Of learning to ride a bike, for some reason I remember my father’s goatee and his Aran sweater – both of them scratchy in his embrace. I remember tottering along broken tarmac on a shopping bike. It had been badly sprayed silver, just for me, with the paint frozen whilst running. My father smiled a bristly smile as he let go of me.
Of learning to read, I remember Roger Red Hat and stickered books. I remember Benjamin Blue Hat and I remember Mrs Wadworth’s slip falling down: her hip angled down as if to catch it. I was worried because I thought that she had broken. Oh God, I loved her as if she were my mother, with her smile of massive teeth and her accent from the telly. It was as if she had stepped out of Playschool and into my grim mining village primary.
Of learning to speak, I remember precisely nothing. My mum tells me that I was silent for a good long time: watching and waiting to utter perfectly-formed sentences that would drop from me like gourmet ready meals. I think this is a myth. My parents like to think that I am observant – that I am observing. In reality, I am thinking of food, back pain or a beautiful thing that I’ve seen or am seeing.
I have a vivid memory of learning about goose pimples. On a cold winter morning I saw them on my thighs. “They’re called ‘goose pimples’.” my mum told me. I rubbed them with slow reverence.
Later on that morning, on first seeing Mrs Harker at nursery, I shouted to her, “Miss, look! I’ve got goose pimples!”
I remember the starched white piping of my blue y-fronts as I pulled everything down. What mortified me then is not what mortifies me now. I didn’t mind or even fully understand that I’d given Mrs Harker the full monty. I only minded that the goose pimples had gone. I looked down at my empty thighs.
Her name was not Mrs Harker. I can’t remember her name and can only collect her face together from fragments of other faces. I remember her as a sharp-faced women, so I have made her a Harker.
Mrs Wadworth is all smiling teeth and probably more a memory of some Blue Peter presenter than her actual self. If you’d asked me the colour of her eyes, I’d have chanced hazel then blinked a little too deliberately.
I saw my father in my own face the other day: a sharpness about the smile – twig-thin lips and deep lines down each cheek.
There is no way on Earth I could have looked back and seen that smile when I first rode away from my father on my silver shopping bike. But I wear that memory like a proud bell. For all I know he could have been laughing at me. Or flicking V signs.
So much for my powers of observation.