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Mother of two Annette Cunningham is a freelance travel writer and columnist, working in media communications. She has two daughters at university and lives in Kidlington.

The After Life

Annette Cunningham

On Sunday 20 July, I went out on my bike after breakfast, played Stig of the Dump with my friends and washed my socks. The reason for knowing these mundane details so specifically is because they are recorded for posterity in one of the few surviving exercise books from my primary school days, topped off with a reasonably alarming felt-tip illustration.

Washing my socks was actually a regular pastime. I only had a couple of pairs that I really liked, and as the twin tub was only dragged across to the kitchen sink once a week, I have fond memories of giving them a good seeing to in the bathroom sink with a bar of Shield Soap and a nail brush. They dried as stiff as a board but smelled like heaven.

Anyway, I immensely disliked this Monday morning requirement of committing the details of the weekend to paper. Possibly because even then I was aware that I didn’t lead a particularly sensational life (a fact I now enjoy immensely). This was heightened by sitting next to a golden curled “it” girl waiting to happen who spent all her spare time competing with her majorette troupe or doing something else fabulously glamorous.

I don’t think my mum was particularly keen on me carrying out this Monday morning task either. She once returned to the car, where I had been patiently waiting, rather red faced from a parents’ evening, having been both horrified and amused to flick through my school books and discover that every Sunday lunchtime I’d spent holed up in the back seat of a Hunter in a pub car park, with a bottle of coke, a packet of crisps and an Enid Blyton novel.

On reflection, I appear to have spent a lot of my childhood in car parks. At the time I thought this weekend diary writing was just a devious way for the teachers to keep us all occupied until playtime. There of course may be some truth in that, but later I reflected that it may have been deemed a cunning way to determine if our weekend reports demanded a hasty call to Social Services. And you know what? If that were true, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

I now realise that I was often expected to just entertain myself when my parents took me out. Back then, pubs used to advertise – with much pomp – a “Children’s Room”; this was somewhere parents could drop their litter (of the sibling variety) while they strode meaningfully into the bar. It may have said “Children’s Room” and it may have had comics and board games in it, but there was no supervision and invariably I’d end up being talked to by a snotty-nosed boy while his sister or other brother bashed the living daylights out of a dilapidated doll with a missing eye. I’m not saying it was right, but it did encourage me to become increasingly self-sufficient (and always carry a tissue or two…).

 - Annette Cunningham