In the blissful time the ‘We’ was my mother, my father, and myself. We sat on the porch in the summer evenings, my father puffing on his pipe, I on my mother’s lap gazing up at her soft beautiful face and golden-brown eyes. I patted her cheek and she smiled down at me. Then I became sleepy and my father lifted me, so gently, and laid me down in my little cot.
Soon the ‘We’ became five. Big sister, brother, two little sisters always together, and a baby brother. The parents were at the top, trying to tell us what to do. They had to earn money to keep us; to pay for food, clothes, music lessons, school fees, gas, electricity, collection at church and so on. Money pouring out in a never- ending stream.
My father resented this. It was as if we children were some kind of indulgence of my mother’s, although he was the cause of us as much as her. In her whole life my mother never knew what he earned, but she knew there was always money for him to go to the pub, to buy wine by the case, to get books sent over from Blackwell’s in Oxford, to buy new cameras. Then when she said we needed new school uniforms, he put his head in hands and groaned and said we’d all end up in the poorhouse.
We were like a rabble, fighting, crying, demanding food and we were my mother’s responsibility. He would sit in his chair reading a book in French whose pages he had to cut open with a pen-knife, and say, ‘Can’t you keep those kids quiet?’ And Joseph and I would be arm wrestling in the hall, Lizzie and Mina forgotten in the bath with my mother’s lipstick all over their bodies, Markie crying in his cot and my mother on the phone to Auntie Jean, ‘Yes Jean. Ohhhh did she? Did she?’
No wonder I used to like to escape O ‘Mahoney’s as soon as I was old enough. Their ‘We’ was more harmonious. They were united by their day dreaming, their sitting on the veranda while Mr and Mrs O’s cigarette smoke rose in the air and they all imagined the day when they were living in Toorak in a great mansion.
Deidre and I had our own version of this. As she was four years older than me, I respected her knowledge of life. We went through Vogue together. ‘I think the blue mink would suit you,’ said Deidre, ‘I prefer the arctic fox although it is more expensive.’ The arctic fox coat was six thousand pounds while my mink was only four thousand, but Deidre was about to start her floristry apprenticeship and I was in Form Two, so it was fitting she had the more expensive coat. I decided I would go the Bahamas for my holiday while she chose the South of France. She said she was more sophisticated than me. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but it was clear Deidre was ‘more’ everything than me. She had a tiny waist, (although quite a big bottom) and looked adorable in wide skirts with belted waists. I was shorter, with a red face and a more solid build. Deidre thought I should pay more attention to skin care and diet. ‘Look at this diet’, she said showing me a page of Vogue, ‘this woman drinks lemon and hot water every morning.’ I usually had six pieces of toast and jam for breakfast.
Then I was sent away to boarding school for two years and by then Deidre and I had gone separate ways. She was engaged to ‘an old Scotch boy’ and I was more interested in jazz and parties and went to live with Anne and Monica. And that was the end of my childhood.