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“Look at Janet”


When my sister got married last year, my dad interspersed his father-of-the-bride speech with home movie clips from our childhood. They went down a storm in the marquee. A living room performance of Cinderella starring yours truly, with Amy stealing the show as one of my ugly sisters. Amy lip-syncing to Randy Crawford’s You Might Need Somebody, clutching the LP to her chest and bending her legs left, right, forward and (unfeasibly) back. The two of us on our steep driveway at Pinewood Road, doing the Locomotion with our friends from across the street. Amy, deemed too young to join in the complex routine choreographed by Claire, is reduced to jogging on the spot “like a steam train”, fists pumping like pistons whilst Kylie Minogue blares out from the record player inside…

Weeks later, we watched the rest of the tapes. Some we’d seen before, others were completely unfamiliar: time machines transporting us back to a more innocent time. One sequence, showing us icing a cake with Mum, has rapidly passed into family lore. As usual, Amy is playing up to the camera, cheekily gobbling icing off her finger, and I’m off in my own world somewhere. Stood on a chair at the kitchen worktop, wrapped in an oversized apron, thoughtfully licking a spoon. Unaware of the camera I turn to the window and say, in a soft Derbyshire accent I no longer recognise as my own, and to no one in particular, “Look at Janet, hanging out the washing”.

A trivial utterance, you might think. But it had my family in stitches, they were so immediately and powerfully convinced that this little glimpse of my childhood self revealed the very core of my personality. For Mum, Dad and Amy, arguably all more practically minded than me, it’s convenient shorthand for my sensibility/drippiness. I can barely make an observation now without one of them lowering their voice, glazing their eyes and drawling “Look at Janet”.

Janet was our next-door neighbour. In year 4 of primary school I would know her as Mrs Riley but at this time she was just Janet, a common enough sight in my eight-year-old world but apparently worthy of remark, if only to myself. I think my instinct to notice things comes from Mum. Both my parents have an appreciation for the natural world but it was mostly my mum that pointed out and named birds, flowers, trees. My Grandma says the first time she heard me speak, I pointed at the purple flowers in a rockery and proclaimed “Aubretia!”. I was nineteen years old (not really, hardy har).

When I see something beautiful or strange I still feel an urge to identify it. To document and draw attention and make others see it too. If I have a writing practice, it’s founded on this tendency. But an object needn’t be particularly beautiful or strange to hold my attention. I’ll happily look at cracks in the pavement, salt grains on a table, Janet and her laundry. This makes me a bit weird, I know, but I don’t really care. I have plenty of stumbling blocks as a writer, but I’m glad I also have this.

This is a school photo from around that time. I’m the one with the glasses the size of fists, in case that isn’t obvious.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Merav permalink
    19/04/2012 01:19

    Lovely, I am enjoying your musings! I stumbled upon your blog while searching for material on Revolutionary Road…

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