99. Lemonade Sparkle

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

The Go-Between by LP Hartley.

Page 9

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Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash

I’m lying on my belly on a crocheted blanket on the grass, propped up by my elbows, wearing a found, floppy hat, reading a book without a dust cover. A book that’s older than me. That’s too old for me. One that I couldn’t borrow from the library for another two years. But, this is the summer holidays, and there’s an unspoken, earned freedom. People are more relaxed about everything. My bare feet are suntanned with the pattern from my jelly shoes.

We never realised just how few glorious summers we would actually have together as a family, before we went our separate ways to college, or that we even knew we were supposed to try and make the most of them. How could we? Barely a handful of years of endless summer days, making daisy chains, running through the sprinkler, eating ice cream, riding our bikes until our legs ached, searching for baby crabs in rock pools, regretting not putting on sun cream, building a den, wishing for a treehouse, reading every book in the house and deciding to write my own, making best friends with a girl from the caravan park down the road, who I would never see again after that fortnight, picking and gorging on wild fruit, wearing the same t-shirt or necklace for weeks on end, never ever mastering how to stand up on an old wooden surfboard, making our own ice lollies from flat pop, or truly knowing boredom. My older brother tried to convince me that was how board games got their name, but I never quite believed him.

The inaugural, world triathlon, board game championships were invented in the summer holidays sometime in the early 80s, in an old clifftop farmhouse in Mother Ivey’s Bay, Cornwall. The house is still there, you can Google it.

Weeks of training had led to that moment, which was a few days before the August Bank Holday. That date symbolised our summer was nearly over, and next week meant we would have to get haircuts, new shoes and start a proper bedtime routine again for school.

Draughts, ‘Connect Four’ and ‘Downfall’ made it to the finals. ‘Ker-plunk’, ‘Buckaroo’ and ‘Jenga’ were lost in the initial heats, due to their messiness, missing pieces and not complying with the new equality rule. Contestants could not be discriminated against for having dexterity issues (pre-schoolers and arthritic grandparents). Those games were far from relaxing as everyone had to be quiet and tensed up every time someone had their go. After a couple of drinks, the adults were rubbish at them anyway.

‘Sorry!’ too was removed in the semis. The nature of the game required a good easygoing, sportsmanlike temperament, and the ability to read. For the same reason, ‘Monopoly’ was also banned. It ended with too many slammed doors and furious arguments. ‘Cluedo’ never even stood a chance.

One summer, we were obsessed with card games. What do you do when you don’t know any except ‘Snap’? You create your own future classics such as ‘Scabby Knuckles’ and ‘Cheat’.

Rain stopped play for the ‘outdoor’ rounds of kite flying, frisby and non-stop cricket. The wind was so gusty once that it did actually lift me up off my feet.  Not a good idea when the house is on top of a cliff. My father took our kites off us after that. I don’t know where he put them, but it wasn’t the boxroom.  That oversized cupboard was too small for a bedroom but just perfect for all kinds of junk and the first place anyone ever looked for someone during our many games of hide and seek. It was where (almost) every toy and piece of sporting kit ever owned by the family for the last hundred years was stored. It had everything, and I mean everything. Flippers, prescription swimming goggles, skis, home-made body boards, a selection of life jackets from throughout the ages, hundreds of little green army men, one even hanging by his parachute from the ceiling lampshade, plastic toys from children’s TV shows, a repaired paper pinata, various Sindy dolls in 60s fashions, several mismatched china tea sets, still containing mummified Mr Kipling French Fancies, dried-up felt-tipped pens and cracked brown plasticine. New racquet sports were invented with a wooden, barely strung tennis racquet vs a child-sized, modern badminton racquet still in its plastic wrapping. Deflated footballs, non culturally appropriate, highly flammable dressing up clothes, headless dolls and an out-of tune electric guitar with, amazingly, two spare packets of strings, a heavy crackly amplifier and a whole book of sheet music of folk songs. My subsequent concerts consisted of the two songs I learnt. “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” and “Strawberry Fair.”

