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Authors: Kathryn Simmonds

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BOOK: Love and Fallout
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Mum and Dad knew I was suffering. Mum made me my favourite dinners for a week and I'd catch Dad giving a concerned sideways glance while we watched
Nationwide
, though he never said anything because he didn't know what to say. He got all the information off Mum. They'd both liked Tony – Mum said he had lovely eyes and reminded her of a young Gene Pitney. But it didn't matter what they thought about him anymore, it didn't matter if they knew he'd sold
The Socialist Worker
in the student union bar, because I'd never be bringing him home again. Tony was in the past. There were no more phone calls late at night just when I was giving up hope. There were no more trips to his friends' parties. Those parties belonged to a different chapter of my life, and if he wanted to start something with that girl Lisa the social sciences student – I'd heard them having a long, flirtatious argument about the monarchy – then that was up to him.

Without Tony I could see my life for what it was, and what I saw was small and disappointing. Stevenage was ugly: its endless mini roundabouts, its purpose-built breezeblock towers, the fountain where teenagers sat on summer evenings knocking back cider as the sun glinted orange off the Co-op, young mums smoking cigarettes with one hand and rocking a pram with the other. If I stayed it would be the death of me. And as the days went by, the true meaninglessness of my afternoons of copy typing began to scare rather than soothe me, and my walk home through the town centre became a journey through my own colourless future.

What I needed to do was make my life count for something. If I could expect any life at all. Day by day I thought more about what was happening in the world, and with Tony pushed to the side, I had time to dwell on the real issues, the life and death of it. I kept the
Protect and Survive
leaflet beside my bed and woke up worrying, or fell asleep and dreamed of the line-drawn man sheltering his family ineffectually in the homemade bunker. Four minutes, that's all we'd have. And the weapons were real. They were coming. The Americans were going to park them here as a defence against the Russians and Mrs Thatcher thought it was a great idea.

On TV the Greenham women sang their songs, sisters under the skin, and it was suddenly obvious: here was a way to make a difference, a way to sacrifice my pathetic life for something noble, something meaningful and something I believed in. What's more, now that I was no longer the object of someone else's love, I could devote myself entirely. And the camp was a place Tony would never be part of, however many copies of
The Socialist Worker
he sold.

Every night at the tea table Mum tried a new angle on me, but like Margaret Thatcher, I wasn't for turning. Dad ate his shepherd's pie, disconsolate after another long day at the yard. Three years ago, after he damaged his back, they'd put him onto deliveries and supplies, and now when he came home he had a tired look around the edges and never talked about work. Not like when he was doing an extension or knocking through a living room. I hadn't heard him say any of his builder's words for ages – newel, or screed, or mitre. The money wasn't so good either. Mum had taken a part-time cleaning job, and then two. I wondered if they'd miss my board money.

Late one night I heard them talking downstairs; our house was too small for secrets.

‘Let her get it out of her system,' Dad said. ‘She won't last long without central heating and a warm bed.'

‘D'you think?' Mum had that note in her voice, the one when she allowed herself to defer to Dad even though she didn't quite believe what he was saying. It was the same note that came out when she'd painted the kitchen walls a nasty yellow, and Dad told her it would dry two shades lighter.

‘She gets these ideas doesn't she. Remember that time she was going to make her own clothes?' he said.

‘Oh yes, I'd forgotten about that.'

‘And when she started learning the guitar, how long did that last?'

‘Or when she was going to be an au pair in Switzerland,' said Mum, who was now taking comfort in her own memories of my failed attempts to define myself as someone interesting. But I'd heard enough and went to lie on my bed, turning over my greatest flops as I stared at the ceiling. This wasn't the same, I said to the zigzag crack that ran like a fault-line from the light fitting to the curtain rail. This was important. This would be the beginning of something. Goodbye to Mr Hirshman, goodbye to Peggy and the biscuit tins and the spider plants. Goodbye to evenings at The Old Volunteer, the pool table with its worn purple baize and the fruit machine that never paid out. Apart from Mum and Dad, the only person I was sorry to leave was Maggie.

*

From our table beside the door we had unrestricted views of the entire pub, which meant Maggie could chart the position of any decent men like battleships on a grid. She'd come straight from aerobics, and the satin v-neck of leotard showed under her denim jacket.

‘You've got to give it a go one night, you'd love it. And there was a complete stud on the running machine,' she said, exhaling a plume of smoke from her B&H. The thought of a good-looking bloke seeing me in my tracksuit bottoms was no incentive. We chatted for a while. She described her new manager at the pub who had trouble changing the optics, and I told her about Mr Hirshman's decision to create a stationery log-book to prevent the disappearance of propeller pencils, but actually I was working up to my announcement. After I'd made it there was a pause.

She blinked. ‘Is this my mum's fault?'

‘What? No, it's got nothing to do with your Mum.' Though it did, a bit. Me and Paula always had good chats when I called for Maggie. She'd lent me a few copies of
Spare Rib
, one of which contained a three-page feature about Greenham,
For years men have left home for war but now women were leaving home for peace
. I'd carried it around all week, re-reading it under my desk. Maggie, twizzling her cigarette, fixed her eyes on me.

‘Because she only went for the afternoon, and anyway, she's going through the menopause. She's got a book.'

‘I've handed in my notice.'

‘Te-
ssa
.' She said my name the way she'd say it if I'd just given ten pounds to a tramp, then took a deep disbelieving drag on her B&H. ‘Why?' The smoke filtered into a smog between us.

‘Because this is more important.'

She flicked her ash. ‘But those weapons aren't even here yet.'

‘That's the point – to stop them coming.'

