I am beginning this series with a character who is born towards the end of Sunlight on Broken Glass, in 1932. Yes, it is none other than my mum, Margaret, a worthy character to take the pole position in this weekly series on “The Write Eye” blog.
Fast forward to 1967. We had just moved from Regent Street in Kettering to a brand new house, right on the edge of town just off the prestigious Warkton Lane (the posh area in Barton Seagrave mentioned in Sunlight on Broken Glass).
Our house in St Matthew’s Road was a large three-bedroomed semi in a (then) small development known as “Lodge Farm Estate”. Nowadays developers wouldn’t get away with building a few streets of houses in the middle of a field, with no easy access to the shops, schools and other facilities, but that’s how it was in the summer of 1967. Eventually, the tiny Lodge Farm joined up with the Ise Village, built just off Windmill Avenue, to briefly become the largest private housing estate in Europe – Ise Lodge as it is known today.
This story takes place in June or early July 1967. I was in my final year at junior school. We had lived in the house for a few months and Mum was frustrated at having to spend huge chunks of her day getting into town and back to do the food shopping. There were no big supermarkets in those days, where the weekly shop could be done by car in one go!
The song to go with this story is The Turtles – Happy Together. Just click on the link to a listen to the track, which is guaranteed to magically transport you back to the summer of 1967, when the sun always shone, the grass was always green and weed-free and ice cream came in little rectangular blocks, wrapped in paper, stuffed into a suitably sized cornet.
I pulled on my royal blue school cardigan as Dad did my tie for me. “Mum,” I said, “if you would only learn to ride my bike you could bike to town instead of walking or catching the bus.”
“It’s a good idea,” Dad said. “You could go along Warkton Lane, through Warkton and along Stamford Road and you’d be in Cornwall Road in no time.”
Food shopping was a complicated operation in the summer of 1967 – as was getting to and from school. My brother, Steve, and I used to be dropped off at Park Road Junior School in the morning by Dad on his way to work in Corby, and then, after school, we used to walk to Grandma’s house in Cornwall Road, where my grandparents lived with my great-grandad and wait for Dad to collect us and take us home. Most days, Mum would either walk or catch the bus to town, do some shopping and then leave it there for Dad to collect after work when he picked us up again.
Catching a bus was not easy. The walk to the nearest bus stop was around a mile and a half away in Barton Road. It was almost as quick to walk through the fields down a dusty track that was, a couple of years later, to become Deeble Road which linked the isolated Lodge Farm Estate to the rest of the world.
“Actually, I have been practising,” Mum said with a cheeky grin. “It’s a nice day – I could try it this afternoon.”
“Well, be careful,” I said. “I don’t want you to ride through a pothole, fall off and bend my wheels. And don’t scratch it or anything.”
That afternoon, Mum set off, cycling at a careful, slow pace through the building site that was Lodge Farm Estate. One of the builders wolf-whistled at her, and with a big smile on his face pointed at my bike. Mum grinned back and waved to him. “I know,” she shouted back. “It’s my daughter’s – I’m a bit wobbly but I’ll soon get the hang of it.”
As she passed another group of builders, two or three more workmen whistled at her. She beamed with pride, her ego bobbing along as happily as her backside as she peddled through the estate to Warkton Lane, where the going would be a bit easier without having to avoid large potholes in the unmade roads of the estate.
As she cycled along Warkton Lane, a car passed by and the driver tooted his horn, grinning and gesturing at her. She waved back, initially thinking it was someone she knew. It wasn’t, but she felt very happy that at the age of thirty-five she could still attract male attention and wolf whistles.
The journey to my grandparents’ house took around fifteen minutes – a lot less time than walking to the bus stop and then catching the bus into town.
She walked in the back door. “Phew,” she said. “If I keep this up I shall be a size twelve by Christmas.”
(My Mum was always on a diet, seeking the elusive size twelve. For most of her life she was a size eighteen.)
My grandad got up to make her a cup of tea and burst out laughing.
“Your dress is tucked in your knickers at the back,” he said. “I hope you haven’t just biked all the way looking like that. It’s a wonder you didn’t cause an accident.”
Strangely, that was the first and last time Mum ever rode my bike.