The car was packed with the usual 1970’s beach paraphernalia – picnic hamper, deck chairs, blanket and windbreaker. We, that is Mum, Dad my brother and I were on our way to the beach. We were almost at our destination when I happened to glance down at Ma’s feet and saw black fur.
There were a couple of possibilities..
a) She’d bought along a cat, though this was unlikely as she’d gone off cats since one had the audacity to use the dining room table leg as a scratching post.
b) Her toe-hair was seriously out of control.
Also unlikely as Ma was posh and didn’t do toe-hair. In the end I went with the most obvious conclusion that she’d unknowingly committed a most heinous fashion faux pas.
‘Mum, why are you wearing your slippers?’ I piped up from the back seat.
Ma looked down, said a word totally forbidden to us kids, then had a go at us for doing her head in – thus making her forget to change into her sandals.
When I say slippers, I mean 1970’s slippers.
Like these only in black.
I look at these slippers and I’m instantly transported back to the 70’s and Barry White making sweaty lurve to Ma via Dad’s HiFi speakers.
After giving us a bollocking she ordered Dad to do an about turn – which he wasn’t having any of as we were almost there. He told her she’d have to buy a pair of flip-flops from one of the seafront shops.
Now for us kids.. flip-flops were part of the holiday experience. We had a bucket, spade, a pair of flip-flops and the promise of an ice-cream if we behaved. Tall order as were were little gits, but it gave us the incentive to try.
I loved the flick-flacking sound they made as I flipped across the sand. I did Ma’s head in with my incessant flick-flacking. Once they were on they stayed on for the rest of the holiday. They always seemed to go missing once back home. Bit mysterious, that. Or not.
Ma wasn’t a flip-flop kind of woman. She worshipped Dr Scholl – only they were back in the caravan..
Despite the risk of amputation via the toe-post, I’d always preferred flip-flops. A lot of the girls at school had Scholl’s. I’d tried Ma’s once when she was distracted by Corrie but they felt heavy and didn’t have the same satisfying tone of flick-flack as the flops.
So Dad was dispatched into a shop and he came out with a pair of canary yellow flip-flops. By the look on Ma’s face you’d think she’d been asked to clean out the gent’s bogs without Marigolds. She flung her slippers in the boot and put the flip-flops on.
After we’d set up camp on the beach she had a cup of tea – chained her way through a few Silk Cut’s and after a while she finally stopped glaring at the flip-flops. And us.
In those days deck chairs were for the oldies. No fancy kiddie chairs like we have today, I should coco! If we were lucky we had a blanket to sit on or an old towel but no trip to the seaside was complete without taking half the beach back in the gusset of our swimwear. Add to that a cup of lukewarm squash, a cheese sandwich (literally) and some soggy crisps because some div (probably me) had knocked their drink over.
At some point Dad had given into our relentless mithering to be taken for a walk along the beach. Ma and her flip-flops came along too.
It was all going well – a proper picture postcard moment – until we came across some quick sand. To cut a long story short, Ma got stuck and Dad had to haul her out in a most undignified fashion. After a couple of tugs Ma’s feet were freed but they came out minus a flip-flop.
The beach had claimed it in an act of retribution.
Obviously, saying ‘As soon as we get back, these sodding things are goin in the bin!’ invoked the god of flip-flop’s wrath. So let my mother’s lesson be a warning to you. Never diss the flops!
We probably shouldn’t have laughed as hard as we did but kids tend to laugh at stuff like that. She wasn’t in any real danger and in any case, Dad was on it faster than Usain Bolt off the starting blocks. The only real danger was that I might actually have wet myself laughing!
Of all the holidays we’ve had that day has always stayed with me. My childhood, as far as my family was concerned, was a happy time. As the years went by and after a few glasses of wine I’d remind Ma of the day she went to the beach wearing her fluffy slippers and she’d laugh after giving me the obligatory playful slap on the wrist for being a cheeky cow.
Now she’s gone and the memory is bittersweet. It never fails to make me smile. I’ve tried to it justice in this post but you really had to be there.
I feel sad because she can no longer share it with me.
Ultimately I feel blessed to have memories like this and there are plenty more where this came from. Ma may be gone but her legacy is one of love and laughter. I can’t look at a yellow flip-flop or mule slipper without smiling.
My mother was a comedy writers wet dream. I often wonder if Roy Clarke, the writer of Keeping Up Appearances, came across my mother somewhere along the way because she was a real life Hyacinth Bucket. Sorry, Bouquet!
The highlight of my childhood was making my brother laugh so hard that food came out of his nose. Garrison Keillor
Photo of 1970’s mule slippers used with the kind permission off a bloke from Ebay.