I'm not scared of spiders and I don't mind a bit of dirt, but nevertheless, the task of clearing the loft fills me with trepidation. Though there's no picture of Dorian Gray hiding up there, I know that, stacked up in a corner and hidden behind the suitcases and bags of old clothes, are the boxes that represent another life. They've sat there unopened since we moved to this house. Treasured keepsakes, each with a meaning of its own, each telling a story about a different me, as daughter, wife or mother; these are the possessions that sum up my life before Philip; the stories of my family.
It should be a simple task to lift these boxes down and pile them up with all the other boxes for the removal men to transfer to our new house in just over a week's time. And it would be, if I could resist the temptation to open them and sift through the contents.
The first box holds medals and trophies from when the boys played football for the cub-scouts and school teams. The trophies are wrapped snuggly in the shiny fabrics of a dozen replica football shirts. I remember the freezing hours I spent, standing on the touchline, shouting and willing my lads to run and score and win, until they were too old and too embarrassed to want me watching them any more.
Next is a container of all the kitchen things I bought for Megan when she first went away to university. The saucepans and colander for all the beans and pasta I thought she'd be eating; the tea caddy for her unquenchable thirst for a nice cup of tea. She only stayed in Leeds for one term, hating every minute of her time there. I remember driving up to collect her and bringing her home; the box has been in the loft ever since.
There's another one from Charlie's slightly longer, but no more successful, time at Manchester University. It holds his study materials; a collection of pens and papers, a calculator and his student ID card; all evidence of the good intent to study that he took with him, but which evaporated as quickly as his student loan. I'm suddenly hit by the recognition of how lost he must have felt, away from home for the first time, his money all gone and a slowly growing panic as he fell behind in his studies. At the bottom of the box I'm surprised to find a fountain pen. It's mine, and I'd assumed it was long-since lost. I've no idea how it came to be in the box; I'd like to think he chose to take it up to Manchester with him.
Next comes the photo box. I lost hundreds of pictures after a move 4 houses ago when I stupidly left the albums to go mouldy in an outside shed. The pictures in this box are the only ones I managed to save. Rare and precious representations of my children as babies and toddlers, birthdays, weddings and school photos. I'm surprised to see a younger, slimmer me, secretly pleased at how I used to look.
There's a huge box of paper souvenirs; school report letters; theatre programmes and tickets; newspaper cuttings; handmade birthday cards. Among them a letter from Charlie, telling me he's sorry for fighting with his brother, that he didn't mean to upset me, that he loves me lots. Beside that, a small envelope holding 4 notes from Claire, written to Charlie and me just after he was born.
The last box I look through is the one I know will make me cry. It holds everything I still have of my Dad, bank statements and insurance papers; his final will and testament; details of the arrangements I made for his funeral and the condolence cards we received. I know what's in this box, but I haven't looked through it for four years, so the contents come back to me with a shock. I smile when I find the tickets issued over fifty years ago for a trip to Spain for him and my Mum; I swallow hard when I find the picture of him as a young man in the army, confident and smiling, knowing there is still a whole lifetime ahead. I'm struck by the resemblance between him and Charlie.
And then I find the small envelope. Inside it is a typewritten sheet, a story written many years ago by my Dad, for Charlie on his birthday. As I read the story I begin to hear his voice. And then I realise that even though I'll be moving to a new house soon; a house he'll never visit or know; my Dad will be coming along on the journey anyway.
The Day We Won the Cup - written for 'His Majesty Emperor King Charlie':
Once upon a time, on a sunny summer aftermorning, all the people on earth were very happy. They were dressed in their best clothes, with pink ribbons hanging from their toenails and green ice-cream cornets dropping from their noses. They started the day with a special breakfast, starting with scrambled crocodile's eggs,which were followed by Marmitemud on toast.
The reason for all this happiness was that this was the day of the long-awaited final of the Inter-World Cup between the men from the planet Klobbadog and a special team from the planet Earth. The men from Klobbadog were known as excellent footballers, who had won every game that they had played. This may, of course, have been because they each had three legs worked by batteries, and large square heads mounted on rubber stalks, which made it easy to head lots of goals.
The team from Earth that had been chosen to play against Klobbadog were known as the Longshortworth Rovers who, although consisting on only six players, were famous for the special skills each of them possessed, Up front was the Daddyman, whose special skill was running down the pitch tripping everybody up with a golf-club. Joining him up front was the Mummywoman, whose special skill lay in feeding players on the other side with homemade cakes which poisoned them within minutes. In midfield were the Clairegirl, who wasn't really very good at football, but used to wave her feet at anybody that came near her so that they collapsed on the spot. Alongside her was the Gerardboy, who had a special ability to turn himself into a bear-cub, and at the back was the cuddly Meggygirl who used to talk and talk and talk until she sent everybody to sleep.
But the star player of the Earth team was the goalkeeper, Charlieboy Longworth, who had never given away a single goal, because of his ability to make his arms and legs stretch to ginormous lengths by saying the magic words:
"Abracadabra Hazel and Mush, my teacher looks like a scrubbing brush."The Earth team were soon two goals ahead, First the Mummy girl ran up the pitch, turning sideways so that she was so thin nobody saw her. Then the Gerardboy ran forward giving a loud bear-cub growl and frightening all the Klobbadog players and banging the ball in the net.
The game was nearly over when disaster struck! One of the Klobbadog players tripped over the Daddyman's golf clubs and was awarded a penalty. He shot the ball hard with two legs, straight at the goal, but the Charlieboy caught the ball with one of his magical long arms, ran straight up the pitch and scored another goal. The Earth people had won! Charlieboy was the hero of the hour! He was given special toys made of ice-cream and toffee that he could eat when he was fed up of playing with them, and they all lived happily ever after!!!!!