Tents that had been packed away wet, so reeked of wood smoke and damp when unravelled. Great clods of dried mud and spores from mould clouded the room as the heavy canvas was lifted heavily and dropped open. Not one useable tent-peg. Those tents were hauled out onto the lawn, scrubbed down with a broom and hot soapy water with bleach in it. Then left to dry and assembled. The best bit was sitting inside whilst someone else poured a watering can over it to search for leaks. Rewaxing a tent with a candle or vaseline required a lot of effort and didn’t seem worth it when it rained. Spraying it with reproofer was just too expensive. All that for a couple of nights under the stars.

After the great jigsaw fiasco of 1984, it was agreed, nay, ordered, that all pieces had to be carefully stored inside a plastic bag before they were put inside the box. Recent discoveries unearthed a plastic fruit crate stuffed with carrier bags from long-forgotton shops (Liptons, Presto, Bishops and even a few from Woolworths). Unfortunately, few bags survived. Even plastic bags left exposed to light disintegrate into a shredded mess of crumbs quicker than you realise.

A dented, wooden trunk from some great-grandmother’s schooldays contained old clothes people had left behind or grown out of, so there was always a swimming costume, a pair of sandals or waterproof coat to hand. That garment might not have been made in this decade or the last, but we didn’t care. I loved that trunk, not only because it looked like a pirate chest, and so could hold treasure, but this distant relative and I shared the same initials, which were still feintly visible in aged gold on the front.

This old house part-belonged to three relatives, cousins, I think. They were the children of the last farmers. It had long since stopped being an actual farm, and the adjoining land was the perfect endless lawn for croquet and afternoon tea. Old photos actually show a road with horse-drawn carts in front of the house, but coastal erosion put a stop to that a long time ago. So a football pitch sized piece of private land on top of a cliff, overlooking the sea was priceless for memories but virtually worthless as real estate. It was just a matter of time before it was gobbled back by the sea. In an area of the country where the majority were priced out of the housing market, it seemed baffling that nothing could be done to save what little land there was.

As was often the case with family heirlooms, each sibling had their own ideas of what should be done with it. As none could agree on whether the house should be sold, lived in or rented out for the holidays, it was left to the executor Aunt to mediate. She owned the five-roomed cosy cottage adjoining the house, which had once belonged to the farm staff, and earned a living from working in a local shop and illustrating children’s books. A gentle existence. It seemed a perfect life to me. The money left over from holiday rentals of the big house barely covered her expenses in advertising or maintenance, so as none of the siblings saw any return, they just dug in their heels or forgot about it, depending on your point of view. As time went on, and the value of the house increased significantly, their own confirmation biases about their own original opinions hardened. “Its a good job we didn’t sell it then because it’s worth a million quid now.” “If we had sold it back then, the new houses will have spoiled the view and they would be falling into the sea. Wouldn’t you feel guilty about people losing their homes?” “People should live in this house while they still can.” “I want my kids to spend their summers here just like we did, for their memories.” “I want to live here a few months of the year as my share, so you can’t sell it.”

With hindsight, perhaps the siblings should have left it six months or a year to live with their grief and for the anger to subside, so their recollections had time to marinate, before they discussed any future of the house. Its history was still too raw right then.

A more uncommon feature of rambling, tumbledown country cottages than British rom-coms would have you believe is the private beach. It was actually a right of way on public land but very few people ever discovered it, most likely due to the ‘Danger! Keep Out!’ signs that were dotted along the winding, sandy, road to the house. They were erected when the original cliff side road began to crumble, and were never removed. This was the house at the end of the lane. Cut off. We could actually scramble barefoot down a gently-sloping, cliff embankment to our own secret beach. Only once did my brother attempt to bounce down it on his space hopper. A trip to A&E served as a reminder to the rest of us how stupid of an idea that was, as was his tanned body and white right arm for months after the cast had come off. We were the Famous Five, having adventures, allowed to play out of sight for hours on end, only knowing the time due to our rumbling bellies. There was an actual gong in the hallway, which mum would bong twice at 5pm, so we knew how much time we had left to play outside. Last one in got a cold shower or a three-inch bath made barely tepid by a hot kettle.

