The Story of Glass

Once upon a time in a white land lived a very clever man. His land was stark and cold, but he thought it very beautiful. He especially liked the ice that formed in long needles and strange shapes. So he began to make things from the ice, clear and translucent vessels in wonderful shapes and patterns, all gleaming and bright.

One day he met a woman from a faraway land and fell in love with her. He wanted to give her something thing that he had made as a gift of love. But her land was hot and tropical and he knew his gift would melt. So he made glass which would not melt away and she gave him rich exotic colour to brighten his world.

They never touched, for he was cruel and far away, and she flamed like the sun and could burn him. He was cold and broke her warm heart. The glass still glows and gleams like their love.

 

Oh goody, Mummy – It’s Soup Again!

My Mother was fond of medicines. There wasn’t a lot of food to go round in our modest Norfolk home, but we had good basic fare, even if the cooking was a little prolonged. Most things were over-cooked for fear of ‘nasty germs’, which seemed to lurk in everything, especially things that I had just licked or forced my small brother to eat. Various vitamins and medicines reported to be good for children were provided and we both liked the chewy Vitamin C tablets and we could easily have eaten the whole bottle if I could have reached the top shelf or had found a chair to stand on. Inexplicably I enjoyed the caster oil. This was produced once a week or so and if we seemed to require an extra dose, we got two spoonfuls. Stunned visitors would ask to see the famous girl, who liked caster oil and I got a lot of extra spoonfuls by giving this performance.

My Father worked for the Campbell’s Soup Company and as a top up to some pretty mean wages, the workers could buy the dented cans and unused produce that had reached its death date. I loved the perfectly shaped, slightly sweaty button mushrooms that were fried up for Sunday breakfast. My Mother failed hopelessly at anything other than boiling or frying. Roast beef was just possible, but sad sunken Yorkshire puddings always appeared hidden under the Brussels sprouts and there were lots of those. Anything more complicated had something to do with Grandma or came from the shop. Spaghetti came in tins and was hooped-shaped. It was an awful diet, supplemented by gallons of free milk from an Aunt’s dairy.

One Christmas, Campbell’s presented their workers with a Campbell’s Cookery Book, in which tins of soup where presented as a desirable ingredient for all meals. Big colour photographs displayed on every page made up for the sad lack of recipes, as there was very little you could make with a can of soup, except something soupy. Soups were shown in beautiful bowls garnished with exotic things like ‘croutons’ or chopped chives. My mother pounced on this book like it was an answer to her prayers. She was getting tired of her limited skills, especially when just around the corner were Aunts who could produce fairy cakes in many colours. She studied the photos and then produced a packet of croutons from the supermarket. These were now added to every bowl of soup and tasted like soggy cardboard. She added soup to gravy, to stock, to sauces and if it could have been added to cakes, it would have been. The trouble with tinned soup is that it all tastes the same, a sort of flavoured liquid with salt, which often has things floating in it. She served impressive soup courses garnished with huge quantities of green leaves. To this day I cannot eat soup, but we survived and somehow grew to adults with a suspicion of anything in a tin.

Childhood illnesses called for some very special treats. In our small rural town, it was common for children to die of diseases like diphtheria, and immunisation, although available, was basic. In most cases we were just sick from the cold, the damp, unheated houses and the outside toilets. Colds were treated with the most delicious hot milky drinks, wonderful cough mixture, and lots of soft-boiled eggs and toasted fingers of bread. Lunch would be soup and dinner would be fried chicken, and sometimes chips and peas.

Best of all was the Lucozade. Now reinvented as sport’s drink, this delicious fizzy stuff came in a big glass bottle with lovely orange cellophane paper around it, which you got to keep and stick to the windows. In a childhood with not so much as a taste of Coke and Pepsi, true heaven was a glass of Lucozade, that was so expensive for a poor family that it became a magic potion that made a sick child well.

 

The Pumpkin Wine Project

 
Trafalar Square_The 4 of us
The advantage of my very young parents was having large playmates, who could easily reach to the top shelf, and a childhood full of hysterical laughter. My parents were very, very young. Looking back I can’t really imagine how they would have managed without having me to tell them what to do. And I did a lot of that – a wild grown-up child who knew everything.

