I was sunbathing in a deckchair outside my boy and his partner’s house. They don’t have a back garden, but they have a six-feet square unfenced plot of grass and mud between their front door, the wheelie bins and the road, and that’s where they stand and smoke and occasionally sit and socialise. That side of the house is a remarkable suntrap. Unfortunately the grass plot is overlooked on three sides by blocks of the tiniest, shoddiest council flats imaginable, the kind of flats the council reserves for desperate cases. Until I got used to the idea, it felt a bit public, like sunbathing on a roundabout.
But it was too lovely out to be stuck indoors. My boy’s partner had spread an old curtain over the mud and grass, and she and the baby were sitting on that. I’d taken the only chair — an aluminium-framed deckchair I’d given her for Christmas. Then she’d decided to get the paddling pool out and fill it with buckets of water from the hot tap in the bathroom. She had a hysterectomy two weeks ago — five kids by the age of 25 was enough — and she isn’t supposed to lift or carry. But she hates a fuss and came staggering out of the house with two buckets of warm water. Then she sat the baby naked in it, lay down on her belly on the old curtain, rolled herself another fag, and we three sat there at peace with the world as if we were on Brighton beach for the afternoon.
But soon our peace was interrupted by the arrival of a neighbour, her two young boys, and her mother. Under her loose and revealing smock, the neighbour was all bone, sinew and fading tattoo.