Do you remember being a child? Do you remember riding in the back of the van with no seats, let alone any seatbelts? Do you remember going over the bumps on Matchams Lane, feeling your stomach hit your throat, laughing in delight and fear? Do you remember the market, with the loud-mouthed traders in fingerless gloves? Do you remember the chips in cones? Do you remember trailing behind, never buying anything, wondering why you were even there? Do you remember Dad talking to a man about a Rottweiler? Do you remember getting lost? Do you remember the woman who found you and how Mum clung to you after that? Do you remember the hysteria of the toy truck at Christmas? The man with the microphone, who would shout out the price of the toys, before slinging them out to the grasping hands of the gathered crowds? The way the dolls in boxes would bob along the people, passed back, like a back-to-front stage dive? And the men with the denim aprons around their waists, that would wade into the crowd to snatch the notes from the hands of the buyers? Do you remember the excitement? Do you remember the sweet stall with the brown paper bags? Sitting in the back of the van for another bumpy ride home, and the brown paper bag is all yours.
When you are a child, you don’t believe that you will ever become an adult. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, it doesn’t matter that time passes, and weekends end, and school starts again every dreary, stomach churning Monday morning. You don’t believe you will ever get any older. You don’t believe you will ever really grow up. For such a long time, that doesn’t feel like any time, it feels like nothing changes. You’re a child. Summer lasts forever. Christmas morning is the most exciting moment of your life. Your mother and father are tall, like all adults they are above you and beyond you. Voices in the distance. You are never going to be like them. It won’t happen to you.
But then it did.
Except I think we are really pretending. Playing a game. Winging it. Playing Mums and dads. Dress up. Driving cars is insane. I catch myself making faces in the mirror. Because, who let me do this? I’m a fraud and a fake. When something dramatic happens, I automatically look around for an adult, and then I think…oh shit… Same thing happens when I look in the mirror. Oh shit.
Do you remember Christmas, back then? I remember big sister and Mum pinning decorations to the ceiling. I thought they stayed like that; draping down to the floor. I used to sit and stare at fairy lights on the tree and think I could cry with how pretty and sad they are. Do you remember the Christmas hampers? The meat one was boring, but the small one was fun. Boxes of Roses and Matchsticks and packets of custard and chocolate fingers and double lollies. Things that were put away out of reach. Do you remember the thrill of unpacking them on the lounge floor? And Christmas Eve when we could barely sleep…and finding the full stocking in the morning, and it was so stretched and heavy and bumped down the stairs behind us…And there were always extra people, and though I hovered in the background, I was always watching and learning, and the house seemed loud and alive, and do you remember Dad was always happy when he had a drink? I remember satsumas wrapped in paper in trays in the kitchen. Nanny smoking. Pennies in the pudding. Plastic reindeer on the Christmas cake, and the plastic Father Christmas with his sleigh and presents sat on top of the TV, and the cardboard stockings with cotton wool fluff pinned to the walls of the kitchen. And that lametta stuff. Everywhere.
Do you remember Dad? In his green overalls. I never see anyone in those anymore. He lived in them. He smelled of oil and roll ups and do you remember his tin of tobacco and papers? I used to steal from it when I was twelve. I thought it was cool to be like him, to make a cigarette and smoke it out of the window. Do you remember him and Bob? Always out on the close, under cars or with their heads in the engines? I remember pretending to be crocodiles on our skateboards and paddling around the close as if it were a river. Our bikes were horses that we rode up the Green. We parked them under the monkey trees and used our pen knives to make spears out of sticks. The biggest Oak overlooked the road and I remember sitting up there alone and feeling like a wild thing.
Do you remember the allotments? I could see them from my bedroom window. I remember summer breezes on my bare brown arms. I remember watching the man with the black Labradors wheeling his wheelbarrow over there. He was grumpy. Grown-ups were always grumpy. They told you off for riding bikes too near their cars. They told you off for setting the conifer hedge on fire.
Do you remember TV? Roland Rat and Gordon the Gopher. Wackaday and Timmy Mallet. Morph and Willow the Wisp. Danger Mouse and Jaime and
The Magic Torch. Cities of Gold. Grange Hill. Do you remember getting a video player for the first time and renting out tapes from the shop? I think Karate Kid was the first film we ever watched. Do you remember staying up late to watch WWC wrestling? Do you remember sleepovers in my room on the top bunk? Top of the Pops? Thumbs up and thumbs down? Big hair and glitter. The Saturday Chart Show.
I looked through the fence once and got red ants all over my face. I spun around in the garden in a green summer dress with the bow tied at the front. I crawled down the gap between the hedge and the car in the garden, and played with plastic farm animals. We chalked on the coal bunker, a home, a house, a TV, an oven. We dug holes and made them into traps. I used to lie on the floor outside of my big sisters room and listen to her music. Duran Duran and Madonna. She had Peirrot the clown all over the place.
Do you remember Nanny’s house? Do you remember the winding concrete steps? Grandad’s marrows? The game we used to play like a relay, where one of us would push the next one on, down the hill, along the ledge, the wall and drop. Do you remember tatty deck chairs and daring each other to go and ask her for an ice cream? Do you remember shelling peas on the doorstep? Stan’s awful driving and how cross she would get with him? The playroom upstairs that we divided up with clothes airers? Tea sets on the landing. Sleeping over. Hot chocolate and buttered toast and dressing gowns.
How the years tumbled by in slow motion. Not for them, but for us. How growing up was never a definite option. How making a decision was a distant potential. I used to play Dog Breed top trumps and pin the dogs up underneath my cabin bed. Lego bricks on the bedroom floor. Gloworms spelling out words in the dark. Dad crawling in to scare us. Sitting on the landing when I was supposed to be in bed, listening in on the adult conversations. Because I would never be one.
Do you remember the farm? Bet you remember it better than me. I remember grassy trails and broken glass. Cars and oil and men and overalls.
That was where the men always were. At the farm. Never even knew where the farm was.
But I remember one night in the van on the way home from somewhere I don’t remember, and for some, unknown reason, I was sat in the front with dad and he was telling me about the stars. I can’t really remember what he said. I can’t remember what infinite knowledge he passed onto me while pointing them out. I can just remember the shock I felt when I realised that he cared about something. I can just remember watching his face and noting the details of it; the side parting and the flop and the way you could see how handsome he once was, and the way you could see how Mum could have loved him so much. I just remember that he looked at me. I just remember that he spoke to me, just me, and I just remember that I wanted to know the right things to say and do, to keep him there, in that moment. And I remember how he always had polos.