As the evening of the dinner drew nearer, my mother’s efficiency melted into frenzy. “Don’t bother me now,” she yelled every time we went in the kitchen. “You’ll have to find your own lunch,” she shouted at my father. But although my brothers and I were wary of disturbing my mother while she was frantically cooking, we were still anticipating the dinner with eagerness. We also sneaked into the old barn which served as a garage and garden store, to inspect the coloured boxes of fireworks stacked in a corner. “Look, ‘Atomic Whirlwind’ and Supersonic Mayhem,” said my brother Ben, following the names on the box with the tip of his finger. I hung back. I didn’t like fireworks much then or now.
In the afternoon, my brothers and I were sent on an urgent errand to the village shop for flaked almonds and more double cream, without which my mother’s Olde English Trifle would be ‘a disaster darlings’. I would have gladly gone alone but, even though I was 11, my mother said I was not yet old enough so I had to endure 13 year old Ben’s jibes there and back, as well as my younger brother Sam’s bored moans. By the time we returned home there was a third car in the driveway.
“Well there you all are at last,” Aunt Sarah snapped as she lifted a green holdall from the back of the Range Rover, her sturdy figure emphasised by the navy gilet that matched her tartan trews. “Amy’s already inside looking for you and Tom’s desperate to watch a video with you two boys.” My father’s sister always assumed control on arrival, issuing firm comAlex to children, husbands and dogs alike. I thought she was bossy when I was young and even now she is in her eighties she still likes to tell everyone how to behave.
I rushed into the house and was met by the solid barrel chest of Uncle Nick, who put both arms around me and planted a wet bearded kiss on my cheek. “How’s my favourite niece then,” he boomed, holding me at arm’s length. “Still growing I see. Ben with you?”
I nodded and edged away. “I’ve got to give Mum her shopping right now. She’ll be cross if I don’t .”
“You run along then, don’t let me hold you up. I’d better just finish getting our bags in before there are more complaints. Where’s your father, down the pub already?”
I didn’t answer the last question, I slipped past and dashed to the kitchen, where my mother was red and flustered, bending down at the oven. “Thank goodness you’re back at last. Nick and Sarah have turned up early and I’m nowhere near ready. Pass me another tea towel will you? This pan’s too hot to hold.”
I hovered for a moment, sensing she might need me to do something else, then she said, “It’s alright darling. Run along and find Amy. Auntie Sarah will be along soon to help me I’m sure.” I turned to go and predictably there was a final instruction. “Oh and if you see your father around anywhere, tell him his sister’s here and he’d better make himself available.”
I walked away in silence. Such commands were frequently issued and rarely delivered. My father possessed a unique ability to make himself scarce at times of need. On sports days and prize days he had prior commitments. When social invitations were issued he had urgent paperwork to be completed or had to attend his constituency surgery. When visitors arrived, he would simply disappear, sometimes emerging with a confused air from his study, sometimes reappearing from an unannounced walk in the surrounding countryside. I had no intention of searching for my father, as discovery would not be well received. Instead, I went in search of Amy.
As I expected, she was in my bedroom and had thrown her bag onto the floor, a sponge bag, pyjamas and teddy bear spilling out to join the muddle of books, shoes and toys already littering the carpet. The little sofa bed was not yet ready for her and we would have to clear some of the clutter before we could unfold it.
“Hey Lisa,” she cried. “Look what I’ve got!” She was holding a large video camera and as I stood in the doorway she switched it on and yelled, “Action!”
to be continued….