She assessed me. ‘Listen, I know you like politics, and to be honest,' she held up a hand, palm flat, ‘fair play. You're clever.' Maggie always insisted on my intelligence because I'd taken A levels, but she was the one could park on a sixpence and add up half a dozen drinks in her head. ‘Just answer me honestly…'

I waited.

‘Is it because of Tony?' She didn't wait for an answer. ‘You need to get away, right? Because I know what it's like, not wanting to bump into someone.' Maggie had experienced at least five break-ups by my reckoning. ‘But there are alternatives. You could get a job at Butlins. Theresa Matthews got a summer job helping with the kids' club, she said it was brilliant.'

‘Maggie, I'm not going to Butlins, I'm going to Greenham Common.'

She exhaled and pressed the orange cigarette butt into the ashtray. ‘Honestly Tessa, I don't get you sometimes.'

‘You're supposed to be my friend. You're supposed to support me.'

‘I am your friend, and a friend would tell you not to go and live outdoors with a load of lezzers.'

I'd known Maggie too long to be angry. We listened to Graham stacking the glass-washing machine. The jukebox was broken again.

‘I always thought he had a wonky eye,' said Maggie.

‘Who?'

‘Tony Mercer.'

It had never occurred to me.

‘You'll come back won't you, you won't go for long?'

I didn't know how long I'd be going. Long enough to make a difference. Long enough to make a change. ‘Come and visit.'

‘Me?'

‘Why not?'

‘Yeah, okay.' But I couldn't tell if she meant it.

We moved off the subject then and she described plans for her twenty-first. She was hiring a function room in the old town, but wasn't sure whether to invite Kerry Granger because she had an idea Kerry was after Dale Abbot and she thought me and Dale would be perfect together. I could see it was her way of keeping me connected to Stevenage, but the possibility of romance with Dale Abbot wasn't enough, and as she talked, I was more confident than ever that I was doing the right thing.

*

The night before I left, Mum insisted I wash my hair thoroughly because God knew when I'd have the chance to get it near a bottle of
Timotei again. She said I could ring them anytime and Dad would come and pick me up. I said that was nice, but I was nineteen, old enough to drink and vote and get married, and I'd be fine. She said I was to be sensible and not get myself into any trouble with the police because some of those women were bound to be rough and there would be anarchists about. She said she knew I could lead my own life, but she and Dad had been around a bit longer – those women weren't all there to ban the bomb, some of them were there for other reasons. Never mind what other reasons, she said, I could use my imagination.

I'd laid everything out on the bed the way I did before holiday, except this time there were no white plastic sunglasses or Bermuda shorts. Along with my new donkey jacket, jeans, jumpers and toiletries, I'd included: a bottle of tomato ketchup, an alarm clock, travel scrabble, a mouth organ (I'd learn), my diary, a copy of
The Female Eunuch
(this time I'd get past chapter two),
The Second Sex
(ditto) and Mum's copy of
The Wives of Sunset Strip
, which I'd pinched from her bookshelf and hidden at the bottom of my pack for emergencies. Actually Mum had never read the book, it had been an ill-judged Christmas present from one of the ladies she cleaned for. From the news footage I'd seen, it was clear that fingerless gloves were essential because they accommodated fiddly tasks such as lighting matches. I'd nestled a packet of Golden Virginia in my bag too: offering tobacco around might be a good way of making friends. Like in prison.

3

Eco Chic

They've promised Greenham will only be mentioned to add what the director calls a little background colour. They still want to use a photograph.

‘May I see?' asks Jude, leaning forwards from her position on the sofa. She's dressed in wide-legged trousers teamed with a polka-dot blouse, and everything she says has a dramatic edge, as if a camera were permanently trained on her. ‘Hell's teeth darling, where in the world did you get that stuff?' She holds the blockade photo nearer. ‘Did you knit that? The poncho thingy?' I have decided to take this whole experience with a big bucket of salt. Thankfully the filming at Heston Fields is already in the can.

‘No, but someone probably did. People used to drop off donated clothes.'

‘Lulu! Come and see this.' Jude beckons a girl from the crew. ‘The other side of the eighties,' she explains, ‘but you won't be seeing any of that in Hoxton Square. Those dungarees! Shades of Dexy's Midnight Runners, I fear.'

Lulu doesn't look old enough to know who Dexy's Midnight Runners are but she nods in appreciation and says Cool. With her long chestnut hair she reminds me of Pippa.

‘What was it like there?' she asks.

Jude raises an eyebrow, also curious, but I can only muster a cliché.

‘It changed my life.'

She places a slim hand on my knee, ‘And now it's being changed all over again, darling.' I laugh, then realise she isn't joking.

The conversation which follows is orchestrated to seem informal. Jude tells me to relax, pretend it's only the two of us. She asks me to tell her about my lifestyle, so I talk about Easy Green and explain our ethos, how we advise people on low incomes about sustainable living – heat insulation, mostly – which helps reduce their utility bills. Just when I'm working towards another mention of the Heston Fields campaign, she cuts in, ‘Fabulous. Now, this is the key question. Ready?' She allows a pause before it comes. ‘What do you want from your wardrobe?'

‘Oh, um, right…'
This is not a question I've considered much, but something is called for. ‘Well the main thing is probably comfort.'

She re-crosses her legs and the gesture is like a sigh. ‘Ah yes, our old friend
comfort
,' she says using the kind of intonation that might be reserved for the word enema. ‘And where do you buy your clothes?'

‘Umm,' I'm sorting through to remember my last purchase, a striped top from the new high-end charity shop in town. ‘I get a lot of things second-hand.'

She nods as if some puzzle is becoming clear. I mention a few things about landfill and sweatshops, before Zeb the director steps in, ‘We'll have to stay off this Tessa, if you don't mind. Don't want a political broadcast.'

BOOK: Love and Fallout
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ads

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