We lived in a detached house on a private estate, the house my Mum had grown up in once her family moved to the sea. My Grandfather worked for Midland Bank and used to commute to London daily and when he got older and my Grandmother was long gone he lived with us. I remember him always being happy to climb under the dining table with a young Alice to play cards and I remember him watching my brother play cricket sat looking stoic concentrating on Humphs’ form. I also remember his best friend Bernard Parrott who had a wooden leg and used to charge me money to knock on it.
Pops worked abroad until I was 16, the pattern tended to be away for 6 months and home for 2 so I remember a LOT of journeys to and from Gatwick Airport. We always stopped at Little Chef after dropping him off, an Olympic Breakfast and a lolly to cheer us up. We went to the local Church every Sunday, Mum was a server and I was in the choir. One December she was up serving whilst wearing Christmas tree earrings with LED lights and had accidentally knocked one on her collar switching it on. It was flashing like crazy and we were all in the choir stalls waving madly to get her attention.
I went to the local school and to this day am still friends with my first teacher in year 3. Eventually Mum got a job at the school and it became a huge part of our lives even after Humph and I had left. There is a peace garden in her memory in the school grounds.
When I was tiny I was uncertain when Dad came home because when he went away he was clean shaven and when he came home he had a full on Captain Birdseye beard – little me couldn’t reconcile the two and it would take a bit of time to give him a cuddle. We didn’t often go on holidays due to Dad liking to be at home when he was at home (totally understandable) but also due to some complicated tax reasons. One summer we went to stay with my Dad’s friends in Cornwall, the F’s. We went to Flambards Theme Park and I was in awe at Dad flinging himself down the Demon Drop slide. If I close my eyes I can picture it like it was yesterday.
After Grandpa died we went on a family holiday in Lisbon, it’s was Humph’s 11th birthday and we spent it staying in the Captain’s cabin on Dad’s tanker. It was in dry dock so we were allowed onboard and even got to walk around underneath it. My Dad was the coolest man in the World on that holiday. In charge of an entire tanker and all its crew, it was nice to see where he spent all those months. We used to write to him but as we got older we would lie on ‘half acre’ (my parents massive bed) and talk into a cassette tape for him, being too lazy to put pen to paper. I could never stay in the school assemblies around Sea Sunday, the hymn ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ used to make me weep thinking about Dad ‘in peril’ on the sea. I still can’t listen to it without welling up.
We had a cat called Blueboy and a scruffy little dog who Mum wanted to call Binbag but sense won out and he became ‘Aries’. Life in the village was slow paced and everybody knew everyone else which felt claustrophobic at times. Mum used to gather her lady friends in the house for dinner and wine, I would sit on the stairs long after I was meant to be in bed watching them in the mirror above the dining table. They seemed like so much fun and I wished I could understand more of what they were talking about – turns out they were writing a Mills and Boon (which got rejected!) so some of the topics were definitely not for my sensitive ears.
On the estate there were a lot of kids and I remember hours playing Manhunt in and out of people’s gardens. Once my ‘Aunty Sue’ came over and asked if I wanted to join her family on the beach and I burst into tears. On being asked why I was crying, with a wobbly lip and a snivelly nose I wailed ‘but Mummy… how will I know which is the shallow end?’ Common sense was never my forte.
I haven’t lived there for sixteen years and yet even now whenever I see the sign at the edge of the village my soul relaxes and I sigh in relief. I might have made roots somewhere else but it will always be home.
(With thanks to ‘My Life: An autobiographical journal from adventures to zealous plots’ by Mr Boddington’s Studio)