Simon Carver Looks at Life

(Published in The London Magazine, October/November 1996)

I’ve had an eventful time for a boy of thirteen years and two months. My life could nearly be a film already. I love films. In my room I’ve got posters of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday, the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night – I saw these a couple of years ago – and The Birds which Mr Hitchcock signed for me. I’m playing Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the best record in the world. I love writing too. My life is a bit weird. This is what happened yesterday.

June 15, 1967
I felt great after the cricket match. My housemaster, who is also head of games at my prep school, stood in the door of the pavilion and bellowed, ‘Well done Carver, that was first class, if you do that against Papplewick next week I’ll give you your colours.’
‘Thank you very much, sir.’
‘And Carver,’ he took his hands off the top of the pavilion door, and came over to me, filling up all the space he was so tall, ‘we might still get you into Charterhouse if you go on playing like that.’ He stared straight at me with his blue eyes and patted me hard on the back.
‘Wow, great sir, certainly easier than common entrance.’ ‘Don’t get too cocky, boy.’
I was taking common entrance next term and you had to be a real swot to get into Charterhouse. But as I was just thirteen I could always take it again. One of my friends who had been watching the cricket, Tubby Groves, came over to me and said, ‘that was really great Simon, 41, brilliant runs, fantastic.’ He patted me on the back too.
‘Even Matron clapped at one of your fours’, Hearson, the vice-captain said.
After showers I was combing my hair in the mirror and Miss Gifford, one of the sub-matrons, said, ‘You’d better get your hair cut or you’ll look like a film star, won’t you?’ I sort of laughed and went a bit red because she looked at me really nicely. My hair goes very fair in the summer and last holidays Rudd-Jones’s sister said it looked great.
We always had a special tea after cricket with the other side in the big hall, looking out at the cricket pitch, the tennis court and the headmaster’s garden. I loved the look of the grounds in summer, everything was perfect every year, and always the same perfect if you know what I mean. Alan, one of the gardeners, went past and put his thumbs up at me. That made me feel great. He loved cricket and knew everything about bats. I never wanted to go to Public School. I just wanted to stay here and play cricket and touch Miss Gifford everywhere when she had no clothes on. I go stiff whenever I think about her.
I left school to go home on the train. I was happy except that my mother didn’t come to watch me play. She normally does on a Saturday because we don’t live far away. Everyone really liked her and my housemaster’s ears always changed colour when he talked to her. And the headmaster used to come out of his study when he saw her and say, ‘Er, how’s that marvellous sports car, er, going, Mrs Carver?’ When she looked at him and smiled you could tell it made him feel good because his arm started twitching. He always did that when he was pleased.
I bought a Mars bar on Windsor and Eton Riverside station and looked for some girls to observe. If you looked closely you could sometimes see the tops of their legs and almost everything. As the train went past Datchet I wondered why my mother didn’t come. I really liked her watching me play. I knew she was watching everything I did and even my fielding got quicker when she was there. I watched a golfer hit a golf ball on Datchet golf course. I hated golf. Stupid little ball could go anywhere with a big hit. In cricket everything is skill, especially when you’re a slow left arm spin bowler like me. But I don’t always bowl because I’m even better as a batsman.
My mother used to be an actress. She was so good she could have gone to Hollywood, lots of people said that. My father, who is much older, and very ill, was the accountant for Alfred Hitchcock’s film company. He met my mother when she was acting in one of Mr Hitchcock’s later films.
My father had been married before and his wife had drowned somewhere. I have one half-brother, Richard, who’s at Pangbourne College and going into the Royal Navy. I’ve got an even older half-sister, who’s twenty-two and married to Captain Hitler of the Royal Green Jackets.
When I grow up I’m going to make films because I love looking at things and making different shapes with photographs and cine-films. I was in the photography club at school and my uncle was going to buy me a really good camera at Christmas. Mother stopped acting when she had me. We live in a big house outside Chobham. My father doesn’t work anymore but I think we’re rich. My mother once said to me, ‘Darling you’re always rich as long as there’s enough money for a dry martini in the cocktail bar at The Savoy.’ My father heard her and told her off.