To save money, and there was not very much of it, Dad got a little motorbike to get to work. Not a bit like the big glamorous motorbike he had when I was tiny, but a boring thing like a bicycle that we called ‘the futt futt’. We had this theory that Dad was in IRA because he had a black beret and a donkey jacket to go with the leather gloves and strange bicycle clips for his trousers. He showed no revolutionary tendencies, my Mum said. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was disappointed.

In was about this time that the money saving ideas got out of control. Money was spent to launch these projects and I have to say the chickens were fascinating until they went mad in their cages and tried to kill each other. I liked the feel of the warm, smelly eggs that rolled in the channel below. The obvious cruelty of this type of farming and my Mum’s tears, when she realised what was happening, put an end to that.

The next project was breeding pet rabbits to sell. Cute black and white baby rabbits, I gave them all names and even named one after my little brother to make him really angry. The entire neighbourhood was also in need of extra funds so no one was keen to buy our lovely pets. I put ribbons around their necks, placed them in little baskets lined with straw and filled my eyes with sad tears as a marketing ploy. I did sell a couple to an old man along the drift, but he just shooed me away when I called to ask how they were growing and if he had given them new names. I feared for their little lives. We soon gave up our grand scheme, but the rabbits did not and soon we had more babies than cages or names to go round. Action had to be taken and Dad decided only one rabbit would remain. I thought this was especially unkind and demanded in my shrill cross voice that we should keep the two original rabbits, because I loved them both. Tears followed and I can only imagine my parent’s conversation late that night as they worked out how to explain to me why I could not keep those particular rabbits. I knew they would breed and make lots more babies, but I had no idea how and clearly no one was about to explain that to a cross six year old. Both rabbits were suddenly sold to a lovely family, although they must have come round to collect them while I was at school.

A short period of sulking followed and then the Pumpkin Wine Project was born. A News of the World article provided the recipe. It said, ‘Wine made from vegetables and fruit would be ideal family presents’. Our job was to scoop out the pumpkins and put the flesh in various saucepans. I missed the next stage because we had to be bathed, twice, once to get the orange stains off and a second time because my brother was sick, as I had made him eat a lot of raw pumpkin.

Brother John was put to bed as a health hazard and I was allowed back to watch the magical mixture put back into the pumpkin shells, then sealed with candle wax and tied up with string. Then they were put in the wood shed and I had to promise not to pick the wax off and look inside. A deal was done involving a trip to see the neighbour’s cat and I went to bed happy. I forgot about the pumpkins until the explosion a few weeks later.

We only heated one room – I thought this was normal until I realised that we could only afford to heat one room. The good bit was we spent a lot of time together as a family, which made us a very noisy, happy foursome who sang together, played games and drank a lot of chicory coffee. Mum had this thing about the IRA, which was pretty stupid, as they never attacked in rural Norfolk. They would not know where it was and I only had a vague idea. I think she had seen a movie or heard it on the radio; TV was for the rich people in Gaywood Road.

During breakfast one day there was a loud bang followed by a second louder bang. Mum screamed, ‘it’s the IRA’ and we all looked at her disdainfully. My brother opened his mouth to howl as usual and was silenced by my hand across his lips, just in case we were under attack and needed to be silent and hide.

Then Dad led the four of us, all holding hands, into the yard. He slowly opened the woodshed door and we went inside. Then we all stood around staring at the ceiling trying not to laugh. Walls, ceiling and all the wood was coated with bright orange pumpkin flesh and lovely smell of fermenting vegetables filled the air. Mum said ‘Oh what a mess’ and we all looked at her as if cleaning this up was even remotely something we were planning to consider.

I don’t recall any of this being my fault, but we were put to bed just in case. Later the sound of a hosepipe came from the yard and I watched from the upstairs windows while Mum and Dad chased each other with the water as they hosed our wine down the drain in the yard. They stood wet through in each others arms and kissed like movie stars. It was clear my parents had no plans to grow up any time soon.

