I remember a woman that caught my eye, from the back of the car, she came screaming into the road, ghostly in her pale terror, some flimsy nightie flowing out behind her, with her hair. We drove on and nobody saw her but me.
I remember my grandad, a man of so few words, he was not my real grandad, and he had white hair and a white moustache, and he walked with a stick, and he was very very tall, and he used to drive the buses, and he loved my nanny with all his soul, but everyone could tell she did not love him the same way back…and he kept boiled sweets in a jar on the coffee table next to his chair, and he ate grapefruit for breakfast every single day, and he dressed and shaved before he came down the stairs, and that was how she knew he was ill, because he did not come down the stairs at the same time, and he fixed peoples bikes, and he had his own cellar where he went for some peace, and I remember when we went to see the deer at Bolderwood, I didn’t know how to talk to anyone, or be anything, and she hurried us all on like she always did, and he was left behind, just staring, just standing there leaning over his stick, watching the deer, and I wondered what he was thinking, because he rarely spoke…and they said that she threw herself over his body when he died in the hospital and she called out no.
I remember sitting on my red and yellow trike…feeling sad and alone, picking at a scab on my knee and squeezing out the blood, and throwing myself to the ground and crying, and looking around to see if anyone had noticed, if anyone was coming, but nobody did.
I remember a long car journey, sitting in the front of the van with my dad, and he pointed out the stars in the sky and he told me things about them that I cannot remember, and I loved him a bit then, and I thought maybe we could get along.
I remember sitting on my nanny’s step, and shelling peas from the garden into a bowl, and the smell was summer.
I remember hearing father christmas steal into my room at night, the creaks of the floorboards, the slow laboured breathing, the rustle of packages, followed by the weight of the stocking laid at the end of my bed, and I held my breath the entire time and kept my eyes squeezed shut, and it was the longest time til morning.
I remember my first walkman, pushing the earplugs into my ears at the table on Christmas day, so that I could not hear the crying or the arguing, or the adult voices that surrounded me in a day that had become a steaming pile of disappointing shit.
I remember broken biscuits, and Christmas hampers saved up for year long, and Provident loans, and the Avon lady calling, and hiding behind the sofa when you didn’t have the money to pay them.
I remember a tunnel between the broken car and the conifer hedge, where I wriggled on my belly, plastic farm animals in hand, and I found a fat white maggot and it appalled me, but it was covered in dirt and looked like it was struggling, so I brushed it off and put it somewhere safe, and went back to my toys, knowing that I was getting too old for them, that time was running out.
I remember spinning around and around in the garden in a lovely summer dress, white with flowers on, and I tied the bow at the front, and my mother opened the door and said it’s winter, you can’t wear that in winter.
I remember digging holes in the garden and placing sticks over them to make traps. Flower fairies in the hedges. Skateboards in the close. Our bikes were our horses. If we lay on our bellies on the skateboards, we were crocodiles and the road was our river. The hollow oak tree overhung the road, and I sat up there and used my penknife to make arrows, and I never wanted to grow up, never, ever, and I didn’t believe I ever would. I pretended to be a dog in the house when no one was looking; up the stairs on all fours, trot, trot, trot, I am a poor stray dog looking for food. Higgledy piggledy lego houses we called them. Layers of lego, stairs and eccentric windows, the crazier the better, and they lasted for years, and they were epic, and they took over the landing, and were covered in dust, and we swore that we would have real houses like them one day. Our captain beds were ships, and the toys on the floor had fallen overboard, so we made lassoo’s out of skipping ropes to get them back. I leaned out once from the bottom bunk and my sister was sick on my face. I peered through the neighbours fence and felt red ants crawling in my hair. The dog next door was called Sam, a white bear that snapped and growled, and the man was Barry and he shouted at you if you rode bikes down the alley, don’t you scratch my car!
We got stuck in the mud in Wales, and it was funny at first, but then we were scared, and someone had to run and get the adults. We got the dog because someone my mum knew tried to break in, but I didn’t know why. She cried when he left her on Christmas day, she said the pain was going to kill her. My sisters guinea pig gave up on life and twitched to a stiff death in its box on the same day. She said, that is life, and she said, sleep through the pain. And she was the best.
I remember sitting on the landing, listening in, a soft tiger in my lap, crying, because Christmas was over, and the adults were all still up, laughing and talking, the TV on, the sweets going around, the glasses chinking, and it wasn’t fair.
Dad was always at Bobs, fixing cars. They both wore green overalls and they didn’t know how to talk to children except how to tell you off. My nanny said nice things came in small packages, and I was a big girl for my age. Big girls don’t cry, except me, because I couldn’t stop crying, except they called it grizzling, which made it worse. I cried once because my brother rode over a snail on purpose. I cried when the boy next door to my nanny through an acorn at me for no reason, I cried so much I could not speak.
My sister held my hand in the playground. My sister combed my hair when we lined up to get our school photograph taken. My sister got my care bear figure back for me when another girl stole it. My sister took my hand before I crossed the road. My sister held my hand at her baby boys funeral, she took it and held it and she did not let go. And after that they said my nanny wanted to go and be with him, to look after him, and it gave them comfort to think of that, and the good thing was, she died in her chair and not in the hospital, and my mum who had never felt loved, stayed at the grave for hours and hours and could not speak…
I remember sitting on the coal bunker and singing loudly with my headphones on. I felt alive. I remember lying on my bedroom floor with the speakers on either side of my head, so the music could thump and shake through my brain. When my brother slept on the top bunk, and I was on the bottom, I would put up my feet and kick the slats up and down and make him giggle and scream on his rocky boat on the ocean. I remember the view from my bedroom window, when I felt the time to say goodbye nearing…I wrote it down, it was my view, not hers, it was mine, mine, the close, the cars, the trees, the flats, the long sun parched green stretching up to the left of the flats, the allotments on the other side of the green, the man with the wheelbarrow and the two black labs, and the time the rabbit escaped and we chased it into the allotments, and into Bob and Mary’s back garden, and had to climb over planks of wood and bits of cars to find it again, and the spider, red and yellow, right in the centre of the green, how we used to hang upside down on it, and blackberry picking along the hedge there, and walking the dogs up and around, and that was my view, and I didn’t want to say goodbye…
Summers were so hot that we lay on the floor, our bare feet against the cold radiators. We were always too shy to ask my nanny for ice lollies from the freezer in the cellar. Summers went on forever, and we paddled in the water at the secret garden and caught tiddlers in buckets, and jumped over cow pats, and pretended to be sharks on our bellies in the paddling pool.
Winters were cold and it always snowed, and once my brother lost his cp30 in the snow outside, and he cried and cried about it, but he found it again when the snow had melted, but it had a leg missing and no one knew why.
I remember…witches fingers in the toilet bowl, waiting to claw at you, and gremlins under the bed who wanted to catch your ankles and drag you under, and getting out of bed to go to toilet in the night and my mum screaming get back in bed!! Banana splits made me sick and I should have known better. Lego is the most painful thing in the world to step on in the night. You can spell out words to each other with a glo worm from your bed. One day your dreams will all come true. Never give up on your dreams, my mum said to me.
I remember that and she was right.