"Two-way stretch elastic?"
"You know, stretchy fabric for swimsuits. Whatsitcalled?"
In Nottingham, everything boils down to the underwear. I'm descended from hosiery manufacturers. Daddy, who followed briefly in his father's and grandfather's footsteps in the family firm, brought home knickers as freebies.
And I don't mean sexy satin numbers, but awful, stretchy, flesh-coloured "interlock" bloomers. We called them "floppy knickers" and wore them for dressing up. They reached up to our nipples and down to our knees with plenty of room in between.
Sometimes we visited the factory - floors and floors of "ladies" at work, wobbly bobbins zig-zagging, metal whirring, cogs connecting. Our father's office was a big, dark panelled room with a billiard table in the middle and an office chair which swivelled until you were sick if there were three of you spinning it round.
His colleagues were old Mr Spicer and Mrs Carfold. Mrs Carfold "did the books" but Mr Spicer chased us round the billiard table. One day, he died. It was a few days after our canary had drowned in the washing-up bowl and we'd just had soft-boiled eggs for tea and Daddy put down the phone and said, "Spicer has died", and Mum got us to stand in a circle and sing All Things Bright and Beautiful.
"No, no, Jules, I don't know where you get these things from," Mum says, exasperated. "Spicer did not die - not then, anyway. And the canary just fell off its perch - old age. Your so-called memory! I don't know where you get it all from."
"But I remember..."
"Sorry. Total fantasy." She zips her jacket, laughs incredulously to herself. "You really do say whatever comes into your head, don't you?" The children are still cavorting around Robin Hood's ample thighs. Behind us, a series of alcoves are hollowed out of the soft, granular, yellow Nottingham "Bunter" sandstone. "I used to kiss boys in those alcoves," sighs Mum, "before I caught the last bus home."
Just down the road is the Trip to Jerusalem, a pub where I sat on a low wall in summer with a half of lager and a devastating boy named Frank. He tested me on my Highway Code; I failed the driving test but fell for Frank. His hair smelled of green Boots Hair Gel as I sniffed him on that wall. My mother's impeccable memories and my own wishful ones nudge each another - pale, local ghosts competing for space.
Up on the castle green, red and yellow flags are flying and there's a lionheart tent and a tetchy, smoky woodfire and a wistful woman in medieval dress tending it. Three men in armour mince around on the grass, carrying pikestaffs.
Instantly, the children sit, cross-legged. "Are they going into battle?" whispers Raphael, thumb in mouth.
After a while, the men get up and start marching, pikestaffs raised. A group of tourists, wearing shorts in the goose-pimpling bank holiday wind, flourish cameras. The men ignore them. Sun sweeps suddenly, hot and yellow over the flower beds. Wafted scent of stock, mown grass. The clock down in the market square chimes a half-hearted eleven.
"Must be one of those clubs," my mother suggests, and I agree. We watch for a while longer, but nothing really happens and they seem oblivious to us, so we take the kids round the castle and have a drink in the bright yellow cafe.
Back at Mum's house, we tell Jonathan and Grandpa about the marching men. "They didn't go into battle," says Raphael, folding his arms and kicking the trellis.
"It really was the oddest thing," says Mum, "You could put it in that column of yours.
"It doesn't have to be odd," observes Jonathan, "She'll put anything in her column."
"What's her column?" says Chloe, who has felt-tipped all the webbing between her fingers in green ink. "What's she putting in it?", as if it were a laundry bag or a ratatouille.
I tell my Mum my column's soon coming to an end, actually, and she says that's a pity and puts down a bowl of water for the dog. Then she pours us all a glass of wine and we sit out on the wooden deck at the side of the house.
It's hot, windy, the clouds impulsively changing places with one another in the sky, and now and then someone says "Oh!" as their deck-chair lurches down between the too-widely spaced slats and they're almost ejected sideways.
"If your column's got to end," says Mum, "You should make sure it goes out with a bang - do a really exciting one. Like where you saw the fox in the street in the middle of the night."
"That fox might be dead now," I remark. "Our neighbours found it looking poorly in their garden."
"There are no animals left in our street," says Jonathan, "They've all expired - can't take the exposure."
"Well," my Mum sips her wine. "Just no more rubbish about what I did to you in your childhood. You always get it wrong. I never, ever wore hotpants, for a start."
"No animals, no hotpants," I say, "What else is there?"
We're all silent for a moment, considering. The wind blows. Nobody comes up with a suitable reply.Reuse content