Wednesday, September 19, 2012

At Last I Am Free

I had a moment the other day. The details don’t matter; only the moment matters. 

We met up with friends on a windy down where I was handed the string of a kite that was fluttering high in the air above us. I took it, and as the wind tugged and pulled my hands up towards the blue blue sky, my insides turned over and I was transported back in time. Standing there as the string pulled, I closed my eyes, decades evaporated and I stood there, a child again. I could have wept. 

I should say at this point that I had an amazing childhood. It was filled with stories and adventure and we found the excitement in the smallest of things. There was never the time to finish off being pirates, explorers, animals in the jungle. We went on space adventures, made houses out of cardboard boxes and we dug deep holes in the garden where we built new worlds out of mud for our Camper people and dolls and plastic soldiers to live in. We played instruments and we did gymnastics and my brother taught me to bowl a cricket ball like a boy. We caught bugs in our fruit bushes, and we watched frogspawn turn into tadpoles in our pond and we kept chickens at the top of our long garden. Holidays were sprawling sun-filled adventures where we’d go sand-dune jumping for hours, hunt for treasures in rock pools and look for snakes in Welsh fields of heather and bracken, packed lunches of salami and sweaty cheese in our backpacks. At home we’d sit outside with a pan full of soapy water and make misshapen bubbles that would drift off on the breeze. When it rained we made home-made jigsaw puzzles, or shell jewellery or we baked hedgehog shaped bread. When we had chickenpox we painted dot-to-dot pictures on our bodies with a paintbrush and calamine lotion.

My brother and I had a record player in our room. It looked like a small square suitcase and even though its crooked needle would jump on our scratched records, it was ours and we loved it. We weren’t allowed to touch the one downstairs; the one by my parents wall-long record collection. Without a single piece of modern music, the records were all Bach and Vivaldi and Prokofiev and Poulenc and Stravinsky and Bizet and Mahler. Concertos, symphonies, masses, adagios, prestos, sonatas. That all sounds posh, but it wasn’t - we lived in an ex-council house in a drab suburb of Birmingham. There was no spare money, but it didn’t matter. We were loved and there was no shortage of fun. 

 Our record collection upstairs was beaten. The sleeves were dog-eared and the plastic was scratched which meant we had that sound, that sound of vinyl. That scratched, crackling, rusty sound of vinyl. It ran through our Jungle Book, and Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy-tales and Peter and the Wolf. It scratched and crackled through Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady and Oliver and Westside Story. These were the days before we had pocket money, before we saved up to buy a proper record player, before we started standing outside the local record shop on new release day to buy Adam Ant or The Specials or Soft Cell. These were the days before we discovered John Peel and NME and the Sunday night chart countdown.  

And then it all came crashing down; my parents spilt up. This idyllic childhood, this imaginative wonderland we’d been living in must have been a dream, and so I did what you do when you grow up, I packed it all away in boxes. I neatly wrapped up all those memories. The tastes, the smells, the feelings. The crackling vinyl, the suitcase record player, the musicals, the wobbly bubbles, the home-made jigsaw puzzels and the dreams of flying. I shoved them into a dark corner never to be seen again and I threw away the key. 

Now I am grown and life moves in a different way. But there are times, the odd moment here and there when something brushes up against me, gets close enough to take me back. Moments like a kite string pulling my hands up towards the blue blue sky. Moments like a bubble floating past on the breeze, or moments when I hear the muffled crackling sound of vinyl or a line from a musical.

Yesterday held one of those moments. I sat at my desk, in my office. I’d been talking to my boss. I was wearing something proper. Maybe even heels. I’d done what I needed to for the day. And then it happened. I clicked on this link and I think perhaps, in the minutes that followed, I stopped breathing a couple of times. I closed my eyes and I unwrapped something that had been tucked away gathering dust for a long time. I walked down a path against a soundtrack of crackling vinyl and distant musicals and children’s stories. I could have wept.

And then, well the details don’t matter; only the moment matters.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Riding in cars with strangers - Part 1

For someone whose mother brought her up right, I’ve gotten into a lot of cars with strangers. For the record, it was never what was in the car that lured me, it was where I wanted to go that made me do it and seeing as I didn’t have a car, someone else was going to have to get me there. 

Here’s how my mother brought me up: We were not to get into cars with anyone we didn’t know. Not if they offered us sweets, toys and especially not if they said they wanted to take me to see their kittens. We were not to trust anyone that told us my parents had asked them to pick us up. We were not to help anyone read a map in their car and we were not even to go near to an open car window of someone we didn’t know. We got a bit older. Appendage added to original rules: We were not to get into cars with boys we didn’t know. Even if they looked like Adam Ant or Matt Dillon. Especially not if they looked like Adam Ant or Matt Dillon. We were not to get into cars with anyone who’d been drinking. We were not to get into cars with anyone who’d been drinking who assured us they could still drive okay when drunk, in fact, we were just not to get into cars with pretty much anyone. And all the other mums concurred. 

It was with this foundation, at the tender age of 16 that we started dating. Up until that point, not getting into cars with anyone who’d shown any interest in me wasn’t a problem because no one who tried to cop-a-feel round the back of youth club was old enough to drive let alone have a car. But then one night, my friend N and I were standing in a drunken stupor waiting for the last bus home when we met some boys who were old enough to drive, and we agreed to go out with them on a double date. They were to pick us up the following Friday at N’s house at 7. 

I’m sure that if these two young men, J and P actually spared a thought to us in the week leading up to this date it was probably to figure out who was going to try to get off with whom. Or how to get us drunk. Or where to take us to get served- after all, we were only 16. But N and I were not concerned about these things. We were in a mounting panic about the fact that we were going to get into a car with strangers who were obviously going to abduct, rape and kill us. The fact that their full names and phone numbers were stuck up on the pin boards in both of our parents’ kitchens was irrelevant; by the time that the police tracked them down we’d be long gone. During the mounting panic about getting into an orange Escort with J and P, and about our impending deaths, it didn’t occur to us to cancel the date. No. There was obviously only one answer. We had to get a gun. 

With hindsight, the date didn’t really stand a chance. The fact that these nice two boys turned up on time and opened the car doors for us and took us to a nice pub in Litchfield where they paid for the drinks and entertained us like perfect gentlemen all passed unnoticed because of the thickening fog of panic over what was going to happen next. And sure enough, on the way home J and P drove into Sutton Park and pulled up in a deserted dusty car park where they made a lame attempt to get something going. But they quickly realised that they were onto a non-starter when we nervously confessed that there was a gun in N’s bag and she might even have waved it around for them to see that we were serious. At that point, they probably wanted us to get the hell out of their car as fast as possible, because what kind of nut-job girls go on dates with certain killers and end up brandishing  around a miniature gun cigarette lighter in a dark car park. 

J and P didn’t ask us out again, though in fairness, we are all still friends. Maybe they feel safer knowing where we are at all times; keep your friends close and your enemies closer and all that.