The mother in the novel is based on my own eccentric mother, and the primrose story is entirely true. I shall never know how she got away with it.
“We did have fun, didn’t we?” It’s as though she is reading my thoughts. “Do you remember the time I sent a note to school and we went picking primroses?”
A blue and white spring day, a dapple of bright new leaves, and the primroses like stars in the chalky soil, their faces turned to the sun. We picked the slender pink stems, sniffing the perfume of the flowers, and filled a basket with them, then sat on our coats on the ground (“Don’t sit on the wet grass; you’ll get piles.” “Piles of what?” “Never you mind.”) to eat our picnic lunch of crisp rolls and ham and apples. It never occurred to me at the time to question what we were doing. My mother always reasoned that we were her children, and if she wanted us out of school for a day, then that was her right.
“What did you say in the note?”
“The note you wrote to the school on the primrose day.”
“I forget.” Her eyes start wandering again, then return with a snap. “On yes! I said you had your period!”
“Mum!” I was ten years old at the time, my chest as flat as a board, my body smooth and hairless as a plum.
“Well what did you expect me to say?” And of course, as usual, there is no answer to that.
“And Deirdre and the cowpat. Do you remember that?”
Blowing up cowpats with Lucas and his friends in the field behind our house, choosing a nice ripe one (“crisp on the top, with a squidgy middle,” advised Lucas, the expert); our excitement, watching the smouldering firework, waiting for the explosion; and the sheer joy when a particularly messy one erupted in a fountain of green sludge, splattering the blonde ringlets and nice clean frock of prissy Deirdre from next door. Oh, Deirdre! If you could see yourself! We rolled in the grass, kicking our heels, convulsed with mirth, while Deirdre, howling and outraged, ran home to tell her mummy what bad, bad children we all were.
“What’ll your mum say?” One of Lucas’s friends asked anxiously.
“Oh, Mum’ll laugh.”
Mum laughed. She tried to tell us off, but was so proud of the inventiveness of Lucas, and so entertained at the fate of prissy Deirdre, that she failed utterly. But she promised Deirdre's mother that we would all be “dealt with.”
“Whatever that means,” said Mum, dishing out chocolate biscuits and orange juice. “Poor child. She doesn’t stand a chance, with a mother like that. But I suppose she had it coming to her.”
“I wonder what happened to her?” she muses now.
“Married, with a nice little semi with net curtains, a Peter-and-Jane family and a husband who washes the car on Sundays.”
For the cowpat idea, I'm indebted to my two younger sons. My lovely neice, Hannah, was the hapless victim.