North Hill, Minehead
Minehead, South Somerset . Minehead, with the sea lapping the golden beach. Exmoor and the Quantocks on the doorstep. Terry's dream posting. He had achieved his ambition to drive a powerful Road Motor Patrol car - his area stretched from Bridgwater in the north to the Devon border. We were expecting our first baby. We planned to get a dog. We would be a real family. What could be more perfect?
Except that I hated it. I was so lonely, particularly in the evenings! Terry was working 4 shifts - nights, lates, days and earlies, with one weekend in four off. On nights he was getting ready to go to work at 10 pm, on lates (2-10 pm) he was at work, on earlies he wanted to go to bed early so as to be up at 5 am, and on days he often disappeared in the evening for a game of snooker with his partner. I'd always had a good social life, centred mainly around my various amateur drama clubs, but now, pregnant and perhaps a bit homesick, I found it difficult to become involved. Besides, we had the dog we'd wanted, an adorable yellow labador puppy we named Kim, and she couldn't be left alone for long, or she'd have chewed up everything we owned, just as she was chewing up my poor hands and arms! I found young women neighbours on our estate distant and unapproachable - perhaps they were wary of the long arm of the law! - and the other police wives were a tight little clique who'd known each other for ever, so that I felt like an outsider. In summer the town overflowed with visitors, in winter it was shuttered and bleak. When our longed for baby arrived, she cried incessantly when she was put down in her pram or cot, then fell asleep and refused to feed when she was picked up. I think now that maybe she had a neck problem, but it was very trying, and all my plans to walk her out in the afternoons, serene and beautiful in her huge Silver Cross pram, came to nothing. The dog kept going for walkies on her own, and to top it all, we were very, very hard up. I remember checking my purse at the end of the week to see if I could afford half a pound of sausages!
If it hadn't been for all these problems, though, my writing career might never have taken off. Between washing nappies, feeding little Tracey Louise, walking the dog, cleaning, cooking and ironing, I began writing short stories. Turning the ideas over in my head helped keep me sane, and I had the idea of trying to sell one and earning a little spare cash. I tried a story on Annabel, a glossy monthly, and to my enormous delight it was accepted! The cheque they sent me bought a much needed winter coat - £16 it was! - and the thrill of seeing my story in print has never been surpassed.
Not everything about Minehead was bad, of course. In fact, some of it was lovely. When Terry was due off duty at 2 pm we'd take a picnic up onto North Hill and sit amongst the gorse and heather. We'd drive down to Tarr Steps or the Devon coast. One early morning Terry took me down to the front to see the waves crashing over the sea wall; another time he brought home a huge red mullet (I think!) that a fisherman had given him. I loved our house, which had a long garden with a plum tree in it, and when Tracey had passed that interminable crying stage, I used take her for long walks in her push chair to the park and the sea front.
Somewhat amusingly I had my first encounter with garlic in Minehead. I'd found a recipe for spaghetti Bolognese (how exotic!) and it called for "a clove of garlic". I had no idea what that was - and neither did the lady in the greengrocers. She tried to sell me cloves. Eventually I was enlightened, and I still use that recipe today, a great favourite with the grandchildren, who can scarcely believe there was a time when nobody was familiar with garlic bulbs!
But just when I'd got used to the place, it was time for another move. Nailsea - where we lived in the police station that was also the police house and I truly was a real life Heartbeat wife. But that of course, is another story ...!