Many Happy Returns
If you love something let it go. If it's truly yours, it will come back to you.
Case One: The Homing Shoe
WHEN I was a kid, my Mother had a complete obsession with marking my name on everything I owned. School uniform was labelled with little embroidered tags which you had made with your name on and were sewn into the back of coats, jumpers and skirts. She even sewed them into my knickers. Can you still get little embroidered tags with your name on? They seem something from the pastthe dim dark days of the seventies to be precise. But they did do what they were supposed to, I suspect that children nowadays have an ID stamp indelibly tattooed on their arms or a data chip fitted into their brain which will only authorise them to use their propelling pencil. Or some such. Come to think of it, do kids have propelling pencils any more?
My books, bags, pencil case and its contents were protected by a little piece of sticky tape with an even smaller scrap of paper with my name written on it. As I was an ARTISTE, I always had a vast and varied pack of felt tipped pens in my stocking every Christmas. They came in a bewildering variety of colours and the black ones always ran out first. I was a complete prima donna about my felt pens, no one, not even my best friend was allowed to use them as they might bend the tips or write on something unsuitable or wear them down on the wrong side or actually, thinking about it, I am still a drama queen when it comes to my pens, particularly my disposable tech pens which are a good £2 a throw and people wreck because they press down too hard on them or are right handed so they wear them down on the wrong side or Um. Yes, well, some things you don't grow out of, evidently.
So, every December 25th I had a pack of 40 new felt pens and every 5th of January or thereabouts, my mother would sit up very late the last Sunday evening before we went back to school, labelling each individual pen. I don't know why it never occurred to her that all the 400 potential thieves at my Secondary School had to do was peel off the sticky tape to get away scot-free with the heinous crime of pen rustling?
So when it came to my flip flops for the beach, they, of course, had my name written on them in indelible pen. We went to the same place every year for our summer hols. The seething metropolis of Abergele on the north Wales coast. Okay, so it's a rather shabby little market town which just happens to be on the coast, so it can be considered a resort. But not by the locals, who would tell you loud and long that it's a pig and sheep market town really. My Dad's parents are buried in the local churchyard.
My maternal aunt had a caravan there, or rather at the little village next to Abergele, Pensarn. If Abergele is a one-horse town, Pensarn is the hindquarters. There is one row of shops in Pensarn, a chippy, a post office, a VG food store and the penny arcade cum bingo hall where I spent many a happy hour feeding the machines pennies. Not much of a town, not much of a caravan (no plumbing, heating, watera tent would have been more luxurious). And the caravan site didn't have any facilities other than hot and cold running spiders in the toilet block.
But I loved the place with a complete passion. This was in part because, as with most small children, I was easy to please and partly because we had a lot of fun in the simple charms of a windy beach and a bucket and spade. And it was before my Dad's mind and body were devastated by a severe stroke when I was thirteen.
We would drive up and down the coastline (in a succession of dodgy old cars he would buy for £50 and then renovate in the garage), looking for the beach without driving rain. The bays along the coast can be micro weather systems; just because it was chucking it down in Colwyn Bay, didn't mean it wasn't glorious sunshine in Rhyl.
I must have lost several pairs of flip-flops over the years, some to wear and tear; they were essentially disposable plastic thong sandals and cost, even today, not very much. I lost one pair to the tide, they got washed out to sea from the beach at Colwyn. And, a good year later, one of them returned to me while I was rock scrambling at Llandudno.
"I've got to get used to having a nipple"
Llandudno isn't the best place along the coast for rock pools and crab hunting, it's mostly sandy beach and Rhos is much better, but there at the end of the sand are some rocks. Dad and I found a massive eating crab there once.
And we found my flip-flop. How did we know it was mine? Because Mum had written my name on it, silly.
The flip-flop wasn't much use any more (and besides, there was only one); it had a year's battering, but, there for all to see was Susan D Mason, in somewhat faded but still legible, indelible ink. A triumph for my Mother's paranoia and the makers of cheap disposable footwear.
Case Two: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse
There was a dark shadow over my childhood. When I was about 10 my cousin Neil was very sick and then dying of cancer. It was a long slow death and it affected my Mum and her family terribly. My memories are less clear, overlaid with the joy of my cat having kittens though I do remember getting into trouble for writing his name in Gran's bath in soap powder and talc, Neil was sick in the next room. I wasn't writing his name in the bath to be bad or wicked or to try and get him into trouble as my Mum and Gran assumed; it was part of a complex and time consuming ritual spell I was working on to make him well. I was an odd child.
When he was gone, I inherited his hamster and a toy mouse. The hamster was a smelly thing which the cats were fascinated by. The toy mouse was my pride and joy. It had a wooden body and suede ears and the body was covered with sheepskin, it looked like an off-cut from an Afghan coat and smelled nearly as bad. Though it didn't have that underlying patchouli odour that Afghan coats always seemed to have. But the thing which attracted me to it was the tactile nature of the wood and the sheep skin, hard and soft and I always wanted a sheepskin rug (this was the seventies, remember, when having half a scalped sheep flung across the floor was deeply fashionable).