My mother got ill sometimes and drank a lot and shouted at me and wandered all over. When she was like this she never looked at me. Yesterday she was staring into the garden, ‘The grass needs cutting, that bloody gardener.’ But it had only been cut the day before and it looked beautiful. Sometimes I felt alone with this person who was my mother but not my mother. I wondered why she didn’t come to watch me today.
I looked out of the train window at Virginia Water. I knew Lindsey wouldn’t be there because it was a Saturday. Lindsey went to a convent and I used to talk to her on the train going home. She teased me because she was a bit older and knew all about kissing and everything. One day, the train was quiet, she just said, ‘Do you want to kiss me?’
‘OK, I suppose so.’
The first time our teeth knocked. We did it a few times in the next few weeks and it got good. Then she wasn’t on the train anymore. One of her friends said that her mother had started to pick her up in the car. But I just looked in case.
Near Chobham it gets all sandy and the trees and grass disappear a bit.
It was getting cloudy too. But I wasn’t that sad not to see Lindsey again. I’d gained a lot of experience and my friends at school were impressed. It was different with Paula Day. She was the sister of a boy at school. We used to write to other boys’ sisters. She was at boarding school in Kent. Then I met her in the holidays. Justin Day was one of my good friends and I stayed with him and his family at their cottage in Wiltshire.
Paula and me liked each other straight away. She had short, dark hair, lovely eyelashes and looked brilliant in her tennis dress – and she could play nearly as well as a boy.
Justin got in a real bate with us. We couldn’t help it. When we looked at each other, phew. I don’t mean sex. I mean I looked at her and all the world went still. It just stopped. And you felt more fantastic than you ever did. Everything was perfect and still, like a game of cricket, no more, but you weren’t afraid of anything when you looked at someone like that and they looked at you too. We did kiss and went further than ever but it was the looking that was really great.
Their father worked for Burmah Oil. Justin said, ‘My father has to go to the Philippines to blow something up.’ And they took Paula with them and sent her to an embassy school. That was three months ago. And she hasn’t written. And Justin won’t give me her address. I can’t stand Justin anymore. I’m not usually like that with friends.
When I got off the train at Chobham I looked for my mother.
Sometimes she just arrived. She’d guess which train I was on. All the porters were very polite and friendly to her. But she wasn’t here to-day. It was a long walk home. I was always allowed to take a taxi from the station. My father was good like that. We discussed things properly and worked out what was right and how much pocket money I should have and everything. ‘You see old chap, you have to make a good argument to me and then we’ll see.’ He didn’t do that much now because he was so ill and everything.
I walked because I felt a bit sick and funny. Too much match tea. I stopped before the house. The long hedge, I think it is a laurel hedge, had been cut by our gardener, Bill Cranham. He always came on his bike with plants at the back. I called out ‘Bill, Bill,’ but no one was around. Our house was a big Victorian house with two huge windows at the front which let in tons oflight. My mother wanted to live on the Wentworth Estate where she had lived before she got married to my father. ‘We’re not living in Hollywood by the Lake,’ my father told her. I had to go inside now.
‘I’m home.’ There wasn’t any sound. Even Pedro, my dog, didn’t come out to say hello. My feet made masses of noise over the little tiles. They were mosaics or something. My mother had them put in. My stomach felt really bad now. It was always dark in the hallway, like being a prisoner in a huge dungeon. There was no one in the dining-room or sitting-room. I went through the long hallway to the kitchen.
‘Darling, hello.’ My mother’s hand slipped from a tumbler of whisky and she puffed up her silk nightdress round the shoulders.
‘What are you drinking now, you look horrible.’
‘Oh do sit down old chap.’ My father spoke very slowly and the words came out all muddled. His white hair needed combing and he’d spilt food down his polo shirt.
‘Your nose is all red.’ I stared at him and wanted to kick over his walking-frame. He was drinking whisky too. ‘You look like a couple of alcoholics.’
‘Oh, the thought police are home again,’ my mother sneered. She tried to put a cigarette in her mouth, first on one side of her lips and then the other. Her lips were all cracked.
‘I had a great game of cricket today, you know.’
‘Oh God can’t you think of anything but yourself?’ she stared but didn’t see me at all. Lots of little veins throbbed in her cheeks.
‘Why can’t you tell her to stop drinking, daddy, why not?’