 

The Doll’s House

One Sunday I was taken to see an enormous house. I was about four or five and I am not sure how we got there, not owning a car. Somehow, the four of us, and my two formidable spinster aunts arrived at a house so big that my child’s brain assumed that it was Buckingham Palace. That was the only big house I knew, as it had been shown to me in a picture book. All around it was a magic forest with millions of trees and Bambi lived in it, my Dad told us. Inside were immense echoing wooden rooms full of people winding along looking at stuffed animals that smelt awful, and delicate ornate china cabinets, which I was carefully kept away from. I was getting really bored and was just wondering if I should pinch my brother, when through a double set of polished doors I saw a wonderful sight.

It was a doll’s house, taller than me, and a child of my small size would have easily fitted inside. I was about to test this theory, but anxious adults reading my mind had already placed a restraining hand on the bow tied around my dress. Wriggling was hopeless; some more subtle tactics were needed. I waited, smiling innocently and pointing to things that I liked to make them think I was content. Then I gave my little brother a good kick and as he screwed up his idyllic features and wailed, I was released as everyone rushed to comfort their good little treasure. I was free. With all adult attention elsewhere I dropped onto hands and knees and crawled into the little kitchen for a proper close inspection.

It was all real, real saucepans and pots, real cups on the carved wooden dresser. Little fingers opened the oven and a big chicken was roasting inside. I was a bright kid and pronounced loudly that it was ‘only plastic’. That gave the game away. My mother gasped, desperate not to be the parent of a naughty child or a wailing little boy, however cherubic. A firm hand reached in and grasped the back of my frilly knickers.

I was hauled out with gentle care and lifted up. I looked into my father’s handsome smiling brown eyes and he was trying to look very cross. Beside him, my mother flounced in annoyance and returned to her wailing pet – I was a lost cause. He sounded very stern – ‘You scamp!’ I smiled back and was placed firmly on the floor, my knickers and frills rearranged carefully and my hand held tightly for the rest of the day.

A few months later, my birthday came around and after an agonising breakfast when everyone pretended they had forgotten the day, I was led down to his workshop. Placed on the floor, with lots of room to crawl inside, was my own doll’s house. Far better than the one in Buckingham Palace. The furniture was made of cigarette packs and matchboxes, all covered in wallpaper and sticky-back pretend wood paper. The pots and pans and little cups had come from Woolworths and it even had the same carpet as we did. And no plastic chicken – there was a real egg, slightly out of scale in a basket on the kitchen table.

I was the happiest, luckiest little girl ever.

 

Fairy Tales

They say that dreams come true. Mine do, but not in the way I want and never to order. There’s always a twist at the end, a sting in the tail. I like fairy tales, they warn of us of the life to come, of being careful of what you wish for.

I fell in love once and followed my dream. I pushed it and pulled it into my shape, my way. I broke every rule, tore up every contract and went where the love took me. Happy ever after, you ask? Oh no, a price was paid, and one morning, well lunchtime if I am correct and the police telling me the tale were painfully accurate. The point of all my dreams was gone, snapped out like he was never there.

I had wished for something so hard and to punish me fate gave me what I wanted for a few short years and then took it away. I don’t wish much these days. It’s dangerous. Sad little story, yes, but a warning that we only lease our dreams. Nothing lasts, nothing is forever, you grab what you can and run to the next square in a crazy wonderland sort of way. Now when I see something, when I sense love is waving from across the street, I tend to sit on my hands and wait.

I had a dream of coloured bird, beautiful and playful. She wanted to see her lover across the ocean. She was strong and she flew for days and landed safely. She thought she would see her love; she was so brave and strong. She looked around and saw only ice and snow. It was unexpected and being a bird of the tropics it was only a matter of few hours before the cold killed her. There, a sensible fairy tale that one. No happy ending. A tale to tell small children, scare the hell out of them, before they dare to dream of love.

I don’t need love really. I have food, I have warmth, and I have an apartment by the ocean. All these things are leased. They are contingent on so many factors. On a hot night, I watch the party across the street, a candle flickering on my table. A small light wavering in a very dark night that is just my heart longing to be free. To step silently over the edge and just be gone.

Most people at this point would call my therapist and ring the alarm bells. Not needed. I like walking on the edge of the cliff. It is after all a fairy tale, you get what you want and then you have to pay.

