Writing | my business and a pleasure

Author: Angela

I work from home in Cambridge. I live with my husband and our three teenage children, who keep me on my toes. I swim, practise yoga and being away from the rest of the world –all useful when you're a writer because it's not a sociable occupation.

Facing facts

Toppling statues doesn’t destroy history

On March 7 2020, there were mass gatherings in cities across the UK to demonstrate solidarity with the movement Black Lives Matter. Everyone from our household went to our nearest one: my son and his girlfriend; my daughter with a couple of college friends, and I went with my partner and our youngest daughter. 

It was well organised, peaceful and incredibly moving to listen to various people speak of their own personal experiences of being black in this country – specifically Cambridge, where we live. 

I listened to a young man describe how at the age of six, he was coming back home from the shop with his big brother, when the police stopped his brother and started interrogating him and held him. Even though he was minutes away from his home and was with his little brother casually walking along with shopping for their mum, the police said they stopped him because he matched the description of a robber that had been reported. 

In what way did he match the description? He was black. 

The memory of that incident had stayed with the boy all his life. The boy is now a young man in his early 20s and has had plenty of first-hand experiences of racism since the one he described. He got choked up remembering how confusing and upsetting it was to see his big brother being wrongly accused of criminal activity – purely because of the colour of his skin.

A while later, his older brother took the mic and said how he had found it moving to listen to his little brother’s recollection of that incident, because for him, by the age of 14, it was just one of many similar incidents. He remembered crying all the way home from school one time and trying to hide it from his Mum by going straight to the shower and locking himself in. He told her his eyes were puffy because he’d got shampoo in his eyes. Yes, by the time he was 14 he was obviously used to name-calling and wrongful accusations. 

Those boys grew up learning that whenever they went out anywhere, they could never be sure if they were going to be stopped and questioned or if someone was going to hurl abuse at them. 

I try to imagine how that would feel. 

I think about how it felt earlier in the lockdown – before we all started to acclimatise and get used to the dodge and dance of distancing – how inhumane it felt to have others cross the road when they saw you or to get accusing glances if you seemed to be socialising in a public space. Such behaviours are reasonable under the circumstances; there’s nothing reasonable about racism. 

I think about the fear I have as a woman out on my own, obliged to consider whether a route is safe and choosing carefully where to sit on a bus or a tube train. There’s nothing reasonable about sexism either. 

The mother of these two young men, Letitia, stood up and spoke. She described herself as a middle-class mother. She described moving into a middle-class village on the outskirts of Cambridge, where we imagine people would behave in a civil and neighbourly fashion. But it no matter how good a job she had, or how well she looked after her garden, no matter how politely she brought up her three sons to behave, no matter how hard they worked at school, and how many extra-curricular activities she took them to, she and her family didn’t fit in. Why? 

Over all the years of living here, and bringing up her three boys, she has had to fight for them in every institution they’ve enrolled in: nursery, primary school, scouts, secondary school, football club… she’d even written to FIFA to complain about the treatment her boys had experienced and FIFA responded by saying they were aware of the racist behaviours in football, but they weren’t going to do anything about it.

It’s fair to say that, I’ve experienced prejudice as a woman and I’ve experienced prejudice as a northerner who moved south when I went to university; I’ve also experienced prejudice from northerners when I went back home and my accent had softened slightly… but none of these experiences are as anything compared with the experience of these boys and this woman. Listening to their stories really brought home to me that I do not have a clue what it is like to walk in their shoes in this country.

For me, taking the knee is not only an act of solidarity; it is a small gesture of atonement. Because I’m not black. My parents were not black. My grandparents were not black. And they all lived through times when they could enjoy freedoms that people with black skin could not enjoy. And, while they never intentionally seat out to cause any harm to anyone, they did nothing to change the status quo. I feel, in some measure that I need to atone for the words bandied about in my family when I was six. One memory that stays with me from that age is asking what the word ‘paki’ meant, and my Mum telling me I wasn’t to use that word and that my auntie should not have used it either.

But she had used it. And I had heard it. And I was aware of the awkwardness around it. And that’s how all children start to learn this warped idea that we are different; that there are ‘others’ who ‘don’t belong’ and you can tell they don’t belong because of their skin colour. 

I grew up in Blackpool in the 1970s and there really wasn’t much opportunity to find out about people with different ethnic backgrounds; I think I can count on one hand the number of ethnic minorities at my state secondary school. I dread to think how it felt for that tiny minority whose parents had had the courage to make this place their home. 

