Mum died when I was 11. I can't say it was especially traumatic, just the normal, standard trauma of a young girl losing her mother. I lost about 6 months schooling and my weight see-sawed; unable to eat one month, unable to stop another. Things settled back down and I guess now I'm about the right weight, right height, right IQ, right everything. Little miss average (apart from having no mum). That's largely down to Dad.
Dad was great, he was a high flier, no question. As soon as you met him you knew he was a good few IQ points higher than you; but not in an intimidating way. Most of my friends parents seemed to like him when we had parties. He could talk about "the match last night" (even though he rarely watched football) or England's chances against India in the 3rd Test now Ravi Balti SenCurry (or some such name – sorry I think cricket is up there with paint drying and French in the interest stakes) has been ruled fit to play. Or he could discuss the relevancy of transubstantiation as a block on the re-unification of Catholics and Anglicans with Rev. Joe – father of Bev, my bestest, bestest friend at 10. We drifted apart after Mum died, according to her since God must be right, it must be okay for her to die. All I knew was my mum was dead. I digress (I can do that).
Dad was away a lot before Mum died; we'd get postcards from Singapore or Denver. Usually after he'd got back already and we'd laugh about it. He sold or developed or demonstrated software, I never really understood what it was he did but he loved it and it apparently loved him. He was going places. Then Mum died. He changed jobs to a desk job, was home at 5:30 almost every day, came to the parents' evenings, the school concerts, even my last sports day before I left Joseph Conrad Primary. He cooked cakes for the Christmas Party and helped out at the Summer Fair. My girlfriends all said that their mums said he was great for being so involved and supportive and stuff. I was proud of my dad, he was there for me and I got through it all with not too many hangups and only one visit to the Head for smoking; and yes it was behind the bike sheds; which was stupid because the staffroom overlooked them and they must have seen the smoke even if we were too small to be seen where we were. And I didn't tell on my friends, I was let off with a caution because of "well, we know it's been tough but we'll have to write to your parents ... I mean your father".
Dad read it, laughed and said "don't be so stupid, if you're going to waste your money at least buy something that makes you high, not sick". He could have gone crazy and shouted at me – Mum died of lung cancer (I called it lunch cancer for a long time, how embarrassing THAT was) – but he didn't, he knew that would be more likely to make me do it again. I heard him crying later that night. I've never smoked, or taken any other drugs since. I've only been drunk twice. Why waste a load of money producing vomit?
He must have taken a drop in salary, a big drop. We didn't go to The Seychelles or Bahamas anymore, but we went away every summer. Sailing on the Norfolk Broads on a wooden boat that didn't like changing direction; or camping in Scotland. Roughing it, cold sometimes. And we got to know each other. And one year I asked about something to do with sex or babies. I knew the basics, that got done in school and again with my friends in more lurid (and inaccurate) detail. But, I can't remember what it was, I saw him take a breath and then we talked. Like it was the most natural thing for a Dad to talk to his daughter about periods and contraception and, yes, even about the different 'bases' and what boys might want to do. I realised it was dangerous territory for him. "There be dragons" he'd say when we strayed off the normal tracks in Scotland; he was in amongst the dragons now. But I wanted to know, from an adult, not from a girlfriend who made up stuff about taking it in the mouth or wherever. And because he was so open I learnt a lot and made my own mind up. When a boy first tried to touch me up I knew what he was doing and I knew if I wanted to or not. This isn't about that. So I'm not saying.
On my fifteenth birthday I reciprocated. I took a deep breath and told him that I could see he didn't really enjoy the job, that he was better than it (the job) was and it was time to start getting back in the race. I could stay with friends for the odd night, they'd often said so, and their parents had said so too. Because he'd kept me on the rails I had good friends with kind parents and that paid off – even if he hadn't done it for that it all worked for good. I loved having him around but it was time to grow up and let him start to leave a bit more – I understood a bit what parents must feel when the children leave. He looked surprised, then relieved, then poured us both a glass of wine.