 ‘Oh what a brilliant little drama queen.’ My mother put her fists up at me.
‘Shush, shush,’ my father said. His eyes were hazy like they had a lace curtain over them. And he had a circle of white round his irises which I’d never seen before.
‘Shut up, both of you.’ She flung her arms in the air and looked like she’d been kissed by Dracula. ‘I’m going out.’ She slammed the door and threw a glass in the hall. The sound spread all over the mosaic floor. ‘I hate that little bastard.’
I was afraid. I phoned the doctor. It rang for ages but no one answered. The house felt empty. I was lonely and my father looked like he was about to be sent off to Madame Tussaud’s. I don’t think the lace curtains over his eyes were ever going to come down any more. Two years ago when she was last like this he looked at her slowly and seriously. She went a bit funny but later said she was going to cook a special meal for her ‘two favourite men.’
Then I saw her rush across the lawn. She had shoes on now and a mac but I could tell she was still wearing her nightdress. Where was she going? Why? My mouth was dry. I might never see her again. I followed her. It was nice being outside. It was still sunny and the light wind felt friendly. ‘Mummy, why don’t you come back, have a cup of tea and a chat with both of us, oh come on.’
She walked fast. ‘Go away,’ she flicked her hand at me. ‘Go back to your cricket, you spoilt brat, I’m going for a long walk. Leave me alone.’ She shouted the last words so loud anyone could have heard. It was horrible. I couldn’t think of films any more. She went towards the village. Luckily no one saw her and then she turned down a footpath. It got windier. I couldn’t think any more about the nice day I’d had or my friends or girls or anything. I only had on my Aertex shirt and I was shivering.
‘Please slow down a bit,’ I pleaded. She turned round and threw stones at me. I stopped dead. ‘Oh stop being so silly will you.’
She lifted her head slowly and tossed it back. Bits of hair escaped from her bow like corkscrews on either side of her face. ‘Do you think it’s “silly,” you stupid little boy,’ she bent down and dug up a patch of weedy earth, ‘to be yourself, to have to escape from all you bastards just to be yourself.’
She flung the earth at me and nearly tottered over. I cried now, not with all my face, but just loads of tears coming straight out of my eyes. I couldn’t help it. She stared at me like I wasn’t her son at all. ‘You pathetic little boy.’ I couldn’t say anything. She held her fist straight out in front of her and turned it round and round. Then she rushed off the footpath and into the wasteground. She fell over and got up. I could see she’d cut her knee. I couldn’t move. I watched everything.
It was about seven now and wispy clouds were covering up the sun.
My mother ran through the wasteground, fell over again and got up. She turned round. There were stinging nettles moving all around her. Yellow buttercups and straggling weedy things were shushing about in the wind. Behind the footpath, on Chambers Road, all kinds of trees were dodging in the wind. My mum’s hair flew around. Everything was just moving. It was horrible. My mum shouted at me but I couldn’t hear what she said. Nothing was ever going to stop doing all these separate things. I knew now that my mum was just doing what she had to do, like weeds and stinging nettles. I knew we were all weeds and stinging nettles. Houses and schools and cricket and love were all pretend. You could never stop everything going on just the way it had to. Not even in films. I felt really sick.
I saw her rush into the station and jump on a train. She never looked round for me. I stood outside the station in the quiet by a tree. I was calmer but when I looked everything was different. I wish Paula Day had been here. I could have looked into her eyes. Then I was sad because it was probably all pretend.
“Monkeyface,” the name we gave to one of the porters, came over to me. I’d never really liked him as much as the others. ‘You look worried son.’ He looked into my eyes. His teeth were yellow and cracked. But he went on looking at me, like he really cared. ‘Was that your mum? Don’t worry, she’s an actress, she’ll be alright.’ I looked back at him. I think I might have smiled or blushed. ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ He put one leg behind the other. ‘I’m off now, I’ll make you a nice cup of tea shall I?’ He nodded his big head up and down. ‘You know I’ve got a famous train set don’t you?’
‘Okay,’ I smiled. I thought of my dad. I hoped he was dead when I got home. I didn’t ever want to go home. Monkeyface looked at me like he really cared. The world felt all slow again. I wasn’t so sick inside anymore.