 

The Hedgehog

That day, the hedgehog came home with me. His spiky spines hurt my fingers. I gently smoothed them back to make a soft bumpy ball in my hands. He had a long nose and curly claws, but no breath or movement. There was a gravel path wandering through the old houses behind the main road. We called it a snickett and it led to the scruffy terraces where we lived. These were long rows of awful bleak little houses with small yards that saw no light. This was my home and I hated it. I knew no other place, but I knew I hated it. I was loved and treasured, but was already planning my escape. I wonder how many six year olds planned their escape to another life so early.

I was short on pets, my mother suffering from what I called cataphobia, although this extended to most four legged creatures. I, on the other hand, was planning to start my own zoo and when my small sickly brother was born, I was in a rage for days because I thought he was to be a kitten. He was always a disappointment in my childish mind for that reason.

On that day we had Nature Study, a ridiculous class where we did artistic things with leaves and acorns and learnt nothing useful. It was autumn and this exciting lesson rolled around each year after Harvest Festival, an event with corn sheaves and tinned peas. I had learnt that animals prepared for winter by burying nuts and we saw photographs of bears in a den. I had an idea the bears were in Scotland, because I have not seen one on my walk to school. Anything big and dangerous lived in Scotland, which I imagined was a very long way away.

I ditched my brother, who was a boy and therefore stupid, and wandered along the hedgerow leading to the allotments. Those hedges are still there, I expect, and five or six hundred years old at least. I had an idea that I would collect nuts and hibernate rather than face another winter of unheated rooms. School was my refuge, with the old low radiators to sit on and toast my legs, and the rich warm wooden floors. I think I did so well in my studies simply because I was driven to school by the need to be warm.

Right at the bottom of the hedge was a pile of red leaves and I dug into it in my search for acorns. And there he was – my own hedgehog. I had never seen one outside of a picture book. He was bigger than I expected and his spines were a mass of wonderful greys and brown and blacks. His paws were curled over his eyes and he was sleeping. He was hibernating – this was hibernation! Behind me on the path people were walking their dogs and I had an idea that once off the lead, a dog might eat my hedgehog. He was already my hedgehog and was in my care.

I scooped him up slowly, smoothing the spines so I could carry him and walked back along the path to my home. I went along the alleyway between the back-to-back terraces, as I wanted to put my new pet in box in the shed. If I went in by the front door as I was supposed to, my Mother might see him and might scream or faint. I made it to the shed and found a cardboard box and some newspapers. My brother arrived to see what was going on and got a sharp punch to keep him away. He would now run wailing to Mum and she would come to find me.

Quickly putting the creature under the workbench in a box, I went indoors and told some extravagant lies. I needed to stall for time, until my Dad arrived and could see my hedgehog and I could beg to keep it. I waited patiently all the time knowing my mother’s gaze might land on me as it did when she knew I was hiding a secret. I kicked my brother to keep him quiet and he was just about to howl when Dad came in and I ran to him for protection. His very dark eyes looked at me with that look of wonder and delight he always gave me. Later I asked him what that look had meant. He told me he used to wonder where I had come from and how I burned so bright in such a dull place. I dragged him outside and we both peered into the nest box. Mum followed with my wailing brother, looking tired out, but still so beautiful and so very, very young.

Dad knew the moment he looked into the box, but he understood a child’s heart and would not let it be broken so soon. We wrapped my hedgehog in some sacks to keep him warm for the winter. I promised not to peek, as he might get cold. In the spring he would wake and I should feed him. Then my Mother grabbed my arm and I was hauled off to the kitchen, and hands and face were scrubbed in the kitchen sink. She was not pleased and she knew I had got what I wanted.

I watched over the box until April. Then I asked to open the box and put food out for my pet. I never saw the sadness pass over my Dad’s face. He was about to lie to me and he knew I would cry. We unwrapped the box and I looked inside. There was just a pile of leaves. I screwed up my face and started to sob.
‘He’s escaped’, said my Dad. ‘He must have woken early and been hungry. He’ll be back in the hedge by now, you’ll see him tomorrow’.

