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July 3, 2009

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up.

Not a cowgirl like Calamity Jane, a proper cowboy.  This was not a fashion statement, although I did love my little faux leather waistcoat and my star-shaped sheriff’s badge. I also loved quick-draw shooting all of the neighbourhood cats and assorted other roaming creatures, which was always followed by blowing smoke away from the end of my pistol before replacing it smartly in its holster that hung jauntily at my hip.  A quick getaway from the baddies was always possible on my trusty steed, the bright orange palomino space hopper that was such a brilliant all-terrain mode of transport.

And strangely enough, in my garden, just like in all of the cowboy films that I was actually allowed to watch, the sun was always shining.

Those were the days, and I know I’m not the first to drift off into a whimsical reverie of times past, remembering the long, hot endless summers of an English childhood.  Why did they last so long, stretching far into the future with no end in sight?

I remember one summer we had a plague of ladybirds.  They were everywhere.  I collected as many as I could find and put them into a matchbox just to see how long it would take to fill it.  Job done within half an hour.  Some time later we had the greenfly invasion but these silent pests were a little creepy and covered everything in the garden.  If I’m not mistaken, ladybirds are partial to greenfly dinners so perhaps I have remembered them in the wrong order.  Maybe the ladybirds came after, not before, as a result of the bountiful food supply.

Since we’ve been Dutchside (12 years now) there have been at least two infestations of chunky, slightly chavvy-looking spiders that sit boldly in the middle of their huge webs, usually slung between two far-flung bushes, daring you to walk past them.  These boys are definitely not the spindly, slightly drunken-auntie looking arachnids that wobble about on their ridiculously long hairy legs with knobbly knees.  No, these are the mildly threatening type that are a little rough around the edges and wouldn’t think twice about sucking the living juices out of your children if they could just bundle them up in their sticky web threads quickly enough.  I digress…

If being a cowboy was an unrealistic career aspiration, then a racing driver or a lorry driver would do – (interchangeable – didn’t mind which really) or a hairdresser or a check-out girl in our little local general shop.  It stood next door to the flower shop on the one side, which was run by a certain Miss Chart, who had teeth to rival those of Esther Rantzen in the early years, and Harty’s on the other side, our local sweetie shop that had an impressive display of penny chews in small, empty Flora tubs beneath the open-fronted counter.  They must have got through a lot of Flora in the Harty household.  In the latter years, the ‘Floral’ display had to be protected behind glass, not, I hasten to add, because of over-zealous hygiene regulations (they didn’t exist then) but sadly, due to too many black jacks, fruit salads, space ships and cola bottles being spirited away without any exchange of money.  A sad indictment of the times and progress, I suppose.

I do not understand what the particular attraction was for me in wanting to become a cashier – the cowboy, the racing driver or the lorry driver all have quite obvious appeal but this latter secret ambition does intrigue me.  I used to raid the store cupboard at home and dump my booty unceremoniously onto the kitchen table where I would enter each item into the improvised cash desk i.e. the family calculator with EXTREMELY BIG BUTTONS.  My greatest wish at this point was to acquire one of those calculators with a roll of paper so that I could print receipts.  Alas, this was another ambition never to be realised.

One day I was sent to buy some sugar.  The lady in front of me had a collection of items that totalled something like £1.10½.

‘Would you like the half?’ she enquired of the assistant.

When it came to my turn, and I was informed of the amount I had to pay, which was a full round number with no halves, I took out my giant purple suede granny purse that made a loud ‘snap’ noise as you clicked it open or shut, asked:

‘Would you like the half?’

in a misguided effort to be helpful, and tipped all the contents of the purse into the assistant’s outstretched palm.  Out fell a folded pound note, followed by an enormous pair of false eyelashes. These latter actually seemed to bounce into her palm and sat there quivering as she and I both stared in surprise at them and I turned a deep shade of beetroot that surely must have been visible from outer space.  I remember being mortified, partly because I was trying so hard to be grown-up and had been caught out, dammit, and partly because I was a real tomboy and hated all things girly viz make up etc.  The falsies were a feature of the disguise kit I had received for my birthday that included a roll of what seemed to be plaited pubic hair, which could be unfurled, cut to the requisite length and then fluffed up to make a very stylish set of Frida Kahlo eyebrows or a Charles Bronsonesque moustache.  So really, any Secret Agent like me should not have shown any surprise at all when the purse that doubled as a storage container yielded its unexpected bounty along with the cash.

Later career aspirations, following a useless (but lots of fun achieving it) degree in French literature, progressed to a physiotherapist or helicopter pilot.  How is it then that I drifted, like so many women I know, into uninspiring administrative jobs?  The one thing I have learnt from all of this is that I will encourage my children as much as I can to choose a vocation, or to find something tangible towards which they can aim.  It’s just finding that enigmatic something which causes all the problems.  I’m still waiting for that lightbulb moment where I wake up one day knowing what it is I want to be.

It’s never too late for that, is it?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2009 12:30 pm

    What a great post. I can never remember what I wanted to be when I was little. Mind you, I never stopped reading so perhaps I was too caught up in the world of other people to care about real life!

    • purplejake permalink*
      July 6, 2009 8:21 pm

      Hi Dancinfairy, thanks for your comment. Just visited your site – how exciting that your special someone will be dropping in later this month! Hang on in there…


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