Park Avenue was a small cul-de-sac built by a man who couldn’t count: we lived at number 12, and there were only 9 houses. It was a very sociable place to live. At weekends, our parents mowed their lawns, washed their cars and drank whisky, because wine hadn’t been invented yet. We kids, were in and out of each other’s houses all the time. We all knew everything that was going on. We knew, for example, that Mr Rudge picked his nose and ate his bogeys, Mrs Varley was having an affair with a man called Tom and Mr Murray read Playboy Magazine. We knew that because we’d all read them too. There was only one house with children that we never went into, and that belonged to the Whites.
The Whites were different. There was separateness about them. They were perfectly polite, but they weren’t part of the mowing, washing and drinking set. We (the normal people) all had single garages, but the Whites (the glamorous ones) had a double garage which was filled with straw, because they kept horses.
Horses! How posh was that?! Very posh indeed; that’s how posh although, to be honest, I never actually saw their horses, so it is possible they just kept straw.
On one glorious day when it was raining so hard that we couldn’t go out and were driving our mothers mad, we were invited to play in the Whites’ garage, on their straw. This was before hay fever had been invented, so we all took part with great gusto. We climbed up, tunnelled through and slid down the straw for hours and hours. There weren’t many days in my childhood when I had more fun.
It makes me sad to think how little fun my friends and I would have now if we were to be let loose in a garage full of straw.
This was in the days when machines for drying clothes existed only in launderettes, where common people (i.e., not us) who didn’t have twin tubs went. Everyone in Park Avenue hung their washing on the washing lines in their back gardens, so, in addition to knowing all sorts of information about particular individuals, we all knew about everyone else’s pants… except, it transpired for the Whites.
As we made our way, tired but very, very happy, back from the Whites’ garage to the street, we had to walk round the side of their house down a narrow passage.
Rain beat a tattoo on the corrugated plastic roof. While we had been having fun, washing had been pegged up, and we had to battle our way through the wet things which were strung from a line above our heads. In amongst the sheets and shirts were Mrs White’s pants.
Up until that point I had not even imagined that such underwear existed. As far as I was concerned it was a truth universally acknowledged that all women and girls wore capacious knickers in pastel shades. Similarly, all men and boys wore Y-fronts which were always white. If someone had told me that this was a rule enshrined in law, I would have believed them, and if there had been such a law, then Mrs White’s pants would have been illegal.They were silky and black, and I thought they were absolutely beautiful. As I gazed up at them, I decided that in an ideal world – a world in which I was able to buy my own pants, rather than trail round Marks & Spencer behind my mother while she chose sensible underwear for me –
I would only ever buy pants just like Mrs White’s.
And now, when I have been purchasing my own underwear unaided for a very long time, I still feel exactly the same!
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