As part of National Novel Writing Month, (#NaNoWriMo) I've set myself the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel (1700 words a day), consisting of short stories about my memories of primary school. Just so that you know, all names of people have been changed unless they are publically known. Each story is based on my own memory, so may not be an exact representation of events, especially since I am writing this over 40 years after things happened! But I hope you will enjoy each story all the same, and that perhaps it will spark your own memories of life at primary school.
Before my parents separated, my favourite days were weekends we dad and I would snuggle up on the sofa, watching tv. Or more to the point, dad would be watching the telly and I did my best to wriggle in and sit with him, which I became quite good at whenever he was home.
On weekend mornings, dad and I would sit and dad would drink coffee and smoke a cigarette, and we would eat a whole packet of biscuits, sometimes more - for breakfast. Usually custard creams or jammy dodgers with the jam in the middle and the smiley faces.
Dad would be watching a football match, with the sound blaring away, and muttering under his breath at the players. It was incredibly boring, which is probably why I spent so much time examining his hands and listening to his heartbeat but it was worth the boredom to spend time with him because he worked very hard and was often home late.
I never did understand the attraction with football. I preferred it when we watched the cricket, because at least the matches were in places where the sun was shining, not like the football match where it seemed to be forever raining and the men were slipping and falling over on the pitch. The cricket men always looked happy somehow but the footballers just looked angry and seemed to shout when a man held up red or yellow cards at them. The football crowd seemed angrier too, always shouting and chanting words. Those matches seemed to make me feel a bit tense, probably because mum would be busy doing things in the house and getting cross with dad for sitting and doing nothing or for eating all the biscuits, and dad was always annoyed because he worked really hard all week and was the main bread winner, and thought he was due a rest for once.
Even though it was tense with the parents and with the loud television, it was all made OK by being able to sit next to dad because I didn't get to see him otherwise and he would always disappear as soon as the week started because he was always home after I went to bed.
Usually in the week, I would try as hard as I could to stay awake until I heard his key in the door, even if I was really tired and it was dark outside. If I was really lucky, I might even get a peek of him, or he would pop his head around the door and say goodnight. But as much as I loved him I was also really scared of him, because I didn't want to get in trouble. So even if I needed to cough I tried not to, even if it made my asthma worse. I had no reason to be afraid of getting into trouble, dad never hit me or shouted at me, but he had a very stern face and you soon knew by his silence and the shape of his large black eyebrows whether you had crossed a line. I was probably more afraid of getting in trouble because I didn't want to let him down. I wanted to be good so he would be proud of me. It was different with mum. I could never compete with the love she had for my baby brother and I knew that I had ruined her life because I had messed up her career and plans. I was always in trouble with mum and it didn't matter how much she smacked me because any attention from her was a bonus as far as I was concerned. It stopped me from feeling invisible. If I was good I simply received no attention from her. As a result, I made mum's life very difficult!
I always got excited when dad arrived home, but that excitement and happiness was always tainted with a sense of dread. If mum and dad were both in a good mood, then it was a quiet night with neither of them arguing and slamming doors and one of them driving off. But more often than not, one or both of them were tired from a long day, and in a bad mood, and then all they would do would be to argue, and then mum would start to cry, and they would both slam doors, and one of them would leave. I worried in case they hurt in a car crash or maybe never came back.
It was hard work being a kid. I would sit and cuddle my brother, and be afraid because sometimes he would be fast asleep in his cot but mum and dad were so noisy downstairs that my brother would wake with a fright, and I would carry him under the cot or under my bed, and try and make him smile or not cry because I didn't want our parents to come up and be angry at us too.
All the grown ups said I must be very upset, when my parents got divorced, but I wasn't sad, I was happy, because they were both so unhappy together, that it seemed silly to spend time with someone who made you unhappy. I could only see things getting worse and all of us being unhappy, but if they weren't together they couldn't make each other unhappy. And then they wouldn't get so angry with me and my brother too. It didn't make any sense to be together. After all, when I was at school and one of the girls or boys made another person cry, to teacher would always say 'well stay away from each other then'. It seemed like sensible advice for two people who were fighting all the time. I certainly wouldn't want to be living in a house with that girl Hannah, and I was sure that if I did I would end up shouting and slamming doors and running off from the house too!
Usually dad would watch television very late, especially on Sunday night, and he would always watch a programme for farmers called 'Countryfile'. He said it had the best weather forecast and that it was important to know what the weather was doing when you worked outside, because it would help you to know what clothes to wear to work and to prepare for any unusual weather.
As we watched the weather on the telly, dad explained to me what all the lines on the map meant, and said that you could tell where Wales was on the map, because it looked like a man sat on a pig, that was how you knew what Britain looked like.
Dad seemed to know a lot about Britain. He didn't know as much about history as my nan did, but he seemed to know a lot about geography. Dad told me that Britain was made up of different countries and that the weather came from far away, out in the sea. He told me that the lines on the weather map were called isobars, and that air in high pressure moves in a clockwise way, but in low pressure the air moves in an anti clockwise direction. He said that the red lines with bumps on them were warm fronts, and the blue lines with triangles were cold fronts.
Aman would stand in front of the map, wearing a suit, with a funny tie, and sometimes would have a stick in his hand so he could point at the map. Whenever the man pointed at a blue line with a triangle, or at the white lines when they were really close together, dad would always say 'awww-noo, aww-no' and his face would go all frowny as he sucked hard on his cigarette and squeaked through his moustache. I knew that meant it was going to be very cold, wet, or windy and then dad would have to wear his special long johns under his clothes to keep him warm and for me it would mean hanging my school clothes in front of the gas fire downstairs to get rid of the damp because it was surely going to be cold.
We didn't have things like central heating, double glazing or roof insulation back then so our house was always freezing with condensation running down the glass and making the net curtains all wet, especially first thing in the morning. So whenever anyone went in or out of our front room (the only place in the house with any form of heat), everyone would shout 'close the door, you are letting a draught in'. That's probably why we never had big phone bills too because there were no portable phones in those days, and the phone had to be plugged into the wall socket and the telephone was big and cream coloured with a heavy receiver. One day I discovered that you could unscrew the listening and speaking ends of the phone, and inside it was full of wires. To ring a number, you had to stick your finger in a hole and push the dial around and then it whirred as the dial wound itself back to the start. Long numbers took a very long time to dial and if you got the number wrong, you had to put the phone down and then start all over again.
since our telephone socket was in the hallway by the stairs, like most houses, you had to sit on the stairs to make a phone call. That was the coldest part of the house because it was right next to the front door which had a big gap underneath, and the cold air would come at you from all directions. From the upstairs, and from the front door. So you would freeze if you spoke on the phone for too long, and sometimes granny would get a bit annoyed at why you sounded so funny when you spoke or why you only answered with yes and no and not full sentences. But it was hard to speak properly when your teeth were chattering so much, and you were only sat on the stairs in your nightie and bare feet.
Dad didn't like the cold very much, and because of that he never swam in the sea unless it was a really hot day. Whenever we went on our adventures together or played in the snow I would get all hot and sweaty and want to take my layers off, but dad always got really cold, and then his nose would start to run, and big drops of water would dangle from the end of what nan called our 'Roman Nose', and sometimes sit on top of his scratchy moustache. Dad always had a white tissue with him, or some kitchen roll because his nose ran all the time. I never knew how one nose could make so much water, and I tried really hard to get my nose to do the same as his but it never did.