He kissed the end of my nose as he always did. I cried in my disappointment and was comforted. I never knew and I looked in the hedgerow every day but I never saw another hedgehog. One night, Dad told the story of my dead hedgehog to some visiting relatives in the pub. I looked at him, and we locked eyes and smiled. I raised my glass to him. It was only at that moment I knew the truth.

 

 

The Green Dress

The green dress had already lived a full life with one or two previous owners before it reached me. It was green silk crepe, a bias cut tea gown with a wonderful leaf print in orange and darker green. Tiny splashes of yellow and red gave the pattern a heightened shape. Not a leaf really, more of a 1920’s print that looks so modern even today, like those wonderful Clarice Cliff teacups, with bright splashes of colour and irregular shapes.

The green dress was in a bag of old dresses waiting for me to arrive on Barnsley Market on my Saturday forage for something new to wear that night. There were five of us to be dressed, all in rooms on the ground floor of our university hostel. We ranged in sizes from very thin, which was Oxford Fran, to rather big, which was Irish Margo; 6 foot tall with black hair, a terrified Amazon, who need rescuing from spiders. Shopping and fixing was my job, the smallest, the most fragile, but the one who knew how to deal with such things. The one who could charm the squirrels down from the tree to eat from her hand.

There was 50 pence each to put toward the dresses, so the hunt started early and would be brutal in its ferocity to succeed. The dresses had to arrive by lunchtime to be altered and repaired and then gently hand-washed by fussy Fran, who was revolted by the idea of second-hand clothes and who could afford better, but pretended she could not. The alterations were my job and then we all did the sewing on my old Singer sewing machine.

There was an old drying room in the main college, an old mansion of crumbling beauty, where we washed and ironed our treasures dry. They were hung in the warm room, while we painted and preened ourselves for the coming evening. Our long hair was dried and brushed. Jan from the Isle of Wight with her Pre-Raphaelite curls had washed hers early in the morning to make sure it was dry and under control by night-time, a weekly battle she relished and enjoyed. She would sit drying her fluffy mane on the sunny windowsill in my room, while she rubbed my hair with a stocking to make it shine like orange-red fire as she did a few years later on my sad wedding day.

Chris took no part in all the preparations, her cropped hair was washed daily and she would take her allocated dress without complaint and sliding it over her perfect naked body would return to boyfriend’s arms. She was pregnant and gone before the final year began. A victim of the final fall-out from the summer of love;  barefoot pregnant and downtrodden before she knew what hit her. Hers was a golden beauty that flourished and was crushed very soon.

Back at the market and half an hour of digging in piles of old clothes, all smelling damp and disgusting, I had the five dresses and  all for one pound fifty pence, leaving a pound for the cottons and lace needed to repair. This was a huge bargain. I shall never forget those dresses, they were all a good size and would fit even Margo. Some careful cuts and gathers would fit them to the thinner frames. Jan’s was white crepe with a Monet print; Margo’s was black with an ornate lace collar, an old-fashioned cotton sunflower print for Chris and an elegant blue satin for Fussy Franny. Mine was the green dress, old, beautiful and not yet faded, with delicate covered buttons and gathers at the cuffs. I loved it at first sight more than any other dress I ever owned.

I took the treasure back to my friends and basked in their praise. The poor girl had skills they could only imagine and they knew it and they needed her. We all put on our dresses, Franny over her other clothes for fear of contamination. Chris took one look and handed it back for washing; she had her own confident beauty and any dress would do. Margo worried she was too fat and had to be reassured with the promise of skilful darts at the back. Jan stood in front of the full-length mirror, claimed from the local rubbish tip and looked at herself for a long time. She was never beautiful, but had her wonderful hair so did not care. We all envied her that incredible, uncontrolled mane and loved her for her warmth and her soft, warm body to cuddle up to.

Two hours of skilful sewing and four of us, Chris having long disappeared to the arms of her lover, went over to the drying room to wash our treasures in old-fashioned lavender wash. Jan took her guitar and we sang duets, as I worked on the final stages of mending and darning. My green dress needed a little hand sewing on the delicate frayed edges and it was ready – an almost perfect dress for my almost perfect world. I don’t remember that night, but the dress stayed with me for almost twenty years – it traveled the world and finally faded to rags in a hot Australian closet. I love it still – it will always be “my green dress”.

