Five-minute memoir: Christobel Kent recalls a hellish car journey that went from bad to worse

'I looked at the headlines. My world, already teetering, totally caved in'

We were parked up at a service station somewhere outside Bristol on an overcast August day in 1977 when it all came together, an epiphany of sorts, the kind of confluence of bad vibrations that makes even a cheerfully cynical 15 year-old sit back on her heels and decide there's someone up there. Someone horrible.

It already seemed as though we had been driving for a lifetime or two: we were headed from Essex to Cornwall to stay with a friend of my father's, an old friend apparently, although we didn't remember having met her before. The 'we' involved was the problem: until 29 March of that same year, our 'we' had been my mother, father, two brothers, sister and me, and we had always been to our grandmother's house in Frinton for the holidays.

Only then my mother died, unspeakably quickly, of cancer: the first we knew of her illness was when she stopped being able to talk one Sunday morning. She died in hospital three weeks later, never having formed another coherent sentence.

If the car had only contained we mourning five, the vibrations would have been low-grade unhappy, but manageable: we would also have been legal. As it was, my father had done what any Victorian widower with young children would have done a hundred years before, and the 10-year-old Citroën with sagging suspension also held a woman called Mary, 17 years his junior. And her four children.

It was never clear when exactly they got together, but it can't have been long after my mother died. My brothers, sister and I had met her only weeks before the holiday, and our response had immediately been defined along clear gender lines. My sister and I were relieved, if wary: I had already cried over enough burnt suppers to find the thought of a real woman in the kitchen a hopeful one, and my sister, not much more than a baby still, needed a mother. My brothers, on the other hand, hated Mary with admirable, unflagging stamina. And here we were, disgorging miserably from a stuffy car, two adults in the early stages of an uneasy sexual relationship and eight children, each unhappy in his or her separate way, an object lesson, with hindsight, in how stupidly irresponsible grown-ups can be.

My hopes for the reassertion of home comforts with Mary's arrival didn't last long. If I'd still harboured any on 17 August 1977, they'd have been dashed when she lifted out of the boot a catering-sized pork pie and laid it on the service-station picnic table as the first rain began to spit. Mary lived in a girl-pad in Bayswater paid for by her children's father and she couldn't cook. Am I a snob? All I know is, my sad, thin mother could make stew with wine and fried her own chicken and baked a cake every night and never opened a tin, and I missed her. The sight of that pie said: this woman is not and will never be your mother.

Idon't remember why I went inside the service station: perhaps to get away from Mary, from the other children, from the prospect of a holiday in a place and with people unknown, and from the terrible pork pie. And I probably needed the lavatory (as my mother taught me to call it). Either on the way there or on the way back I walked through the newsagent's, I contemplated the comics I had only recently grown out of, I loitered by the chewing gum (which my mother never allowed) and I looked down at the headlines. And the world, already teetering, caved in completely.

He was the first man I ever loved; the BBC had run a series of his movies a year or so earlier and my mother had stopped me watching them when she caught me kissing the screen. My passion had already lasted half a lifetime, because I had certainly loved him at the age of eight, when I joined the fanclub. By 11 or so, I had hatched plans to run away to Las Vegas and marry him as soon as I was old enough, I played his records in my bedroom on a loop while my brothers battered on the door, I knew every word of "Suspicious Minds". The headline that day in August read, 'KING ELVIS DEAD'. And my mother would never come back.

I walked back to the car thinking, does it get worse than this?

It didn't get any worse. True, Mary became my stepmother, later that year. The woman we had been on our way to see in Cornwall had – she spat in a drunken rage some years down the line – once been our father's mistress. We were served pork pie and salad every Thursday until Mary left, and took her children with her, four years later.

But it didn't get any worse than 'KING ELVIS DEAD'.

Christobel Kent's novel, 'A Darkness Descending' is published by Corvus

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor