When my children were younger and I used to see the Mum’s Taxi sign hanging disconsolately in the back of, well, a Mum’s Taxi, it struck a not insignificant amount of fear into my exhausted body. From where would I find any extra time to transport my children three times around the county on any given day, the way it appeared mothers and fathers of teenage children quite happily seemed to do? When did those parents find time to cook and clean and read and play and work and clear away the Happy Street?
What I couldn’t imagine when the teeny tots were scuttling everywhere, me and various house-hold items in their wake, was that these babies would grow into individuals who didn’t actually need, nor want, to spend every moment attached to my left foot. Indeed, once fed and watered after a hard day at school, they would drift off to friends’, to the garden or to a varying assortment of pitches and screens, and even sometimes to their homework.
Thus, I discovered, that far from not minding this extra draw on my time, I actually relish it. It’s the chance to be alone and chat with my children without all the other demands on our time and attention that exude from the four distracting walls of home.
There’s more. With Mum’s Taxi comes the humble café stop. Yes! I exclaim a little too readily, Of course I’ll pick you up. No rush. Quickly I sort through my mental map of Harrogate, searching for the nearest, yet least frequently visited, coffee shop (lest the owners should think I have nothing better to do) in which to meet. I do all in my power to arrive early, and hope that my daughters arrive late, so that I can order my cappuccino, place myself next to the window and People Watch.
All in the name of writing, of course.
Today, I’m fascinated by speed and the different pace people use to walk up and down the main shopping street. It says so much about them and their lives - real or imaginary. There are the loving strollers, not simply moving slowly because they are in no hurry to part, but because their foot intercepts the other person’s and at this speed, their brains can automatically prevent them from getting in a tangle.
There are the bouncing teenagers who gallop one by one up to the quickly forming group of friends which will soon amount to eight. Each issues a hug and two kisses to the existing members, the next to arrive repeating the operation, like an affectionate version of I Went To Market And Bought…’. If you look really closely, you can see which of the 14 year olds is comfortable with this. I’ll use that, I think, and realise that although both my novels span three generations, I’ve never yet featured a teenager.
Then come the mothers, fathers and grandparents, each with a child at the end of their fingers-tips, walk-running behind, seemingly unfazed by this most uneconomical stop-start method of travel.
A minority of people scurry, darting in and out of the other shoppers, barely looking up to do so, perceiving their presence like a bat making full use of its sonar system.
Some people have very large, determined strides, I notice, their back straight, shoulders down, one arm swinging army-like at their side, the other clutching at the purchases which have made them late for wherever they’re going. And it’s one such man who walks purposefully, but without haste, to the front entrance of Marks and Spencer, stops, looks once right and left, then to his watch and the clock diagonally above his head. He gives an unnecessary cough into his fist, tugs at the hem of his cord jacket. He doesn’t stand still, rocks a little instead, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He’s getting cold, stuffs his hands into his pockets, removing the right only to compare the time on his watch to the large clock advertising H. Samuel, thinking that checking both will make the time pass twice as quickly.
Does he know her well? I ask myself, wondering if it’s really possible to work out whether this shuffle of a dance is born out of excitement, irritation or the cold. And why have I assumed he’s expecting a woman?
Still he waits, more people flow past with their varying stride length and extensive assortment of arm movements, until eventually he stops his marching, offers one final glance to the clock and another more pointedly to his watch and forces a smile. You’re late! I know he says, because he puts his hand on the female’s back and pushes her in the direction they clearly need to go as he speaks. It’s a teenager for whom he's been waiting - his daughter. It’s clear because when he goes to place a kiss on top of her head, she wafts it away, no doubt with a scrunch of her nose. With matching long strides, heads held high, they walk faster than everyone else. I lose sight of them.
I have another sip of my coffee. He needs to discover coffee shops, I think to myself, and I start to write.