 

Two Birds

 
The difference between people is not always apparent at first. It becomes clear when you watch what they do, when you see how they react to different circumstances and how they present themselves to the observer.

A very long time ago we were in a Norfolk wood, out for an afternoon’s walk and an illicit cigarette. We were the same age but very young, and my eyes were glazed by a young girl’s fantasy of what her life might be.

It was late afternoon and getting hazy and we were walking back to the car. There was a rustle in the undergrowth and we both looked down and saw an injured bird. I gasped – it was what a young girl did. It was clear that the bird was hurt, but it does seem to me now that even in rural Norfolk, a vet was not far away and it could have been healed. Then I did not know and I was guided by the strong male at my side. He told me to go ahead and he would follow. It was an order and I obeyed. I heard his footsteps, a sharp crunch and then heard something land at a distance in the wood.

When he caught up with me, he was very proud of his “kind” act. “It was the kind thing to do, it would not have survived”. I thought of the bird killed so quickly and discarded as if it was not a life. Later I would learn that unless I ran very far and fast the same thing was to happen to me.

So when two days into the Australian bush, another bird appeared injured, a woman watched the man by her side with care even though at the time the earlier incident was a faint memory. It was the cattle dog with strange amber eyes that snuffled it out. He barked to call his master and then sat by the bird. His master who also had strange amber eyes, crouched down to look. Watching him was like seeing back into the past of his people, the same ease and grace of movement. He took the bird firmly between his hands, and looked at the bright coloured wing that was ripped away. The bird went still in his hands and the dog watched. He stood up, walked to the river and I followed. Holding the bird firmly in one hand he bathed it’s head and beak with water, all the time making low noises, not language for he had his native tongue stolen from him generations before. I watched and the dog watched, but he was unaware of us.

Then suddenly and smoothly, he plunged his hands into the water and held the bird there until it died. He took out the wet bundle and walking up the sandy bank placed it in a shallow scoop of earth and covered it with large rocks. Then he sat beside the little grave completely still. The dog lay down beside his master and looked at me deliberately, the amber eyes telling me I was not wanted here.

So I went further down the river and bathed and waited. When the bird’s spirit was free, the dog and his master came and sat beside me. And we never spoke of it again.

 

My Blue Car

There are some moments and sensations that never go away. A distinct smell, sound or moment will live always in the memory. No matter what you do, you can never erase it, it is always there ready to surprise you. It was there today, ready to remind me when I hear the first few notes of Phil Collins’ ‘Something in the Air’,  and I was back on the M1 going north.

If you have ever driven an old sports car, you will know that it is something you do with your whole body. It is not a passive ‘point and go’ machine, but a living skin of metal fused to you. Every bump in the road could do something delicious to the overstimulated parts of me. Cruising at top speed, giving a simple flip of the overdrive switch and the ‘B’ would give little skip and leap forward into the overtaking lane. My heart surged forward as the delicious acceleration reached my sensitive parts.

Somewhere just outside London, maybe Scratchwood, I had stopped to pee and made an impulse buy of Phil Collins’ cassettes – must have been cassettes – nasty things that finally got stuck in the deck and ended their days wound round a tree on the way to Scotland. British motorways are littered with the thin slivers of tape thrown away in frustration, as they spewed onto the floor and around high heels. Hundreds of cassettes of ‘Brothers in Arms’ have ended their days just north of Berwick-on-Tweed.

Listening to that song again eleven thousand miles and thousands of days away, I recalled the triangle of relationships; a lighting designer, who didn’t love me, a beautiful boy PhD student, who wanted to be a rock star, and a drama student and bass player, from Leicester, all sharing my affections and my body, and none of them really caring enough to make me do anymore than just play with each in turn. They never wanted my heart and they never got it.

The blue MGB on the other hand did have my heart, if it is possible to love a car. It inspired me, stimulated me and made me glorious and glamorous. It also made me dangerous, and not just from the way I drove it because I like to think that driving is one of my top skills. It gave me an air of wealth, craziness and wild sensuality. It was a cloak and I wore it well. It was a beautiful shiny blue cloak of joy and laughter, with a scream of tyres racing away from everyday things. It introduced me to many men I should not have met and some I am glad that I did meet. I loved my Blue Baby until I finally watched her disappear on a tow truck while I clutched the soiled notes in my hand and knew nothing would every replace that car in my heart. The notes bought an air ticket and I was gone.

