Whilst I’m out of the country on a trip to a mysterious undisclosed location, the daily blogging will be achieved through a series of travel-related posts, thanks to the kindness of my friends and family, and the wonders of post-scheduling technology.
This installment of The Travel Diaries is brought to you by Phoebe Dickinson. Phoebe is a graduate of Newcastle University, has spent the last ten months as my Relay worker, and is about to start working for Christ Church Newcastle. She blogs at The World is my Ostrich and tweets @pbabirye
The Soft, Deep Blue
I must have been around 8 I think.
That’s what I tell myself so that I don’t feel as guilty. ‘I was a child, it was just what children do…’
My Granny is Anglo-Irish so we have been going to South West Cork every summer since I can remember. The summer of 1998 was a wet one. Apart from the obligatory crab fishing trip on the first morning where my siblings and I had taken our buckets and lines down to the quay to poke at the poor crustaceans, I don’t recall many trips outside of our top floor flat.
And what a fun flat it was! I used to pretend it was a lighthouse as I walked up the winding 6 flights of stairs, finally to arrive at the glass panelled door. The door through which you could see so much of the small flat with its slanting ceilings and straw mat floor and the occasional bucket of mackerel outside the kitchen waiting to be grilled. The door that my sister once sat behind and howled at for 2 hours before anyone realised we had forgotten her. Anyway, that is another story for another time.
Once you had opened the door of intrigue you might find your way to the sitting room, with its huge bay windows and bouncy window cushions. From here you could see almost the whole bay, from the harbour on the left to Reen lightouse at the entrance of the bay, to Black Rock on the right with the rolling white horses entrenched at its feet. But if you hadn’t found yourself in the sitting room, if you had walked straight on past the cabinet of pen knives and through a wonky old door you would have arrived in the bathroom.
The bathroom was a place of meeting, for it held not only a bath and sink, but also the utility room just beyond it. Sometimes we would congregate for bath time. Sometimes we would congregate for an obligatory clothes washing deposit. Sometimes we would congregate for tooth brushing. Sometimes just for giggles while someone else was on the toilet to annoy them, the lock wasn’t Dickinson proof you see.
It is in this bathroom my tale of adventure and shame begins. As I said, it was a wet summer. We were pulling at the sofa strings (quite literally, it was a straggly sofa) in our frustration at not being on the beach. One has to make one’s own amusement at times like these, I convinced myself in an explicitly adult tone. So after one particularly luxurious bath (my childhood was littered with such baths, it was one of the only places you could claim sanctuary if you were in need of isolation) I stepped out of the cavernous tub. And I plunged my feet into Granny’s deep blue bathroom carpet and wiggled my toes around as the water mingled with the fabric and made it a little mushy.
I have been asked many times why Granny had a carpet in her bathroom. Sometimes I say it was just how it was. Sometimes I say its because she loved having a luxurious bathroom just like me and carpets were all the rage back then. But really I have no idea why Granny installed an expensive carpet in the wettest room in the flat.
As my toes were wriggling around tasting the textures of the soft, deep blue I had a sudden idea. In the corner of my eye I spied Mum’s huge box of Daz washing machine powder. The box was almost as big as my body and was filled with all sorts of secrets. Or so I thought – why else would Mum forbid us from touching it. Now was the time to forge my career as a whistle blower, I reasoned. Creeping over to the utility area, I reached up and pulled the box off the big yellow washing machine. It was heavy and sounded a bit like a giant egg shaker. Maybe Mum and Dad had secret percussion discos in here when we were in bed. I tried shaking it to see if I was onto something and a lot of powder came out. It didn’t sound very good either. There were deeper secrets than pounding out a rhythm in this red treasure chest. The only way to find out was to see what was inside.
Maybe I thought there would be a toy hidden inside like in our cereal boxes. We always had to wait so long to get those toys because of the rota – Sam, Hannah, Phoebe, Ella. Now I could just take one for myself and skip the queue. So I held the box against my sodden towel and walked the length of Granny’s deep blue carpet shaking and pouring in order to retrieve my gift. The powder cascaded out, twinkling in the air as it spun and slid and drifted all the way down before making its home in my mushy pond. As it sat there it didn’t look very impressive. I couldn’t work out what the secret was or why we were banned from touching it. Nothing bad had happened, if anything I was doing Mum a favour by washing Granny’s soft, deep blue.
Washing. Maybe I needed to add water. I grabbed the shower from above the bath and twisted the taps till they were on full throttle. Water screamed out and met the soap suds, and they danced together and got bigger and bigger. Trampling around helped them to grow a lot as well. Soon I was dancing with them and we had a happy little time glorying in washing and bubbles.
Convinced I had played my part in washing the house, and amused myself at the same time (win-win during a wet summer) I trudged out of the bathroom clutching my towel. The big, red Daz treasure chest lay empty ontop of the closed toilet seat. Secrets still hidden. Mysteries still partly unrevealed.
About half an hour later a shrill, bloodcurdling cry came from my mothers lungs. It was the cry we all dreaded.
‘Chiiiiiiiiildreeeeeeeeeen!! Line up in the corridor NOW!’
Deep down I knew this was about the secret box. Mum had found out that I knew and she was about to reveal the secret to everyone. Thank goodness because it hadn’t made much sense to me. Either that or I was about to get a smack.
We all lined up in age order. Sam with a concerned look on his face, Hannah with a distracted one, Ella with a guilty one and me with a nonchalant ‘what, it’s a wet summer’ face. Mum stalked the line with the wooden spoon.
‘Which one of you poured the Daz onto Granny’s expensive carpet…Sam was it you?’
‘No Mum, Hannah and I were playing cards. Dad can vouch for us’.
‘Hmmmmm. Ella was it you?’
‘No Mum! I’ve been playing in my bedroom all this time. It wasn’t me’
‘Really? Because I can tell when you are lying. Tell me the truth, was it you?’
‘No mum!! Really it wasn’t!’
I chip in with the most divertive statement in legal history.
‘Mum. I think it was Ella.’
The words were said. My back was covered. Ella was sent to her room distraught. I was wracked with guilt. I convinced myself it was OK because there were other things she had done which I had been blamed for. Nothing as bad as this though. I sat on her bed and tried to console her.
‘Don’t worry, Mum will forget about it. The real culprit is probably feeling pretty bad right now’.
They were. I was being wrung out inside. Ella was so upset at being falsely convicted. How could I do this to my twin? More to the point, how could Mum pretend like the mystery of the Daz box could be forgotten? Deception hung thick in the air, almost suffocating me.
The rest of the wet summer was lived out in the shadow of Granny’s soft deep blue being vandalised. Ella sobbed if you mentioned it. I cowered. Hannah and Sam eyed us up intrigued but I refused to open my mouth and explain my intentions. No one would understand. And I didn’t want a smack.
About two years ago I confessed all to Mum and Ella in the car. It was a private affair. The other siblings mustn’t be involved. Ella almost broke down!
‘I knew it was you! I just didn’t want to say anything so you didn’t get in trouble. I took the blame all summer for that and you never once fessed up. I can’t believe it. Finally my innocence is proven.’
Mum didn’t even remember the incident. I begged my twin’s forgiveness. She gave it to me wholeheartedly, proving herself once again to be the winner of the twin of the year award (its always 50-50) and my best friend for life.
In summary: childhood crimes.