Jealous of school friends who stayed in an apartment in Spain and went to organised kidsclubs, I also envied those closer to home to got to go to a water park at Butlin’s every day, and were entertained nightly by people who’d been on TV. It never once occurred to me that they would look back and wish they’d had an English bucket and spade holiday.

Once or twice we’d have an actual trip to the seafront, for 2p arcade games, and Dad would buy a tray of whelks in vinegar from a stall. I always hoped we could see the lifeboat going out. We’d come back with cheeky postcards to send to our friends and pockets of sugary treats which were supposed to last us the rest of the holiday. Sometimes, my mother would take us girls shopping, and we would meander down the cobbled streets away from the neon, and find little shops smelling of patchouli, that sold crystals and dream catchers. I might be lucky and get some joss sticks or a bracelet made from polished semi-precious stones. The real treat would be sniffing out a second-hand bookshop. My pocket-money stretched far in a place like that. I used to play a game whereby I’d guess the pencilled-in price on the top-right of the first page. Everything tumbled in together, coexisting. All genres muddled up, except for a curtained off ‘adults only’ section.

If I close my eyes and inhale, I can still smell it. My summers. The house. Old books. Woodsmoke. The sea. Hot sugar. Lavendar.

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75. Serendipity

“Love, luck and money they go to my head like wildfire.”

‘Can’t Be Sure’ by The Sundays

No matter what, it always comes out sooner or later. I know that they know. I can just tell. Their whole demeanor changes. They are just dying to ask me. They think it sounds incredulous; that there must have been a connection for this snowball effect, or some other meaning that I’ve not mentioned.

I think I prefer the people who are upfront and just say it, rather than those who pretend they are too cool to care, but you know are prepared to wait as long as it takes for details. Only once have I believed someone who said they honestly had no idea who I was, and that it made no difference.

There’s a definite shift between those who knew me before they found out, and those who got to know me after, or, more often, because. My friends used to call them ‘starfuckers’ and you can sense their desperation to be close to dining out on any association with fame, in the hope that the luck rubs off onto them, or somehow I’ll make it happen again. Few people believe that I had nothing to do with these events and that they are the very definition of coincidence.

Most people who share it, have an opinion that I care not for, and I’ve heard many times already. They are usually disappointed to find out that not only do these events not define me but that I’m genuinely pleased for everyone involved. I hold no ill will, there are no regrets and that there has never been anything to forgive. Of course the money helped, but it wasn’t as much as people say it was.

Next question please. Of course, who wouldn’t? I have had more than a few sleepless nights wondering about the endless, many, what ifs, plus lots of counselling.

So, yes. The song of my name is about me. My boyfriend and I split up, and in the weeks that followed, he wrote the song that made him a household name. Whether you believe the lyrics is up to you. The plot of the film of the song is obviously fiction, to me and those who know me. It clearly says so at the beginning, but that doesn’t stop people from thinking it’s based on my actual life. Think about it. If we hadn’t have split up, he may not have written the song etc.

Incredibly, my very next boyfriend did win the lottery a month after we went our separate ways. It was a very easy break. We talked, agreed it wasn’t working out, that we preferred each other as friends, so shook hands to seal the deal. No, I’m not bitter. We’re good friends. Better friends now than when we were going out. He bought me this lovely house. I’m godparent to his son. Money changes people. I think it must be like being beautiful. They can never really be sure why someone loves them, so they stay close to home with people who really know them.

Boyfriend number three did marry the actress who played ‘me’ in the film. Really! You couldn’t make it up. That one did sting a bit for a while, but I’m long over it now. You’ve seen photos of them on the red carpet. They’re made for each other. If it hadn’t have been for me, then they would never have met and all that.

Yes, I have seen the film, but only once, and I’m glad I waited until a long time after it came out. The press had mostly lost interest in me by then. Every so often a pap pops up, looking for a scoop on a bitter ex, but there’s never anything to report. Anyway, second ex keeps a lawyer on a retainer for me in those situations, so nothing ever gets printed. I’m grateful for that, as the British press can be quite brutal.

