Voices

Atonement

Ever wanted to apologise for something but don’t know where to start? In our regular series where our writers atone for their past sins, Sue Elliott-Nicholls pretends her husband is dead. Well, we’ve all done that.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

We were young mummies, three toddlers between us, when Lou and I decided it’d be a “right laugh” to take them to an old-fashioned caravan site in Clacton-on-Sea, an ironic throwback to our own childhoods.

What we hadn’t banked on was rain, fractious toddlers in a caravan and a clubhouse full of UKIP supporters. We got through it though, by drinking large amounts of red wine and starting up smoking again.

On the drive home (Lou had gone in her own car) the sun finally came out (yes NOW it decided to make an appearance) and passing signs for Frinton-on-Sea I decided to take a detour.

Frinton-on-Sea: suddenly I had been transported from Romper Stomper To Dad’s Army. I parked up; we were going to have a golden afternoon by the sea together before getting back to London if it was the last thing I did.

We were both strung out: me from lack of sleep, fags and alcohol, him from lack of sleep and being a toddler, but after an hour building a sandcastle on the beach in the sun, my nerves were going from a sharp jangle to a faint wobble.

“I smiled sweetly at the old folks who were clearly discussing whether to light the pyre or get out the ducking stool, then flicked a threatening bitch-mum stare at my son and hissed a warning through gritted teeth.”

We popped gaily into ye olde teashop for a spot of lunch. As we walked in, heads turned. What? Surely we didn’t look that rough? OK, we were the only people under 65 and we were conspicuous in that we didn’t resemble extras in an Enid Blyton movie, but other than that I could see no reason for their obvious displeasure.

I smiled politely as their acid glances began to burn into my already faltering self-esteem, I could feel the anxiety level begin to rise again: it had been 100, gone down to 75 and was rapidly on the way back up.

Of course my toddler picked up on this (toddlers do), fuelled by the sleep-deprived chaos of the weekend, he began pushing his plate of sausage and chips dangerously close to the edge of the table, staring at me in stubborn defiance.

I smiled sweetly at the old folks who were clearly discussing whether to light the pyre or get out the ducking stool, then flicked a threatening bitch-mum stare at my son and hissed a warning through gritted teeth, causing him to have a full-on tantrum and throw his ketchup-covered fork hurtling across the tea shop.

We all watched. It was as if time slowed down as it flew through the air and landed right next to one of the powdered ladies’ sensible shoes.

As I shakily attempted to calm him down enough to get him out of the door, the dusty toupee-wearing proprietor sidled over to ask me to keep my child under control. I burst into tears: real ones, that had been brewing all weekend.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, “It’s just that his dad died last month and this is the first time we’ve been out since then. We’re just leaving.”

“Oh dear, I’m sorry,” he simpered. “Please, take all the time you need.”

That showed him and his Miss Marple entourage. Am I sorry? I should be but I’m not. Is his dad dead? No, his dad was, and still is, very much alive.

@Sweliotknickers

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Written by Sue Elliott-Nicholls

Sue Elliott-Nicholls is an actress and writer. Often heard washing her dirty laundry on Woman’s Hour. Sue is currently on your TV screens playing Moody Margaret in Horrid Henry and Nanno in Hugglemonsters, as well as appearing in Tracey Ullman's show on BBC1. She is also a lone female voice attempting to be heard in a family of Alpha males.