But whenever we went to visit my relatives in Bolton, where I was born and where my relatives lived, there was plenty of talk about ethnicity. And the talk was rarely kind.

My father’s childhood home was a terraced house on Higher Swan Lane. His spinster sister still lived there long after their parents had died and she would tell us how she had to walk that bit further to get the cakes she wanted because the local baker had stopped selling custard tarts and Eccles cakes. For her embroidery threads she had to go all the way into the town centre on the bus now, because the local haberdashery had become a sari shop. 

She was living in the middle of a rapidly changing community and obliged to adapt and get on with people who had moved here from Pakistan and Bangladesh, but my father came away from the place he used to call home and he struggled with the radical changes. His confusion and resentment fed the language he used and, as soon as I was old enough to argue back, it was the source of a lot of strife between us. Looking back, it seems as if I was more bothered by it (or maybe just more vocal about it bothering me) than other of my siblings (I have three brothers and three sisters). It troubles me deeply that, even now, after both parents have passed away, the old racist tendencies I argued with my father about, live on in two of my siblings. My eldest brother, for example has quite the repertoire of racist and antisemitic jokes and comments. (And yes, he voted to leave the EU. And yes, he thinks Boris Johnson is doing a great job.) 

When I was ten, my older siblings were my heroes, but recently I stopped even trying to engage with my eldest brother, because more often than not, I end up being upset and the line I get from my other siblings is, “What did you expect?”

I suppose I expected my brother to continue being someone I could feel proud of. Like the brother I looked up to when I was six. But that’s not the case any more. I can expect him to do and say whatever he wants without regard for others. Because that’s what he’s always been allowed to do. Because nobody likes the confrontation.

That’s how bullying works: bullies use everything in their weaponry to wear you down, mock, deride and hurt. Like sexists. Like racists.

That’s why I won’t stop speaking up.

As I was kneeling on Parkers’ Piece for that one minute on Saturday I thought to myself how many times in the course of my life I’ve heard and read similar stories to the one about George Floyd. I thought about the 24-hour vigil outside the South African Embassy for the duration of Nelson Mandela’s captivity. And I thought how many other stories I’ve not heard of terrible, devastating experiences that people have had to live through because of the wilful ignorance of people with the same skin colour as mine. People who have never known – and will probably never know – how much it means to be able to walk down the road to the shop and know you won’t be stopped or looked at or suspected of something you would never dream of doing. That is white privilege for you. 

It is the same white privilege that declares they are appalled to see a statue toppled. A statue of a man that they had never previously heard of in a location they may well never have visited. “By destroying the statue, they are trying to destroy history,” I saw one person claim on Twitter yesterday.

That claim alone speaks volumes for the ignorance that lives among us. Because history is one thing you cannot destroy – no matter which way you want to write it and no matter how many statues of slave-owners we tear down. The facts speak for themselves and it’s time we owned up to them, because one day in the future the facts will expose wilful ignorance for just that.

Links

  • https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/diversecollections/

What’s so special about March 8?

Every year on International Women’s Day, I think of the time I first learned that we really do have something to celebrate on March 8.

It was 1990.

Britain had not yet signed the Maastricht Treaty. I was in Leiden, the Netherlands, spending six months of my degree on the Erasmus programme.

My room was in a cold, austere building (not surprising since in a previous incarnation the building had been a hospital founded by nuns); it was long and narrow with a high ceiling and grey walls, something akin to a prison cell. It was just the place where I slept, but the kitchen and bathrooms were shared with people who made the place feel like home.

There were three other English students and a guy from Denmark, but we were far outnumbered by Italians.

Two of the Italian girls, Marina and Francesca shared a huge corner room and they’d already been there six months. They were relaxed, clever, confident and vivacious. Marina hand-washed her beautiful underwear with care and regularly left it hanging in the communal shower without any of the northern English qualms that I’d been brought up with. Their bedroom door was always open (except when one of them was enjoying sex, and even then they’d forget to lock the door). They were generous and warm; loving and liberated. They seemed to be everything I was yet to become even at the age of 21. They seemed to enjoy being women in a way that was completely foreign to this indie kid from Blackpool.

I learned a lot in those few months in Hooigracht: essentials such as making a perfect espresso, how to make home-made gnocchi and how to make an improvised draining spoon by perforating a split-open drinks can with a corkscrew. I felt I was learning how to live. One or other of the Italians would invariably bring fruit or flowers back from the market and between us all, we’d have a regular whip-round and Antonio or Jasper would go and get a crate of Grolsch from Hema on their bike rack. And once in a while, when the mood was right, Francesca would roll us all a legendary joint with the best sensimiglia local coffeeshops could offer and Davide would get his guitar out and kill some classic Bowie or Tom Waits with his own unique Italianised lyrics.