And I loved this mouse. Loved it, loved it, loved it. It went everywhere with me. Except school. Sheepskin mice would be frowned upon at Stamford Park Junior School. And Mum was afraid it would get stolen.
But the last day of summer term, the last year I was there, I took the mouse into school with me as we were allowed to take a toy in. All the other kids took games or guns and there was the odd doll or two. And I took my mouse...
Of course, I lost it.
I know to this day where, too. I was on my way home and was running the mouse along the child-high wall beside the pavement. And I must have got distracted because I left the mouse behind on the wall. I realised as soon as I got home and ran all the way back but it was gone. I must have cried for days.
That was my last year at primary school, at 11 I went on to secondary school and the dubious pleasures of Delahays Secondary School for Girls.
My best friend at Delahays, who I met on day one, was Nicola Whatmore, the only other girl in our school of 400 who was as mad as me. We were inseparable until her parents moved down to London three years later. We usually made up a foursome with Dawn Wilson, the prettiest girl in our year (now thrice married and living in the States last I heard) and Katie Cooper; who used to be Katie Maxwell but whose parents had divorced, shock, horrorshe was the only one in our year of 100 girls who had this happen to her. You know, that can't be true, this was only twenty seven years ago, divorce can't have been that uncommon? But my memories are quite strong of it being a great scandal in the school.
After I lost Nicola to cruel geography (we had a bit of a pash for each other) I socialised more with Dawn and Katie. We lived along the same route home so would often end up in each other's houses and one day, when I was in about my fourth year of secondary school, I was in Katie's bedroom and her kid sister was playing with a toy mouse made of wood and sheepskin.
Katie told me she had found it years before on the way home from school, just sitting there on a wall, alone and unloved. I was four years older and all grown up so I let her little sister keep it.
I still wanted it back though, in my heart of hearts.
Case Three: The Boomerang Book
It's an occult horror, not my usual reading fare but it's an enjoyable, undemanding read with some truly memorably nasty scenes including one where an underground train full of commuters is dissolved before the horrified eyes of the heroine who is on another train going in the opposite direction. I always think of this when travelling the Underground. That and Svarts. But that's another story.
I lent it to one of my friends and then we both forgot about it. For years. Eventually, I remembered and asked for it back. By this time she had left home and her mother had boxed up or otherwise disposed of her college years stuff, including my book. Bugger.
Years went by, ice ages came and went, mountains rose and fell back into the sea and I ended up in fandom. Eventually I dredged the name of the book up from my subconscious and asked Brian Ameringen, of Porcupine Books, to find me a copy. He looked at me seriously over his glasses and pointed to the £2 book tower. There was a copy, sitting staring at me. It was even the same edition as my copy. I was most chuffed and bought it on the spot.
It wasn't, as you might now be expecting, my copy but it was in good nick and I put it on the to read' pile for the next time I fancied an occult horror.
The friend I lent my copy to lived near me in Altrincham. I lent it to her when we were both having a misspent youth at college (if I could find said misspent youth again, I'd be very happy) back in 1981, which my brain tells me it only ten years ago but the calendar sadly tells me was twenty. Oh well.
My current best friendwhoa, are grown women allowed best friends? I have at least three women who I'm best friends with but you hear all the time, women saying that they just don't get on with other women and all their friends are men and they'd never trust another female near their man. But then, I'm not much for caring how others live their lives. Any way, my current best friend, Annie, lives about seven miles from me in another of Manchester's leafy suburbs, Didsbury. She has two little girls who I'm a surrogate aunt to and recently she re-married (to Tim of Ploktas passim see: The Wasp Incident) and developed a sudden case of teenage stepson. David is a remarkably civilised teenagerhe does have to be surgically removed from the computer screen if you want him to do anything other than worry the mouse and he will sleep for most of the day if allowedbut nothing too dire.
His school is also in Didsbury.
Annie and I have a weekly ritual. We get together once a week to set the world to right, gossip, drink tea and discuss the relative merits of B5 and DS9 over the bourbons. This started when she left her first husband and was a struggling single mum on income support. There were few other mums in the area interested in talking about anything other than nappies, make-up and all the various shapes you could buy chicken burgers in (I kid you not, overheard on the bus "You can get them in dinosaur shapes, you know." "Wow, can you!").
"I've got to go out and buy a new nipple"
So, to give her some adult conversationno snickering, thank youI would go over and we would talk into the wee small hours of the morning. And we have kept this ritual up even though she's now re-married and has a good job and the girls are growing up. The menfolk know to make themselves scarce on a Thursday evening.
During one of our evening soirées, David the stepson said he had something of mine and in he brought a very bedraggled and moth eaten copy of The Guardians by Lynn Abbey. It had been knocking about the fifth form common room at his school and when he had picked it up, he'd noticed my name in the front. It was much the worse for wear but then it had been on its travels for nineteen years. I'm sure I'm a bit older and tattier than I was then, too.
But it was definitely my copy, there was my name on the fly sheet at the front.
I guess all those years of having Mum write my name on everything paid off in the end.