02 November 2016


There are Irish travellers on Selly Oak Park now — I saw them over the weekend when I took the kids to the park to play. I saw the caravans first and wasn't sure what to make of it and then it suddenly made sense. I took an Instagram photo like a tourist and the kids asked if they were camping, and I said, yes, sort of. We walked back up to the play area and the kids played on the zip line, and a white Ford Ranger with a twenty-something kid at the wheel rolled up on the grass past me. We leered at each other and I don't remember what I said, but he shouted, 'Why don't you mind your own business?' I said, This is my business, and he laughed and said something like, 'What are you going to do, four eyes?'

He started to pull out towards the main road, but he turned the car back to me, pointed it and reved the engine. I sent the kids running to the jungle gym, but then he did a donut on the grass, spinning around and around, before peeling off. The girls went back to playing and I called the police. A man was there on the playground, without any kids, in a track suit and I wondered if he was one of them too. People say you can just tell, that you just know, but I don't. The American is useless at the pub quiz, there are so many things he doesn't know.  Like the vicar at my church mentioning to me a philosopher I think I am supposed to recognise and have read. I don't. I haven't. I'm sorry.

The police operator sounded tired and bored and I suddenly had the sense we needed to run, to get away. I told the kids we had to go and they complained, but I got angry and hustled them off to the car: we'll go back up to the park by the house, where it's safer.

The Irish Travellers on Selly Oak Park are like a flash of colour in an otherwise grey autumn that's felt unseasonably warm. I watched YouTube videos of them boxing and some documentary about their history, while quizzing colleagues about them. What other things didn't I know.

My life is less interesting otherwise — we trudge up the hill on Sundays for the church service and Mei is singing in the choir, with the white collar and gown. I go when I feel like I can put my unbelief aside, but there are days that I can't and I retreat away to my work because there is always work to do. The pay slips come and now, the edge is off, like the whole plan might have worked. Now to time travel and go back to me some time in the past, the me that was riddled with anxiety and say it will be okay, yeah? You'll make it through. You're being melodramatic.

The girls have started to organise themselves. This was the promise of having three children in 2010, that September when we decided. I feel like it was something I heard while sitting on the edge of a bed. Yoko now tells me that Naomi has organised the Halloween candy they got so Mia won't eat it in the morning, which she had done even though she had promised she wouldn't. It was my fault: their father laden with an evil spirit about him, I took them out trick-or-treating. The last two Halloweens it's been foggy and brisk, and the girls were full of a kind of energy beyond them. They ran and laughed and Naomi said it was like a paradise for children. This, of course, is what makes it worthwhile. Whatever it is. People ask you how you are and you say the kids are happy. What else matters, anyway.