It didn't take long. A demonstration in Corby, an exhibition in Edinburgh. A night or two away. Mostly I stayed with friends, sometimes Sophie came to stay. Sophie is Dad's sister. She hates being called Aunt Sophie as that makes her seem to be 107 she says. I don't think she and Mum got on. Mum the cigarette smoking career lawyer. Sophie the laid back reefer puffing hippy – Dad's description, and he loved (loves) them both. So if it was a half term or something or ran into a weekend Sophie came to stay. We went to stay with her occasionally; but it was out of the way, off the beaten track and out of phone signal range.
Then Dad came home. He was worried, I could see that. I'd had the opportunity to study him more than most daughters do. I waited and then, when he said nothing, I asked. At first he denied anything was wrong but eventually I got it out of him. A three week project in India in the summer. He'd already said no but the company weren't happy. The customer had asked for him specifically. The project was big, the revenues were huge, the profits would be fantastic, and the bonus would be several 0s long. I said I'd be fine. He said he wasn't going. I said he didn't trust me, I was 16 after all. He said he didn't believe I'd trash the house and have toga parties (toga parties? I didn't even know what that was – I do now though - LOL ) but he wasn't going. I gave up on him and went and rang Sophie and she said yes I could come and stay for three weeks.
So Dad was off to India and I was off to Shrewsbury. I could see he was relishing the prospect whilst trying to hide his excitement. I was pretty keen to go to Shrewsbury actually, Let me tell you a bit more about Sophie.
Sophie once told me she was an after-thought. She's quite a few years younger than Dad, near enough to my age to be a friend. Being the youngest she was still around when Grandpa got sick, she nursed him, Grandma being, well a little odd. Grandpa used to call her Grandmad when she wasn't around, and we'd laugh, she was a bit more than eccenteric (if not odd enough to be committed). Meals Grandma made could be steak and custard or beans and cornflakes. Some meals were wonderful, especially when you are 8, and even more especially when you see "the adults" looking uncomfortable. Some meals were inedible, even the dog would walk off.
So Sophie didn't go to University, didn't get married, didn't move out. She nursed Grandpa for 5 years and then she nursed Grandma for 3 more years and she opened her "Alternative Shop" and that was that. It was accepted that she'd stay in the house. It's been in the family for generations and no-one wanted to sell it and split it up. Since she'd been there for long enough she had a right of domicile and so that was okay. Dad got the writing desk; it has never looked right in our modern house. I got Grandma's pendant. Sophie got the house and contents. The taxman got NOTHING (so definitely a good result).
The house isn't some huge mansion, it is a largish half-timbered house of the type they had stopped building in the cities but still were building in the sticks in the 1600 or 1700s. It has floors that demonstrate the principles of bending space by curving in multiple directions. They creak and the windows open sometimes and won't close at others. The kitchen is a large stone flagged room with a Rayburn range, installed new in November 1914 (life just went on as usual out here, until people started noticing families in mourning). It is about 2 miles from Shrewsbury, off the Kirby Misspenterton road. There is a shorter footpath straight to the church, through the wood – which I wouldn't use when I was 10, and still wouldn't use at night now.
Sophie's shop has done quite well. Josh sticks and incense burners, hookah pipes and ethnic rugs. When I was 14 Sophie would see me looking 'casually' through the books at the ones with titles like "The All-Day Orgasm" or "Free-Sex: Free-Mind". She'd tut and say "don't believe it all" and walk off. I didn't get past the title of "Sex and Sexuality; a Feminist Issue – an explanation of why heterosexual sex will always betray the woman". In one corner of the shop was a poster of Donny Osmond. It had been there when she took the premises and she would explain to bemused and confused, long-haired, slightly smelly, mumbling, kaftan wearing 40-year olds from the failing commune at Banstaple Down that it would be bad karma to take it down as it was there before she was. I think she just liked taking the piss out of them.
.... There is more of this story ...