One morning in March, I bumped into a friend of Francesca’s in the corridor. He was called Targi and he was over from Bologna and in his arms he carried a bouquet of branches bearing vivid yellow pom-pom flowers that smelled amazing.

‘Mimosa,’ he told me simply and he took a branch from his bouquet and handed it to me.

‘For you,’ he said.

I must have looked embarrassed or perplexed or something. Maybe he knew the reputation of Italian men wasn’t working in his favour at that moment and he felt the need to elaborate:

“It’s Women’s Day! In Italy, it’s tradition on Women’s Day, we celebrate le donne and we give them this flower, mimosa. Please – take it!”

It was a complete revelation. Not just the flower or the fact that there was such a thing as Women’s Day, but the extraordinary news that this person I barely knew was telling me I was valued and respected because I was a woman.

Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before and the memory of it has stuck with me. It resonates with me, especially in recent years when I notice how many men seem to almost resent International Women’s Day (usually because they’re unaware of International Men’s Day on November 19). It’s difficult to know where to start when they ask with false naivety if I think Women’s Day is probably sexist.

I don’t.

Twenty eight years ago, I was gifted with  branch of mimosa. Not because it was my birthday. Not because he wanted to get me into bed. Not because I’d had a baby or because I am a mother. And not because I was owed an apology. 

Someone I barely knew gave me flowers because International Woman’s Day allowed him to. And I accepted them and walked away feeling great about being a woman.

That’s something to celebrate.

I have a dream too… of a future without sexism and inequality

Last Monday morning, I watched Oprah Winfrey’s acceptance speech at the 75th Golden Globes ceremony and tears ran down my face. I’ve followed the #EverydaySexism project for a few years and watched with interest as the #MeToo movement evolved. Like many, I’ve had my own experiences of sexual harassment and assault to wrestle with in my (not yet published) work. As I listened to Oprah’s words and watched the rapturous response in the LA auditorium, the sense of relief that washed over me was overwhelming.

“For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up. Their time is up.”

Hope in dark times

It is a powerful rallying cry to end sexist behaviour once and for all. #TimesUp immediately joined #MeToo as the watchwords for equality. Towards the end of her speech, Oprah mentions all the people she’s interviewed who have endured and overcome hard times and their singular ability to maintain hope for a brighter day. When she makes her promise of a new, brighter day is on the horizon, it is redolent of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ and the joyful response in the room as everyone stands reinforces just how important hope is in complicated times.

It brought to mind my feelings at a recent storytelling event, ‘Do Justice: Voices of the Civil Rights Movement’, when the audience members were invited to link arms and sing together the words of the protest song:

Martin Luther King links arms with Rev Theodore Hesburgh at a civil rights rally in Chicago, 1964 – the same year Sidney Poitier was awarded the Cecil B De Mille prize at the Golden Globes

“We shall overcome. We shall overcome.
Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome some day.”

We crossed arms and each others hands with one another in the same way that civil rights marchers linked arms, to demonstrate to each there and the world that their struggle was shared and to show their solidarity. The black dress code at the Golden Globes and the unanimous standing ovation in response to Oprah’s speech did the same for feminism and #MeToo. It all gives me hope that, one day, women might finally be listened to and taken seriously when we say we have not been treated as equals or given the respect or kindness that we deserve.

Wake-up call

I was jolted from my reverie of a warm rosy future by a text from a friend. She was alerting me to some unpleasant exchanges she’d seen in a message group our 10-year-old daughters are in. The dawning of that day that Oprah referred to in her speech suddenly seemed a long way off.

In a single moment, my friend’s text served to remind me that I am nowhere near diligent enough about monitoring my children’s online activity and, simultaneously, that I am so fortunate to have a friend who is. As soon as my girl came home from school, I would have to look at her phone to see what level of unpleasantness I needed to deal with. In the meantime, I had to shelve this dilemma and get on with my work.

Later, over lunch, a colleague told me how her child had come home from school, upset by something her teacher had said during a discussion on the week’s news. He had been responding to Oprah’s speech.

Old-school ideas

‘When I was young,’ he’d pontificated, ‘men went to work to earn money and that worked fine. Then there was feminism in the seventies and afterwards everything seemed to settle down a bit. Now it seems to have flared up again.’

