One letter from my mother begins with the line ‘I have managed to find your socks and shoes, but the laces are gone.’
This sentence does not begin to capture the furious rage and five hour sulk that my incompetence provoked. There had been an unspeakable half hour on the back seat after I announced that I’d forgotten my shoes, seated beside an appalled little brother who would have thrown me from the car there and then if he could.
Littler, but wiser, he only allowed himself the luxury of incompetence once he left home. He now litters houses like a teenager. But back then he never, ever left anything behind.
Perhaps what enrages a parent most is this kind of repeated behaviour. Behaviour that is proof that the child they have ended up with is clearly not the child they intended to have.
One Easter I managed to drop my wallet beneath the London train at Glasgow Central, and mother, unable to speak for fury, put her back to me and walked. Away. I watched her diminutive figure, purple anorak clamped tight over her bum, and wondered where she was going. Really? Really? She wasn’t even going to wish me goodbye?
I had a job by then, and a mortgage even, but clearly still wanted mothering.
When, reluctantly, she did reappear ten minutes later the train had rolled away to Kings Cross without me. After her trailed a guard. Together we three peered over the edge of the platform, down at the scrappy red velcroed wallet, so overrun by receipt crap that it had developed a paper frill.
Wallet. God, how I hate that word. As much as others flinch at the mention of moist, plinth, squirt. Wallets sit at the centre of so much of my failure. They are the full stop to all that is wrong about me. There was the one drowned at Dhahran beach, another lost at the Rec Centre, a third left behind on the Swiss Air 737 on which we were transiting in Zurich, and worst of all that fourth, which contained two hundred pounds of my first pay packet, falling open like a bird as it fell over the guardrail, and sank into the Sound of Mull. The only safe escape was to lock myself in a cabin. When he found me Dad beat the yellow hatch hood with a fist.
But it was not a pochette, or a purse, or a pouch that mother and the British Rail guard peered at, balanced drunkenly between the tracks, it was a stained, over-used wallet in cheap manmade red. The guard, certainly irritated too, raised his eyebrows. Then fished for it with the Glasgow Central equivalent of a boat hook. Failing he finally lowered himself down into the hole that the Intercity had left. Mum and I watched his movements, his scan up the tracks for incoming trains, the crouch, and I wondered whether I should do what Dad would - to tear open the Velcro when he gave it to me, and give back a tenner, even a twenty, in gratitude. A big note to lend gratitude an appropriate value.
However, in the manmade red there were no big notes. Only shrapnel of the coppery kind. Perhaps unwittingly I had instigated this wholesale decline into this very, very pissed off place, by asking Mum, not half an hour before, for money.
Just to get lunch in the buffet car? Five pounds? Three even? It wasn’t like I was skint or anything. I just hadn’t been organised enough, I told her, to take out the money myself.
The guard reached up with his catch. He stretched one handed towards us standing on the platform, Mum snatching it from his hand. Although it seems unlikely, part of my remembered discomfort comes, I think, from her not being able to bring herself to say to him thank you. Rage had drenched entirely all politeness in its sour.