After making our choices and Mum preparing the milkshakes, the four of us sat there slurping them up. The reason I remember milkshake time so well is that there was one thing we always wanted to do, but weren’t allowed to: blow bubbles through the straw. It was almost irresistible - the rumbling, burbling noise the thick sugary milk would make when air made its way through to its surface, and the delightful foam of colourful bubbles that would creep rapidly toward the top of the glass, miraculously increasing in volume until they threatened to spill over. It seems to me now that we would almost always blow the bubbles anyway, knowing we could afford a few seconds of transgression before Mum would tell us sharply to stop that at once RobertThomasEdwardLaura! from the kitchen.
Many of my most vivid memories are about food, actually. Another weekend treat, which I remember from an earlier time, was chocolate mousse. These came in little yoghurt pots, brown on the outside instead of white, and bigger, as if for grown-ups. They came in fours - I remember a lot of the puddings we had came in fours, and I did wonder if perhaps by the time Mum had three children she thought another would just round up the leftovers nicely.
The chocolate mousses would also be issued to us at the weekend - I remember eating them at the dining room table in the afternoon. This memory (somehow each food has been compounded into one most distinct occasion) is earlier than the milkshakes, however, and I know that because it’s the kitchen-dining-room of the house we lived in at Viney Avenue, where the boys all shared a room and mine was above the staircase and had no door. Despite the small size of that house and it being a temporary home, I remember Mum saying that it had the best kitchen of any house she’d lived in. Mum had had a number of kitchens, since for the first 10 years of my life, and a few before that, my family had cottage-and-house-hopped depending on Dad’s work and the growing size of the family.
I have some bizarre memories of Viney Avenue: I loved being out in the front gardens and my friend Laura Number One’s gran lived opposite us, so Laura Number One was occasionally available for playing. Her gran had big plastic butterfly decorations stuck to the front of her house - I remember seeing them around a lot, so they must have been fashionable in the late 1990s. Next door were two boys (I’ve forgotten their names, even though I know that I met them again in later years, in that small town) who I happily played with for most of one summer, and who showed me their Dad’s slide projector and their quite expensive toys, until their parents decided they shouldn’t play with me and my brothers anymore because we Didn’t Go To Church. We also had our first hamster, which belonged to Edd and was called Toffee. I had my first bike, which had a pink plastic basket on the front, into which Toffee would be placed before I’d do my trundling loop of the front garden and adjacent pavements. The basket was not very secure and Toffee would often fall out through the gaps, onto the tarmac. I think I knew this wasn’t ideal, but I would pick him up and put him back in, the Christian neighbours’ cat watching closely all the while.
I think that summer was a hot one, and I spent a lot of time out in the front garden. One day I was sat on the pavement next to the hedge, probably excavating between the paving slabs, and felt tickling at the top of my legs. I shuffled a bit and realised I had been sat on an ant’s nest. I had shorts on, so the ants were all over my legs, all over my shorts, and inside my shorts too. I had Ants In My Pants. I saw that it was funny, despite the itchiness.
That summer also holds what I believe is one of the happiest moments of my life. I’m not sure at what age I lost the ability to become totally, inordinately consumed with excitement about anything out of the ordinary routine of life, but around the age of 7 or 8 I was very good at it. Going on holiday to Cornwall for a week would have been run of the mill for many of my schoolfriends, who went on skiing holidays and adventures to far flung islands, but I didn’t sleep at all the night before we left for Mawgan Porth that year, even thought it was the same holiday we had done each summer since I was a baby. To compound the anticipation, we were to leave at about 4 or 5 in the morning, and Mum had me washed and in my fresh things the night before, so that at daybreak I could hop into my clothes and be ready to go. As we buckled up in the car, before the sun was able to crest the terraced rooftops (Tom and I sharing the lap-belt, wedged between Edd and Rob, which I can only assume was because we were the two least likely to bite each other) my brothers and I singing ‘We’re all going on a, summer holiday, no more working for a, week or two!’ I thought my heart would pop with the joy of spending an entire week staying in static caravans with my extended family and building sandcastles on a windy beach. I don’t think you could offer me anything in the world, now or ever, that would make me as excited as I was that morning.