Back on the road to the north, it was a warm summer night and the roof was open. I remember a white linen shirt and jeans, long, long hair uncontrolled and a bag of crisps on the passenger seat. Off to play in that disgusting midland city, with a man I hardly knew, walking into situations and walking out as if I was not to blame, which of course, I was. It would all end badly, but caught in the thrill of the sex to come, I didn’t care.

Funny now that all that remains of those few days is the moment of flicking that switch, the little jump and roaring away as Phil Collins picked up the tempo with a drum roll. I was always amazed when he sang that song how the audience supplied the echo: “I remember”
“Don’t worry……….. worry worry worry’
“Met……… met met met”

Listening again, my hand still flicks that switch and I sing the echo.

 

Naming Names

I lose things and then amazingly, they come back to me. This gift was magically bestowed on me shortly after as I was born. There was much debate about naming me ‘Susan’, which I am grateful to have avoided.  I think the entire family had a hand in my naming and as the first female grandchild for both sets of grandparents, everyone would have wanted to put in their bid for their favourite name.

My mother had been burdened with rather a lot of names and found it aggravating that they did not fit on official forms, so I was to have something less lengthy but with the required film star quality. My mother had plans for me, I think. So I arrived in the world and I was referred to as the ‘baby girl’ for a while as if they were all waiting for an auspicious sign from the gods.

I was born in November, which is a bitterly cold month in Norfolk. It makes the following event seem unlikely, as most people don’t go near the beach at that time of the year. For some reason my namesake ventured on to the sand at Heacham, a particularly bleak little seaside resort on the east coast. The girl in question had just married and I suppose she was walking a dog, or maybe just walking. In the bitter cold, her wedding ring slipped off and was lost. The new bride was distressed, as a gold wedding ring was of immense importance in a world where women worked themselves to death in marriage and yet were not credited with actually having a job. Here the story gets a little vague, but according to the legend, the next day she returned at low tide and miraculously found the ring.

The story traveled via the local paper and the bride’s name was seized by my family to be mine. It was ridiculous, it was impossible for a child to spell and I discarded it a long time ago. But like a good fairy’s gift, I gained the ability to find things I had lost.

The next chapter in this story amazes me to this day. In a box I have a chewed, and mangled gold bangle. It is that old pink gold with small raised beads of gold, and with pearls and garnets set in a central motive. A pointed clasp clips it together and a fine gold safety chain is also attached. It is Victorian and not particularly valuable, but has a certain charm. The bracelet had found it’s way to me via my grandmother and was small so I suspect she wore it as a girl. I was at university at the time so it must have been a holiday and I was on a day trip to Heacham  beach. My memory is vague here, but there was a boyfriend in train and I suspect an amount of rolling in the sand took place. When I arrived home, the bracelet was gone. I told my father and he looked a bit strange and asked where exactly I was on the beach. I described the spot and he pulled one of his “ wizard of great power” faces and told me the story of the wedding ring.

So the next day back we went and searched the spot, but no bracelet. I felt despondent, not so much for it’s loss, but more not wanting my father to be wrong. So we went to the tiny pub and sitting down at the bar, I told the landlord about the bracelet. He made one of those deeply meaningful Norfolk sounds, “Ahhrrrrrrr”, which is both a statement and a question. A silence followed while he waited for his dramatic moment as the whole room paused to listen in.

“Yor bracelet be at the Poalise station. Golden retreeeever found he yesterdi”.

You can do your own translation.

And so it was, ten minutes later I returned to the bar, with my bracelet, much battered and chewed, the name of the finder and their address in the village, and a tin of Chum. The final purchase was a bottle of the finder’s favourite beer and later that afternoon I delivered the thank you gifts to a delighted old man, whose dog licked me furiously.

My father was not a bit surprised when I came home with the bracelet. He had a theory that I would be able to throw away any amount of valuable objects at this spot and they would always return  with the next tide. And to this day, I believe him.