Them: (Singing) We know something you don’t know.
Me: (Not singing) No, you don’t.
Them: (Laughing) Yes, we do.
Me: (Less certain) No, you don’t.
Them: (Very certain) Yeah. We do. (Giggling). But if you want to know what it is you’ll have to tell us a secret first.
Secrets sound delicious, so why did they make me feel ashamed?
I didn’t have juicy secrets to trade - the sort that bubble up and burst out – I had embarrassing secrets, the sort you hold on to because you don’t know what to do with them.
My mother didn’t have long hair at all. She may have looked like she did but she didn’t; in fact her ‘top knot’ sat in a box in her dressing table drawer at night along with some dried up bottles of cologne and loose Kirby grips. I shouldn’t have known about the top knot at all because I wasn’t allowed to root in my mother’s dressing table drawers but perhaps I didn’t want my mother to have any secrets either.
My grandad lived in an outhouse on our farm. He slept in the farmhouse and came in for his meals but the rest of the time he stayed outside with the feral cats and the sheep dog and next door’s terrier. He sat in an ancient armchair and chewed bacca and when he spat it out the dogs ate it. My sisters and I rooted in Grandad’s outhouse too and tried his brown ale and sucked on the butts of his old cigars. The brown ale was horrible and we hid the evidence of an opened bottle by dribbling it all over the floor in the hope it would dry up and disappear.
My aunty flushed a butterfly down the toilet because I told her to. Actually I didn’t, I told her I was frightened of it - I didn’t like it fluttering against the glass and wanted her to open the window and let it out – but she didn’t, she grabbed it, threw it in the toilet bowl and pressed the flush. That was my fault.
My mother said ITV was nothing but rubbish, Tom Jones was vulgar and Cilla Black couldn’t sing. This was 1971 – everyone loved Tom Jones and Cilla Black. My mother preferred to watch BBC2. I did not think my friends' mums watched BBC2. At Christmas my mother did not listen to Frosty the Snowman or I Saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus either, she listened to Carols from King’s and sang the Handel’s Messiah.
My mother said the wrestling on a Saturday afternoon was all faked – I knew I had to keep that one really quiet because my best friend loved it.
I stole a story from Enid Blyton. It was about a mouse that came out of his mouse hole at night to eat the food from the doll’s house so the little girl who owned the doll’s house thought her dolly had eaten it. I loved that story and wrote it in my story book. I didn’t know the teacher was going to read it out to the whole school after hymn practice. And now a wonderful story, by Catherine! My sister turned round to look at me. She knew.
Them: (impatiently) Tell us a secret then.
Me: (mumbling) I haven’t got one.
Them: (eager) Oh, just tell her.
Oldest in group: (pause) We know where babies come from.
Me: (scans faces) No, you don’t.
Them: (excited) Yeah, we do.
Oldest in group: (Stands up straight) And I know it’s true cos my mum gave me a Ladybird book about it.
Me: (Thinks) A Ladybird Book! It must be true.
Oldest in group: (Waves everybody nearer) Come on then. Let’s tell her a secret.