09 July 1999

Mud

Weston is a seaside town. It thrives on the summer, becomes quiet and sleepy in the winter. It lies on disputed territory: while we lived there, it was a part of the more industrial Avon, alongside Bristol; recently it has reverted to the more rural Somerset. Of course, these artificial boundaries mean little in real terms, but the consensus among my contemporaries was that Weston should be a part of Somerset again. And if accents are anything to go by, the Westonian accent is most definitely at home on the sleepier side if the border.

Weston; what is there to remember about Weston? Even before we moved into the flat on the hill, my mother would be picked up for work every morning by her boss, and my brother and I would get a lift to school as well (the stepfather had to leave for work around four in the morning); this boss changed his car every year, went on holiday and bought one from Germany or wherever: because even with the extra cost of transporting them back to Britain, it was cheaper to buy them abroad. Later we would get a lift with children from the house at the back, who went to the same school, the daughter older than me, the son younger than my brother; we went in a pea-green Mini, which was a tight fit, one adult and four children with bags and books. Travelling along the back road through the woods to Worle and to pick up my mother; always listening to Radio 2, and the same presenter with the same quiz every night, which sometimes ran for weeks on end before anyone got the answer. Two weeks of hell when the stepfather had to work late, and so my brother and I had to stay with a baby-sitter after school, a hotel at the bottom of their hill where the children took great delight in belting us with plastic sticks, while their parents looked on oblivious; the only possible sanctity was the television room, but even then we might be quietly watching one moment and have a thug land in the middle of the back the next (when we complained to the mother stepfather, we were told it was only for another week).

We got to know the people next door quite well. The people above, an older couple with a rodent-like dog were a bit variable; it was always up and down, always off and on. Sometimes they would lead out of a window in their kitchen and talk for hours; other times, they wouldn’t speak to me or our family for weeks, for no apparent reason. Across the road was a large woody space, where there were supposedly rats, and where someone wanted to build a block of flats, but never did.
Getting up on Saturday mornings to help on the milk-round (I was paid more than two twenty pence pieces by this time); my brother rarely if ever went along, preferring to catch up on sleep. Knowing at which houses there were dogs so they didn't surprise you: on one round the were two particular dogs, which I referred to as The Dog (‘the’ with a schwa, rhyming with ‘ugh’) and The Dog (‘the’ rhyming with ‘tea’). On another round there was a magnificent, huge golden Doberman called Zeus, probably the most regal dog I had ever seen; and he got to know me quickly and didn't bark. Knowing at which houses you might be offered tea, and sometimes 'biscuits, and organising the round so that these were as evenly spaced as possible. One old lady would, every week and without fall, complain about the price of things, how a packet of biscuits cost three shillings, how that was terribly expensive, and I would think: but they stopped producing shillings in 1971; before I was born! When my stepfather eventually became a foreman at the depot, the range of rounds increased since he had to fill in for others who were sick or on holiday, and sometimes we might spend half our time driving around the countryside.

It was during these times that I got on with my stepfather best. I could work, was generally good with the money, and didn’t complain; though I could talk a great deal. My stepfather seemed to appreciate the help and company. To come home at two three four in the afternoon, tired mucky useful, gave me a sense of importance, and even a certain feeling of solidarity with my stepfather. This might have evaporated by evening for one reason or another, for one put down or another, one argument or another between stepfather and mother, where I would invariably side with the latter; but while it lasted it was worth something, a ritual I valued enough to look forward to the next weekend and its inevitable ebb and flow.

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