It was the kind of thing – and I doubt I’m alone in this – that, as a teenager, I used to hear from my own Dad. I would argue long and hard with him any time he even hinted at inequality and, even though I didn’t always win, I ultimately dismissed such views as outdated and irrelevant; the boys I was friends with didn’t think like that. With hindsight, I can appreciate that not everyone feels fortunate enough to have those arguments, but I grew up in a home where healthy debate and argument didn’t lead to violent repercussions.

But this 13-year-old girl had been sitting in a classroom and these words had been uttered by her teacher. What were the chances that his remarks could lead to healthy debate? What thirteen-year-old girl would have the strength or confidence to stand up and ask, “Who did it work fine for?” for example. Or to question his use of the term “flare up” in reference to a human rights campaign? I had to wonder if he had passed this remark in the school staffroom, how many of his adult peers would have bothered to call him out on the kind of language he was using.

I’ve had similar disputes in the last year with two of my own siblings*. Disputes where I have had to pick them up on their misogynistic attitudes and where their response has been to dismiss my arguments as ‘political correctness gone mad’. When one of my brothers told me he thought the actresses who went to Harvey Weinstein’s room knew what they were doing and ‘a certain transaction’ would take place, the fury of my reaction coloured the air with shades of blue I don’t know the names of.

Safe place for debate

I feel safe enough to have rows like this with siblings, as I’m confident there’s little they can do to affect my income or my well-being on a day-to-day business. Could I say the same if these opinions came from a figure of authority? If they were uttered by the person who decides whether I have a job tomorrow? Or a home to rent? I call myself a feminist and I’m certainly more outspoken than most, but I’m not sure I can say, hand on heart, that I would.

Later on in the day, when I was doing the usual domestic admin job of checking and responding to emails about my kids’ extracurricular activities and lift-sharing, I read the message from another friend telling me that her 10-year-old daughter was having a rough time at school because a boy in her class was being particularly unkind to her; he’d told her that she had a monobrow and that she ought to wax her legs. The mother wanted to know if my little girl had had any similar experiences.

I pondered on it.

My daughter tells me at length what goes on at school. She tells me that there are a couple of boys at school who frequently do and say things to her and her friends that they find annoying. At the time of telling, I am usually most concerned with how she’s handled the situation and how she feels. I’m relieved to hear that she stands up for herself and others, and walks away from the situation. Nine times out of ten, when I ask her if she wants me to go into school, she’s not bothered and so we leave it.

I stopped pondering and asked my daughter to please show me the group chat on her phone.

What started off as a fairly innocuous chat between boys and girls rapidly deteriorated as a certain individual joined the chat. The further I scrolled, the more gob-smacked I was by what I was reading.

Bad versus toxic

For the record, I have no objection to swearing; I am completely with Stephen Fry on this, and anyone who knows me can bear witness to the fact that I relish using choice swearwords to add impact or humour of a story. But this boy’s rich repertoire of profanity is right up there with a Gangsta rapper for sexism and misogyny. And he’d probably take that as a compliment.

‘She’s a bitch’

‘Her friend’s a sket.’**

The girls call him out, ask him to stop swearing, but he continues.

‘I can call her a cunt if I like.’

A girl removes him from the chat.

A boy adds him back in and the rich language returns.

‘She’s my ho’

The girls try to ignore him and discuss something they’re doing at school, which he ridicules.

‘What you are doing is so gay.’

A girl removes him.

A boy adds him back in.

A girl gives some praise to one of the boys learning the guitar.

‘She gets wet just when she sees him.’

A girl removes him.

Another girl adds him back in much to the astonishment of my daughter and she later finds out that her brother had stolen her phone and adds the offending boy back in.

And then a picture of the Klu Klux Clan is posted to illustrate what he thinks of the girls removing him from the chat.

It’s just toxic.

But, horribly, what I read had a familiar ring to it. It was like a script of scenarios I hear played out in the real world time and again. The only difference being that here the verbal assault is written not spoken. The girls’ discomfort and repeated objections are evident; the silent collaboration of the other boys is visible. But this exchange was between children I know.

It gave me the biggest wake-up call I have had in a long time.

I’m a feminist and I thought I had brought my kids up to recognise prejudice and to do the right thing when they see someone being picked on or excluded. Through books and films, news stories and all the surrounding discussions about why people behave in certain ways and what the consequences might be, I thought I was doing enough.

Until now.

