For my creative writing class, I was asked to remember a favourite toy from my childhood and describe it as best I could. Unfortunately, I drew a complete blank … so I have instead taken a more (ahem) “creative” approach.
When I was a little girl my parents didn’t have all that much money.
At the time I didn’t realise. Well, when you’re that age you don’t know what “normal” is. You’ve not really made any friends or played at their house. Grownups seem bewildering at the best of times, so it seems pointless to complicate things further by asking questions.
To begin with, you assume that your home life is just like everyone else’s. Everyone else’s daddy drinks as much as yours. All the other mummies shout a lot and throw things, and seem to go out a lot.
It wasn’t until I started visiting the homes of my school friends that I realised that not everyone’s home was like ours. Each family had its own strange traditions. I remember going round to Emily’s for dinner, and sitting at the table to eat with all her family! Even though I would have been perfectly happy to eat mine in the cupboard under the stairs, same as usual.
I worked out quite early on that we didn’t have as much money as other families. Daddy didn’t seem to like staying in any job for very long, and mummy seemed to spend a lot of our money on something called “Geegees”. I never knew what they were, but mummy said they made her happy. I liked mummy when she was happy.
When Christmas came along, I tried not to get as excited as the other girls and boys. I knew not to expect too many presents, because we couldn’t afford them. I didn’t want mummy or daddy to be upset with me.
The lack of presents really didn’t matter; I just wanted to be with mummy and daddy. They tried the best with what they had – every year they would put tinsel around the garden shed and turn it into my very own “Christmas Castle” … but they didn’t need to go to all that effort. I would have been just as happy if they had let me sleep in the house instead.
But I remember one Christmas more than all the others. I had been hinting for ages that I wanted a pet, like a kitten or puppy. I knew I’d look after it properly, just like mummy and daddy looked after me. I had a stick I was going to hit it with and everything. I used to practice on Fenella, my invisible friend.
I woke up early on Christmas morning. I got out of my box before the sun was up because I was so excited!
Mummy and daddy were up before me! In fact, it looked like they hadn’t even gone to bed, because they were still wearing the same clothes and there were a lot of empty glass bottles on the floor. They must have been as excited as me about Christmas!
My present was waiting for me. They had wrapped it specially for me, in newspaper. How clearly I remember it! I can feel the slight dampness, and the smell of salt and vinegar as if it were yesterday. I unwrapped it excitedly.
It was a brick.
Mummy and daddy explained to me that they didn’t have much money, and couldn’t afford to get me a proper pet, but that if I looked after this then they’d see what they could do next year.
I was a bit disappointed, but I felt determined to prove to them that I would be the best in the world at looking after a brick, so they wouldn’t need to worry about how well I would look after a kitten.
I named it “Bricky”. She (I decided it was a she) seemed to like it.
I remember on that first day, I took her for a walk to the building site across the road. She introduced me to her family – a big pile of bricks that sat ready to be turned into a house. Bricky said she didn’t want to be part of a house – she wanted to stay with me instead.
We became best friends. Sometimes I used to dress her up, and sometimes I used to put her in my pram and take her for a walk. I drew a face on her so she could see. I used to talk to her constantly; sometimes I was sure she talked back to me. We used to tell each other all our secrets. She always used to listen to me when I told her how bad school was, and she would give me a big hug if the other girls had said bad things to me.
And then one day I came home from school, and daddy told me that Bricky had died. Daddy had buried her in the back garden, and then as a monument to her he had built a patio and barbeque over the top. He said I could go and visit her anytime I wanted.
The following Christmas I got a kitten. It made a mess on the carpet, so mummy cooked it on the barbeque.