No, I haven’t really had a boyfriend since then. There’s been a couple of too-obvious chancers who thought I had some sort of magic touch. One that I quite liked, but I think he backed off when he found out, and another guy was convinced I was a witch. So it’s just me and the dog, this beautiful cottage, my garden, kiln and workshop. Every few months I am flown somewhere in the world by private plane to parties, have lovely holidays and always have a story to tell. My life is more than I dreamed it would be and is everything I ever wanted. I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe it is real. I wouldn’t wish it any other way.

60. A Rush of Blood to the Head.

Ms Double-Barrelled has loads of followers on social media but that’s not because she’s interesting, popular or famous for actually doing something. She doesn’t create anything. Her unusual name has opened doors her entire life, and she’s easily found online by people who like lazy, posh girls who show their tits. It was slightly embarrassing for her parents on the first day of nursery when there was another little girl there with the same rockstar first name as hers, but Mummy made sure that the other little girl didn’t get into the same school as her unique darling.

She only took her clothes off because some scum had papped her sunbathing, and those photos didn’t show her at her best. Anyway, Lily said that’s how to get famous, and it worked for a bit. Then there was a bit of amateur solo camming, for the lols, when she ‘went off the rails’  after she split up with her druggy actor boyfriend, but it was enough for the red tops to reprint tamer stills from the site and infer that her titled MP father was “furious.”

Whenever she gets a new follower, she routinely and meticulously dredges through their lists of followers and cherry picks the best ones to add to her own list. The sycophantic cycle continues as her new followees are delighted that she not only ‘remembered’ meeting them at some random party they both attended, but actually reached out to them. They must invite her to their next gathering.

Once the Sun and the Mirror got bored, and she failed to be considered for ‘TOWIE’, let alone ‘Chelsea’, nepotism got her a part as a regular extra on a new teen drama. Despite no experience, she assumed she would get a lead role, so thought she’d try her hand at lifestyle vlogging instead.

Her new boyfriend, Buddy, is one of those juicing, vegan, barefoot, fitness types who says “Namaste” a lot. He was one of the instructors at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, where she want to chill just after Christmas for dry January. He quit his yoga gig, and immediately moved into her Clapham flat with her. He has persuaded her to start her own youtube channel. Her face. His idea. A no-brainer, as they say. She doesn’t know his hit rate with the ladies is at least one client per retreat, because he’s so discrete. It’s been a very successful way to supplement his income for the last few years. Now he thinks he’s found the perfect mark, and it won’t do either of them any harm. All publicity is good publicity, right?

They’ve got a plan to “do Coachella and Burning Man, definitely Cannes, maybe Ibiza and Goa because they’re ironic, and some of the cooler, more intimate festivals in England, but only if the weather is good and they get a yurt.” She likes the idea of swanning around, being filmed just being, and not lifting a finger. Her PA will do all of the organising and they’ll hire someone to sort out the filming and do the techy stuff. Her accountant will take care of all of the expenses she can claim, like the travelling and clothes. Right now, she’s got more important things to worry about like the colour scheme and perfect name for her ‘brand’ and whether she should do a before-and-after fitness video. Telling people about what she is going to do, rather than just getting on and doing it, is the most exciting bit of any new project. Being seen and talked about while the idea is still fresh.

She can get loads of freebies to promote on her channel, from her equally clueless toff friends who pretend to run viable businesses in central London. These include flower shops, cupcake and artisanal bakeries, sex toys and boutique lingerie shops, birch/coconut water and small-batch gin pop-up shops, travelling tearooms aka afternoon tea, at events, cruise wear and coffee shops. Someone she knows has even got a food van at Kings Cross. She could never imagine why on earth would someone work that hard for so little? None of these ever break even.

Buddy has got his wholefood energy ball range to promote. Once he’s networked the fuck out of her friends and got his face on a wellbeing book cover, he’s outta there. Either that or he hopes to get paid off by her Daddy who doesn’t want a former escort in the family. Plan C is to continue with the sex work, albeit raising his game so it’s at the high end for fewer clients. The jackpot would be as companion to some titled old sugar mommy, but he needs to work his way up first. Failing that, he plans to get in on the ground floor when cannabis is legalised, but that looks like a lot of work.

This temporary rush of intense hormones when you think you are falling in love can lead to some very regrettable decisions, especially if you’re bored, stupid and used to getting your own way.