I am that I can retreat into my house and calm down. (I believe the religious Sally Magnusson even admits to the frustrated responses that inevitably occur in her recent book.) I have, obviously, read a couple of books on the subject but never seen a show on it, like yours. It’s certainly a “first” and I do hope that it teaches all those who have not experienced Alzheimer’s in a vicarious way a little about it. Thank you for a very different evening that I will remember for a long time to come.

    All the best to you and your wonderful mum.

  3. Fiona says:

    This description of Hazel is beautiful, she sounds so lovely and is the exact same story of my own gorgeous mum who also is 100% better, safer and sometimes happier in her care home, without which I wouldn’t have her with me today. I too am blessed with every special moment I spend with her and we have never laughed so much together, even though the tears are never too far away. I would love to see your show and hear you talk about your mum, if I wasn’t hundreds of miles away! Thank you, take care, love to mum x

  4. Clare bennett says:

    Your mums a lovely lady that I remembered well. I formed a good bond with your mum when I helped care for her. Reading your comment about her pleases me too know her move was a good one. All the best to your mum. Clare x

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