#NaNoWriMo: Comfort in a Cotton Frock – 2nd November

#NaNoWriMo Day 2

In which I plug on bravely.

Tom & Sarah in their parents' pyjamas © Sarah Vernon

Tom & me in our parents’ pyjamas © Sarah Vernon

A house. A home. It’s not what I think it will be. I want to be back on the barge, our lovely lumbering Dutch barge moored on the river at Chiswick or heading, perhaps, to Greenwich for repairs.  I long to watch the swans swanning past with their furious, unseen paddling.  Oh, to fall over in the mud again at low tide. I want to run around on deck and delight in the occasional puffin or red-necked grebe and the unobservant cormorants swooping in and out.

The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag

The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out

But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.*

I’ve never seen the bears but I can say this ditty off by heart because Daddy recites it when he says goodnight.  But he doesn’t come and say good night often.

I don’t care if Mummy tells me off or Daddy shouts at us for getting in the way.  I just want to mess about on the river with Ratty and Mole.  And Toad if he should ever toot-toot over to our bend of the river.

“You’ll get used to it, darling, I promise.” I look at Mummy and see how happy she is to be on dry land.  This makes me happy enough.


“Go to sleep!”


“I said go to sleep!”

I can’t sleep.  I can’t sleep because Tom is making noises in the bunk below.  I can’t sleep because I have to get up for my first day at the big school and I’m frightened.  I’m frightened by what the other children will be like and whether they’ll like me  and whether they’ll tease me and bully me for speaking so posh and having mouse-coloured hair and being so shy.  I want to be all grown so that nothing like that will bother me ever again. Oh, I want to be grown so much. It’s so unfair to be small and frightened. And podgy. And plain. So plain that no one tells me I’m lovely.  Oh, oh, but there was that nice man once when my parents had a party in our tiny garden with a swing . “Do you know what he said about you, Chookie?  He said, ‘Why does everyone make a fuss of Tom. Why aren’t they making a fuss of Sarah? She’s so beautiful’.” Mummy doesn’t tell me until later and I’m flummoxed by the faraway look in her eyes. Why doesn’t she ever tell me I’m beautiful?

Wednesday Anne doesn’t take us to school any more. Gun-Brit-from-Finland takes us. Gun-Brit-from-Finland lives in the big bedroom. Me and my brother think the same: ‘”‘Snot fair.”

Gun-Brit is pleasant but not very reliable.  I love saying her name, relishing the satisfyingly hard sounds of the consonants within. One day, when she picks us up from school, she leaves me behind on the platform at Kew Gardens.  The train comes in but when I look round for her and Tom, they’re not there.  I can feel my tummy starting to churn when I catch sight of them already on board.  I throw myself through the closing doors of the next carriage and get squished The other passengers pries me free and brush me down and make sure there’s no permanent damage.

Everyone laughs about it back home.  Except me. I join in the laughter though I wonder if anyone can see the fright. I don’t want to be left alone. Forgotten about. Discarded.

School is nice. The other girls and boys are nice and the teachers are nice, and  I love writing in italics and drinking the milk.  And I love a boy called Nicholas. I’m trying to make him love me but he hasn’t noticed me. Perhaps if I bring my treasured writing case in blue leather to school he’ll notice me. Or maybe, if I fall down and graze my knees, he’ll come to my aid and realise what he’s been missing.  I get to sleep each night by creating happy-ending scenarios.

I wake up wondering why we so often join hands in the playground chanting: ‘We won the war of 1964’. Daddy will know.


“What’s the war we won?” I repeat.

“I don’t know.  Eat your breakfast.”


Tink-a-tink-a-tink-a-tink goes the fork in the bowl. Uncle Roger is making us all scrambled eggs.  He’s older than Daddy and he has an engaging stutter and a lovely sense of humour.  I’m not frightened of him or my aunt, Alison. I’m not frightened of my cousins but we don’t seem to have much in common. They are country while we are town and I know I’m going to be found out.

Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 1
Comfort in a Cotton Frock Day 3

Sarah Vernon © 2nd November 2013

*Christopher Isherwood 1959

Take care and keep laughing!


9 thoughts on “#NaNoWriMo: Comfort in a Cotton Frock – 2nd November

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