As this blog is about the Whole Me, working out where my thoughts end and I begin, this week I feel drawn to go a little off piste. So in the attempt to open up another little window of my life, I'm going to give you a teensy glimpse into some of the many joyful bits of my childhood.
I am a vicar's daughter and grew up in a huge 5 bedroomed house with a garden the size of a small meadow. My Dad, the Revd. Spanner (yes, my maiden name was Spanner. It was a joy) is beautifully quirky and, having been an engineer before donning the clerical robes, loves a DIY project. It was not unusual to drive into our front garden and have to carefully manoeuvre yourself around an old caravan (or two), an old moped (or two) and a few clapped out trailers, all waiting for repair. Needless to say, my Mum would open the curtains every morning and sing sweet heartfelt songs of joy as she admired the view. My Dad was victim of a fair bit of mockery from the four of us, but I loved the fact that he was into pimping things up (he very much, even now, has a signature 'make'. Things he makes are always sturdy, always strong, always functional, but ALWAYS slightly special looking). My brothers only need to look at something once to know who was behind its design.
My Mum and Dad took us to church every week. My sister and I were in the church choir (legends). I very much had my own sense of style and would regularly be seen walking to church with short orange hair (dyed 👊 ), multi-coloured train track braces (which matched my multi-coloured laced DM's) and round, purple framed glasses. We quietly rocked our blue choir robes with white puffy bits around the neck and bottoms of the sleeves. We would very faithfully sing in the way that we had been taught at school - teeth hidden, mouth completely circular, wide open with every. single. syllable. (👆 The Headmaster was an interesting character with very yellow teeth that stuck out so far that he unfortunately couldn't lead by example. He also used to make us sing the French National Anthem. To this day I am still baffled by this.)
Anyway, I digress.
We had many 'unconventional' people at our church. The Choir Mistress used to tell us to 'be nice and gay' and snap her forefinger and thumb tightly together when she wanted us to stop singing. One Christmas a man was very happy to see that our midnight mass was candle-lit; perfect for him as he'd forgotten his lighter and was gagging for a fag. An older lady that loved a sing-song had a fave that she liked to sing at any given opportunity (we loved a talent show at our church and she'd always be right there, absolutely loving it). She had an astonishing tremolo that wobbled a full semitone up and down. The problem was that often, when she got to a high note she would get stuck. I'd sit in the audience listening to awkward shuffles and whispers from those around me and I'd be desperately wanting to go and give her a hard smack on the back to break her note. I (classically) would get the giggles, which would then spread to my sister, then my brothers, and my Mum would glare at me and my Dad would sit with his legs crossed and hands poised in clapping position willing it to end. It always did, eventually, but she never learned her lesson.
We always had a house full, and had to learn from an early age the art of 'keeping up appearances'. I also learnt very quickly that when you live in a Vicarage you have to always expected the unexpected.
A regular visitor was a lady who wasn't very keen on washing and loved cats. She liked to come to the Vicar's house quite a lot to sell him things. Having been told off by my Mum the day before for being a bit abrasive to strangers, I naturally thought it right to invite her in. My Mum was a bit cross with me because she wouldn't leave, and our house got really smelly.
We had lots of parties, but the thing about the sort of parties we had is that you had to invite EVERYONE. The WHOLE church. I remember once being stuck in a room with an old lady and her friend and being asked lots of questions about school. I was 10 and reeeaallly wanted to go and play on my 'Jump Jumper' (I think it's called a Space Hopper, but I had my own unique names for many, many things. My 'bumper boots' were my absolute faves). I sat trying to think of a way I could leave them on their own without getting told off and had a genius idea. I asked them if they liked the programme 'Heartbeat', and fortunately for me their little cheeks went pink and their eyes looked happy. So I got my Dad's CD player and put on the theme tune, setting it to repeat. Suddenly their eyes went dreamy and their toes started tapping. As soon as one of them started to clap, I escaped. I must have been out on my Jump Jumper for 20 minutes or more, and when I came back into the house they were still there.
I had actually helped them find their happy place. Commendable, Em. Exemplary performance.
As a family of six we had matching shell-suits. My Mum would pack a rucksack with sandwiches (so full of lettuce that my friends would ask me if I was eating grass sandwiches) and Panda Pop, and we would take long walks to showcase them. I liked to tuck mine into my white socks and wear my bumper boots (they were actually just trainers) with the tongues sewn OUT. Underneath I would wear one of those Global Hypercolour T-shirts, that didn't really work with my shell-suit as I got so blinkin' hot the whole t-shirt was permanently one colour, as opposed to the lovely sweat patchy mottled effect it was meant to have. We would turn up at parties and sing 'Black Forest Gateau' in six parts, with my sister yodelling the words 'Monosodium Saturate and Glutamate' at the end. Our songs would always receive a warm-hearted round of applause, particularly from our faves - the die-hard Spanner Family Fans (we had lots of those).
Why we didn't start a band is beyond me.
We regularly went on camping holidays - very much back-to-basics with strip-washes and an in-house (caravan) porta-potty. Unfortunately The Reverend paid it rather suffocating visits so we were too appalled to go anywhere near it. So whilst we dealt with constipation, he was seen regularly dragging the porta-loo, as well as his sorry arse, to the emptying station.
I liked to wet my bed, and on holiday I would sleep on a hammock above my little brother. One morning, whilst dreaming I was having a nice long wee on the toilet, my brother got up out of bed and loudly proclaimed that 'he'd finished'.
At the root of my personality was mischief, adventure and spirit.
I made up languages, jumped down flights of stairs and puked all over my sister's new dressing table (deliberately).
I cut my little brother's hair, squeezed his deliciously fat bum into my tutu and watched as he obediently drew red circles with lipstick on his cheeks. WE liked to do shows, you see.
I deliberately pooed in the bath when I was five (to annoy my brother). The sheer force of the waves I then created sent my brother into a slightly hypnotic state as he became captivated by the patterns that began to unfurl.
I was so jealous of a rubber my sister bought in a gift shop that I tore off a bit and stuck it up my nose.
I dressed my cat in the nightie and bonnet my Mum had taken over a year to make. She was a bit cross when he immediately bolted and returned days later not looking nearly as pretty.
I thought that the duvet cover my Auntie had painstakingly made herself would look far prettier with 'frilly bits' so took it upon myself to adjust it accordingly. With scissors.
I created a spit corner in my bedroom because I thought it was the ultimate embodiment of cool. It didn't take long for my bedroom to start smelling musty. I had no idea why.
I emptied a whole packet of chewing gum into my mouth while my older brother was filming himself playing football. Noticing the video camera perched carefully up on the windowsill, I decided it'd be fun to show the camera how wide I could open my mouth. I then discovered that once my mouth was open, if I stuck my tongue out I could, quite comfortably, balance this massive ball of gum on the end of it. The masticating noises very quickly became fun, as did the process of gathering enough gum around my tongue to blow a bubble that filled my face. I would dissolve into fits of giggles as I let it pop so it stuck to my eyelids and in my hair. Oh the fun I then had gazing at my reflection in the lens whilst picking it all off. Once my face was clean again, I became both fascinated and very entertained by how malleable my face was. After some time, I began to develop sounds to accompany what I was witnessing. It had reached a whole new level of special, and was all being caught on camera. Well, this was all kinds of wonderful. Until my brother (after countless warnings) picked me up and threw me from one end of the garden to the other.
The sounds turned sinister. Collar-bone broken. No sympathy. From anyone.
I was a JOY.
My childhood was happy. Full of colour. So much laughter. My parents brought us up to love Jesus and, although they weren't perfect, they did a bloody good job of showing me what unconditional love looked like.