The right language

When Oprah said that #MeToo is not a story confined to the entertainment industry, it was a huge understatement. The broken culture that she describes affects all our politics and all our workplaces and, precisely because it’s in music, film, and entertainment, it’s in our homes and schools; of course it affects our children’s lives as much as our own.

What I’ve heard and read this week has seriously woken me up to the fact that activism means just that. It’s not passively watching others try to solve the problems and hoping. If I’m going to effect any real positive change, it means I really do have to keep my eyes and ears open and give my kids all the tools they need to work on it with me.

A few days ago, my daughter described a boy’s behaviour towards her and her friends as ‘just annoying’. She couldn’t express how or why it was annoying, because nobody had yet given her the language. Now she knows what the word misogyny means; she knows about #MeToo, and she knows to look out for sexist behaviour and language and to call it out for what it is.

 

Notes

* I’ve got six siblings; they don’t all have these views.

** sket was a new one on me, but thanks to the 10-year-old user of this term posting a screenshot of his favourite app (suggested usage: 17+), I now know that it’s a ‘scabby slut’.

Links

Oprah Winfrey’s 2018 Golden Globes speech

Me Too Movement

Time’s Up Movement to fight sexual inequality in the workplace

The Everyday Sexism Project

What parents can do to stop sexual harassment

Government guidelines on sexual harassment in school (December 2017)

Research and statistics on sexism in schools

Adults respond to Oprah’s speech

 

I wrote some handwritten letters this week.

I’m not sure if they’ve arrived at their destination yet. There is no set of grey ticks anywhere to tell me they’ve been delivered. There is no set of blue ticks to subsequently let me know that they’ve been opened and read.

And there’s something quite delicious and mysterious in the not knowing. I don’t know if the recipients will respond in kind. It would be nice if they did, but I won’t mind if they don’t. Because that’s not the point. I didn’t write the letters in the same way that I write emails. If I’m honest, I think I wrote the letters to remind myself that, while I enjoy the many varied interactions I have with people on social media, away from the screen, each interaction I have is as unique and through-provoking as the person I am sharing it with.

That is special.

Away from the screen, I can connect with a person and remind myself (and hopefully them too) that the connection we share is unique to us and that they are not just one of the many.

This week I also received a handwritten note. It was a thank-you note and while I am sure it was written with genuine affection and thought, I later discovered that someone else had received a note from the same person and it was almost identical. There were no extra frilly bits to remind either of us that we were unique. Any potential fizz I had first tasted in receiving that note now felt flat.

The thing is, when people say that letter writing is a lost art, I don’t think it is just the simple pleasure of seeing handwriting on a page that they are pining for;  it is the lost art of communication. Many people think that communicating is simply telling or broadcasting.

It’s not.

It’s the art of remembering that the person you are writing to has their own thoughts and feelings; their own expectations of you and their own interpretation of what you write. It’s not enough to simply tell something and expect your reader or listener to be an empty vessel, ready and waiting to be filled up with whatever words you feel ready to put into them. That is not how communication works. It’s a two-way thing. The person on the receiving end needs to feel involved as well.

(This is a big subject for me, and I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it, but another deadline beckons, so I’ll get back to you later!)

These thoughts were inspired by a piece by Jon McGregor in The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/26/from-me-with-love-lost-art-letter-writing?CMP=share_btn_link

More than just a car…

Who’d have thought I would become attached to a car?

People do, I know. But I’ve never been someone who cared much for cars. I love them only in terms of design and colour, but as a means of transport, I prefer trains or bikes every time. But cars rule the society we live in and most of us have at least one during our adult lives and, as soon as Dave and I started a family 14 years ago, we adhered to the status quo, we got a car.

It was a white Volkswagen Golf that we bought from Dave’s brother. Of course, when we bought it to get to and from all the hospital appointments, nobody warned us that a three-door car might be tricky for lifting a carseat full of baby in and out. We soon found out for ourselves, and we just got on with it. (I learned that people had neglected to teach us quite a lot of important life lessons, when I had our first baby, but that might be a different blog).

Within months of having a baby, Dave’s company started to go belly up in the dotcom crash and we decided to leave our heady Hackney highlife for the sound of the suburbs in leafy Cambridge, which is where the Golf finally gave up the ghost.

We didn’t bother getting a replacement car for a while. Cambridge was flat and as cycle-friendly a place as we’d ever experienced outside the Netherlands, so we just cycled everywhere. We cycled with a new baby all over town trying to find our next home.

It was knackering. But memorable.

