I’ve been doing an online writing course with Exeter University. This week’s theme was autobiography (I’m looking forward to the poetry and screenwriting sections).
The exercise was to think of an early memory and write about that in a stream of conciousness to see where it took you. First draft only, to see where it went.
I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to.
Here’s what I wrote:
‘Swimming and fish and chips on Friday nights’ was an hour-long ritual of disproportionate magic.
As the pool echoed shrilly with shrieks and splashes, I tried my first armband-free width with tentative seriousness, tummy supported by Mum’s hand (‘I took it away, it wasn’t even there! You did it on your own!’).
Then giggling hysteria as Dad, looming large and pulling wide-eyed monster faces, approached shark like, looking huge and silly at the same time.
Brother Paul in tiny black goggles, was older and already doing lengths – he had the 100 metre badge sewn into his trunks.
Afterwards, the tang of chlorine clung to our heavy clothes until we got inside the fish and chip shop and it was replaced by the smell of fat.
I chose battered sausages and chips every time.
I always went outside to look in the window of the tack shop next door: riding hats and rosettes and horse feed.
‘Come and look at the tack shop!’ I’d urge Paul. I couldn’t really understand his lack of enthusiasm.
‘You can go by yourself, if you want to look,’ said Mum.
I was the archetypal tiny Thelwell pony girl. Mum tells me they were skint in those days and sacrificed their bottle of whisky so I could have riding lessons. Which seems a shame given I was such a reticent rider. I was never going to canter happily, let alone shine in a red showing jumping blazer. It was the horses I liked, not sitting on them.
The whisky probably would have helped when Granny and Grandpa (Dad’s side) warned him off Mum because she was – gasp! – divorced and – oh, good lord! – had two children. They presented with him with evidence in the form of a neatly trimmed press cutting about a divorced women who’d murdered her new husband.
(I’ve got two dads but I never really knew the ‘real’ one – he left before I reached four. That’s another story. This is about the one who stayed, the one who brought me up.)
Unfortunately for my grandparents – well, fortunately really, since it all turned out right in the end and I have photos of my Grandpa doing the Tango with Mum after one too many gins to prove it – Dad defied the threats of ‘see that woman again or never darken our door and you can forget about any inheritance’ and ran up a huge phone bill quoting poetry down the phone to seduce his true love. The phone was engaged so long that Granny Spalding (we used geographical nomenclature to distinguish between the paternal and maternal grandparents) rushed round to Mum’s house worried she’d been murdered. She hadn’t so Gran just waved and shut the door behind her.
Like I said, it all turned out well in the end, although even now my Mum likes to pretend she was a virgin on her second wedding night. It sort of fits in with her view of the world.