I used to stay up late, listening to the radio. I’ve always found it easier to watch the sunrise on my way to bed than fresh from a full night’s sleep.
This was the early noughties. And yes, we had television, the internet existed, and there must have been games consoles.
Not for me. I had the radio, and a bit of a crush on Katrina Leskanich, from Katrina and the Waves. She used to play music you could hum to from midnight to three on Radio 2.
The antenna had snapped off my radio-cassette player, so I was forced to improvise.
I held a butter knife against the antenna’s nubbin. It took a week or so to get the angle right, and then I marked the outline of the knife in coloured chalk. I just stopped myself from moving a bucket into the room.
I took comfort in the breathy weather forecast from the lovely meteorology girl. Much of the weather she described didn’t affect me, I would be asleep, but I found consolation in her asthmatic intonation.
To digress for a moment, because that’s what I do – some months back, Laura and I went to see Ivor on a Tuesday morning.
During the course of Laura explaining her dog’s itchy skin, the various news from in and around the Legion (who had died, who was having ill-advised lady trouble), and the general state of the weather, Ivor furrowed his brow.
I imagine it was pretty hard-going, being stuck in a chair for such a conversational onslaught.
“What’s the name of that weather girl?” he asked. “The lovely one.”
I didn’t pause for breath.
“Carol Kirkwood,” I said.
He nodded. We understood each other, I’m sure. Laura rapidly changed the subject and explained her boxer’s diamond eyes.
I think we’d strayed a little beyond the comfort zone.
Back to my exciting adolescence – around three a.m., I’d move through from my bedroom to the living room, and the hideous carpet, and watch an hour or two of repeated daytime tv. I don’t say this was a good way to live, it was just my way.
Clearly, I wasn’t getting to bed until around five in the morning. Of course, this was all under the umbrella of looking after my mother. Her carers would arrive at nine, midday, four and seven.
I was born for the night shift. I’ve never had a problem with daytime misbehaviour because I’ve never been awake for it.
Around once a fortnight, she would ask me to move out. It was the dance we did.
I would start looking for flats and she’d ask what I was doing.
“House-hunting,” I would announce.
I had no job, no money, no prospect of either, so it wasn’t terribly likely I would find anything in my non-existent price range, however, if she wanted me out (which she didn’t), out I would go (which I didn’t).
It was around that time of teenage angst and healing wounds that my mother’s brother used to visit.
He’d walk into her room in the ante meridian drizzle and take a seat beside her bed.
“Good morning,” she would say, as if he were her bank manager.
He’d unfold the paper, flick to the crossword and ask what she’d like for dinner.
Dinner, made by my uncle, was shocking. You wouldn’t starve but you would have questions.
He had heard of serving salmon with lemon. He had even eaten gammon with sliced apple. I don’t really understand fruit in savoury dishes, but that’s just me.
My mother experimented with flavours. My uncle fancied he could, too. He became desperately avant-garde in his cookery. Pork chops with lemon were an experience never to be repeated. We drew a collective line under rump steak with tinned pineapple chunks.
Perhaps it sounds intriguing. I promise you, it is a concept to shelve and keep in the mind. It cannot be allowed out.
He was giving me a break, which I appreciated even if my stomach didn’t.
One afternoon, I’d been awake a matter of moments, coffee in hand, and I wandered through to my mother’s bedroom.
She was sitting up, just watching me move from door to window. I could see her, through the periphery, staring at me. We hadn’t exchanged a single word and it was nearly four o’clock.
I turned and looked back at her.
“What? What are you staring at?” I blurted. I’ve always had a way with words.
She looked decidedly quizzical. “Has one of your eyes turned blue?”
Not merely ‘Have your eyes turned blue?’ – no, no, ‘Has one of your eyes turned blue?’
I nearly passed away on the spot. Once I finished choking, and having spilt my coffee all over the windowsill, I ran to the mirror.
My eyes were unchanged from the night before. Still brown. A kind of caramel brown. Orange in flash photography, as it happens, which is slightly unnerving even to myself.
Definitely not blue, though. Not even one of them. I tried to explain this to my mother but she refused to believe me.
I moved back across the room and went eyeball to eyeball with her.
She blinked deliberately.
“Oh no. I see. They’re brown.” She paused. “I don’t like brown eyes.”
Round one, knock out. Lordy, she was funny.
My uncle was in the kitchen, boiling an onion and considering a chicken breast.