THE WHITE CUCKOO – THE BIRTH OF A NOVEL
Chapter 1: Conception
When I took this photograph of my husband at the Natural History Museum little did I know that just half an hour later I would have conceived a cuckoo. (Oh dear, I appear to have uploaded the wrong image.)
A week earlier, an inconspicuous-looking email had nestled itself comfortably in my unread work emails. “Day Trip to London – Book your Tickets Now”. it said seductively. I clicked on it first, before all the other unread messages You know how absolutely essential it is to get these type of emails out of the way before knuckling down to a hard day’s work, so a cup of coffee, a biscuit and couple of phone calls later, it was all arranged. We were going to London on Saturday. Yipee!
My then three year old grandson could hardly sleep the night before (and nor could his mum and dad). Inspired by his grandad, Tyler was fascinated by dinosaurs and all things ancient, so the Natural History Museum was probably the most exciting place in the world.
The coach trip was largely uneventful, except for Tyler who, indignant at being made to wear a nappy was determined he wasn’t going to wee in it. Not only that, he made sure everyone else on the coach knew that he was far too grown up to do such a thing.
‘I’ve done it,’ he announced eventually. Everyone on the coach turned round and smiled as his mum searched for something that wasn’t there on the floor.
Grandad was a bit of a fidget on the coach, and his constant whining “are we nearly there yet” was most annoying to the poor people who had to sit in front of him. More than once, Tyler had to tell him to stop kicking the seat in front and to sit still.
Finally, we arrived in London. Very helpfully, my son-in-law pointed out to me that I was holding the tube map upside down as the coach party said their goodbyes to each other and set off in opposite directions to spend their days in various parts of the city.
It was a long walk to the Natural History Museum, even after taking the tube.
‘Are you puffed out, Granny?’ said Tyler.
‘No.’ I said.
‘You liar,’ said Tyler’s dad, turning around to grin at me. ‘You sound like an old horse.’
‘She’s getting old – can’t hack it,’ added Grandad.
‘Speak for yourself,’ I retorted, sticking my tongue out at Grandad.
My daughter rolled her eyes in a look that told me she was expecting it to be a very long day.
We arrived – eventually, and having wandered around for an hour or so amongst the impressive exhibits, clutching his grandad’s hand, Tyler made an announcement:
‘I’m hungry,’ he said. ‘Can I have some chicken nuggets?’
Tyler’s dad looked at his watch. ‘Okay, we’ll check out the restaurant.’ he replied, and we all trooped off to the Natural History Museum restaurant.
I would have been glad of a bit of a sit down. My legs were killing me. We found a table and Grandad collapsed into his seat, completely overcome with shock as he studied the basic menu and not-so-basic prices on the wall. Tyler’s dad trooped off to join the long queue and I shuffled along behind him, as Grandad grinned at me in a macabre, mocking kind of way and I received the telepathic message that there was no way in the world he was going to stand in a queue for hours when his feet were killing him.
The queue was horrendous and my son-in-law and I chatted about nothing very much at all while we waited, our conversation silenced now and then as we both eavesdropped the two women who stood behind us.
‘She’s completely gone off her rocker, you know,’ said one woman. ‘Just look at her – she’s got that bloody notebook out again. She just can’t leave it alone.’
I turned around, curious. Once millisecond-long glance told me that the woman who was talking was about my age, the woman she was talking to was her elderly mother, and the person sitting at a table a few yards away, scribbling furiously in a tatty notebook was probably her sister. The two teenaged girls who sat beside her, silently texting on their mobile phones were most likely the old lady’s grandchildren.
‘You know how she gets obsessed with things,’ replied the old lady. She’s always been the same. Anyway, researching family trees is quite popular nowadays – everyone’s doing it.’
‘I wouldn’t mind if it was our family tree,’ the younger woman moaned. ‘But don’t you think it’s a bit weird to be researching the family tree of a complete stranger instead of your own family?’
‘I suppose so,’ the old lady sighed. ‘But what can we do? It’s completely taken over her life – she spends all her time sifting through old records and on her computer. She’s spent an absolute fortune on the internet …’
It was a conversation that lasted, probably, less than two minutes. As I stood in the queue, I desperately wanted to jot it down because that conversation was like a precious jewel that needed to be kept securely and safely in my handbag. I felt a little flip of excitement in my tummy and a tingle down my spine.
Little did I know, on that grey November Saturday morning in 2008, that this conversation was going to change my life.
Next instalment: Friday, 18th May.