Then when we’d been exposed to the harsh winter winds that blow directly over to East Anglia from Siberia, we caved in and bought our second car. We didn’t have a clue what anyone was talking about apart from mileage, so we did the sensible thing and got a Vauxhall estate from a dealership. It carried Reid and then our second baby, Madeleine all over the place. Its rear door provided shelter from the rain when our tent could not, and camping suppers were cooked in its boot.

It broke down repeatedly, though, and when I got pregnant for a third time, we knew the time had come to buy a people carrier. Two of my brothers had them for their families of four; they were the modern equivalent of the Ford Transit van that we had all grown up with as our family car. (Not many people had a 12-seater Ford Transit for a family car, but not many people grew up setting the tea table for nine on a regular basis either.)

It was my brother, Peter, who came to the rescue as we began the tedious task of researching our next transport. He was about to buy a new car with the help of his father-in-law, Stan. Rather than trade in his old one, a Citroen Synergie, for the £4k they suggested, he sold it to us instead.

It was never much of a snag that he lived in Somerset and we lived in Cambridgeshire. We just picked a halfway point to meet and do the exchange. Funny. We found a date and stuck a pin in the map and a couple of months later we all headed to Waddesdon, Lord Rothschild’s former home.

By the time we made the journey, I had miscarried our third child at 11 weeks. My mind was jumbled with thoughts of whether the vast emptiness of this 7-seater was actually over-optimistic, whether we deserved another baby (people who have suffered the grief of miscarriage will appreciate this); whether this car was really going to be necessary after all.

We drove back in convoy: me in the old Vauxhall, Dave in our new van. In my heightened state of hormone-addled anxiety (What if I lost Dave? I didn’t know the way home. Had we done the right thing?) I jumped a red light to keep up with Dave and was issued with a fine. Was it another warning I chose to ignore and so was being punished? I read too much into everything. (Just so we’re clear, I’m agnostic, so when I get into this idea of *deserving* another baby or of being warned, it’s not any notion of a God I’m talking about; it’s just a desperate desire to understand the inexplicable, undiagnosable fact of miscarriage)

Not long afterwards, my Dad died. September 23rd 2005.

My world felt like it was imploding. I felt like I was imploding. When I try to remember family life from that time, there is nothing there. Only snapshots in my memory of the people who gave me solace. My friend Jill appearing outside my kitchen window and her soft expression made me crumple up. The letter from my most amazing Dutch friend, Will, so wise and calm telling me that time would heal, that the first year would be the worst, the first birthday I celebrated without Dad, the first Christmas without Dad. It really helped me to have Will there beside me guiding me through the stages of grief. I don’t think I ever told him how much that meant to me. Last year he died too.

I remember being told: “Don’t try to fill the gap this death has left. There is a huge hole in your life, but don’t try to cover it up; acknowledge that emptiness and live with the presence of that.” The people we love leave our lives and we take their memories and words with us. New people come into our lives and plant the seeds of new love and the pain of grief diminishes. Life moves on.

The new car ran like a dream. The children loved it. And by the time it first took us on one of our camping adventures the following summer I was seven months pregnant and measured 44 inches around. Life was fun.

And a lot of the fun was had with that new car. It was part of the family. A companion with not one sun roof, but two! The kids would stand on the middle seats and stick their heads through the top, as if they were on safari. The two front seats revolved 180 degrees so when unexpected rain scuppered a picnic plan, sitting in the car became just as much fun, because we could all sit facing one another. We got very strange looks from others when did this with a chip supper. Other people might opt to eat in when it is chucking it down with rain, but not us. We drove to the seafront, turn the seats round and unwrapped all the papers on our laps, steaming up the windows and stinking the car out.

Yes. That car was well loved and well used.

It was the vehicle of choice when we shared trips to Ikea with friends (other flat pack furniture shops are available). All five back seats were lifted out and our family became a removal truck. It suffered undignified trips to the dump; trips to and from the allotment. Bikes were strapped to its back and it was packed to the rafters for family camping trips all over Europe.

But our carefree approach to car-ownership eventually took its toll. Its interior was being held together with gaffer tape. The glove compartment didn’t close properly, so its light was permanently on. It always leaked so every time it rained, one of the seat belts was always drenched. The interior locking had gone, one of the doors didn’t work and last time we drove it, the handbrake suddenly gave up the ghost.

Yes it was getting beyond Bagpuss baggy-at-the-seams stage really; it had to go. And I’m sure I will grow to like the replacement eventually. It’s just taken me by surprise how many memories have come flooding back because of that car.

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