Living Between the Lines

I Meant to Say


There are some things  I wish I had said but didn’t, some things I did say but wish I hadn’t.

I don’t suppose any of us get it right all the time. Indeed, what would we do if given a second chance to say what we had wanted to say all along? Would we take it? Would it change things for the better? I dare not guess but, just to set the record straight, here are a few of the things I would like to say if I had my time again…

As a school girl:

To my Irish, English teacher, *Sister Marguerite, who came across to where I sat and said:
“Deborah, you are a very pretty girl, don’t let it spoil you,”
To whom I responded,
“Thank you, I won’t,” blushing scarlet from my neck upwards while one of my friends sat at the desk behind me and studied me in amazement, I wish I had said,
“Thank you. That is possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. You have no idea what you have done for my confidence!”(In retrospect, I suspect she knew exactly how it affected me).
“What did she just say to you?” my friend asked incredulously. I repeated the words with a shrug,
“Well, I suppose you have got quite a nice face…” my friend agreed after a moment’s consideration.

I was fourteen.

This more than made up for an incident that had happened when I was ten and one which I was probably not supposed to be aware of.

Our father was a policeman. We had recently bought our own house after having to live in police housing for years. The move away from police property set us apart from our new neighbours. These were the days when policeman really were highly respected members of the community.  What I had taken for granted before, the squad car, the uniform, the police presence, was suddenly new to many.

One evening, a lady came to our door carrying a kitchen knife she had found discarded in her garden. She wanted to give it to my father who, as the local policeman, was definitely the man to see.

My mother took it from her and promised to pass it on. The woman struck up a short conversation. I don’t know if she saw me sitting quietly on the stairs in the shadows but she suddenly told my mum,

“You have three beautiful daughters,” My mother, unaccustomed as she was to such compliments perhaps, faltered for a moment and then replied – remember I was listening to every word –
“Oh thank you, well, the older two are, yes,”
In retrospect, I suspect she discounted me as I was so young and the others were in their teens and widely acknowledged as being strikingly pretty girls. At the time I felt as though I had been dealt a major blow.
So, I was ugly was I?

I wish I had tackled her about it there and then but instead, I kept it to myself and consulted the mirror daily to see if there was any sign of the inherent beauty that the other two had been blessed with.

“Thank you, Sister Marguerite for restoring my self-esteem.” 

As a young mother:

I smiled at the lady in the waiting room whose little grandson sat on her knee, staring at my 20 month old daughter. She smiled back. My daughter turned to me and said quietly,
“Mummy, that little boy keeps lookin’ at me.”
“They notice things young don’t they?” the woman commented.
I was puzzled,
“They do?”
“Yes, your little girl just said, ‘That little boy looks different to me’,” she explained.

I was horrified. Her little grandson was of mixed race with black curly hair and big dark eyes but my daughter was only aware that those eyes were watching her.
I wanted to tell her she had misheard but when I tried to, it sounded like some pathetic excuse – a mother trying to cover up what her child had just said. How I would love to say to her now,
“You were so wrong. You misheard. You jumped to conclusions and came up with what you expected to hear. You put the wrong words in my daughter’s mouth. I do hope you listened more carefully as the years went on.”

I remembered this incident some years later when my second daughter, aged 5 and at a new school, was pointing out her new best friend in the school playground.
“That’s Jenny, in the white cardigan,” she said.
I peered at the throng of girls gathered by the classroom door. Several had whitish cardigans on.
“That one with the red shoes?” I guessed,
“No, no mummy, Jenny has black shiny shoes and dark curly hair look – there she is!” Jenny waved back at us.
Out of all the children in the playground, Jenny was the only one who was Nigerian. She had inherited her father’s black skin and her hair was indeed curly. Yet my daughter had struggled to find anything different about her. I had to smile as I remembered that long ago comment. Who says they notice such things at all unless we point them out?

To the extremely rude and vulgar van driver who, seeing me pull into the single lane to pass the traffic-lighted road-works stretching 100 yards, drove at speed towards me, thus blocking my exit, screeched  to a halt, wound down his window and screamed,
“Stupid [expletive – expletive] I had right of way here – the light was green! [expletive upon expletive]”
I would like to say,
“Excuse me Sir, but the light at my end was also green when I started to move and as you could see me coming from way up the road, you should have waited. Perhaps the lights are broken. Either way, there is no excuse for you threatening me and my children by driving full pelt towards us. You Sir, are an ignorant thug.”
As he thumped the side of my car with his fist I was more inclined to keep my window wound up and wait until he finally reversed to allow me to pass. I only managed to call out,
“The light was green my end too!” but I doubt he heard.

What did amaze me about this incident of road rage is that this is a long straight country road and we were the only two cars on it at the time. I can only assume someone else had rattled his cage earlier and he was angry long before he met me.

As an older and possibly, wiser me

Still on the road-rage theme…

To the lady who jumped out into the road and waved me down, not long after we moved here back in 2002, shouting and snarling,
“It’s Thirty miles an hour!”
“Dear Lady, as I drove around the corner I saw you by the road. I also saw someone lying by the side of your car. I know I am driving a blue Golf but I am driving it at less than 20 miles an hour until you suddenly begin waving frantically.
‘Someone is hurt,’ I think and I speed up to all of 30 miles per hour which is the speed limit on this rural road. Thinking I am going to have to jump out and help, I slow down as I reach you. To my surprise, you jump out into the road, wave your arms about and snarl,
“It’s 30 miles an hour! Slow down!”
The man has stood up and is dusting himself down – apparently, he was just looking beneath the car and is not hurt at all. I drive slowly past you with a bemused expression on my face. But dear lady, I think you thought I was one of the boys from up the road who also has a blue Golf and drives it like a maniac past your house every day (I’ve seen him). Were you as shocked to see me as I was to see you glaring into my windscreen?”

I no longer have my blue Golf and I don’t think the lady has ever recognised me since. The next time I walked by she smiled and called out, “Good morning,” I wish I could point out her error from years gone by but I can’t, the time is past.

Sticking with cars for a while –

To the person who ‘keyed’ my shiny new car when I parked it in Fareham car park a couple of years ago,
I wish I’d been able to meet you and ask,

To the person who stole my son’s bike when he was ten I’d also like to ask,

With burglary on the agenda I would quite like to ask the thieves who broke into our rented villa in Cyprus the other year, stealing laptop, phones, ipods, passports, sunglasses and bags,
“Was the pool-man in on the robbery?”
(We have our suspicions)

A few random ones too… 

To the elderly man waiting to cross the road for whom I stopped when no one else would, who then vented his pent-up anger at having had to wait, by thumping the bonnet of my car with his stick as he walked by, I say:
“I understand your frustration but hey, why hit me? I was the one who stopped!” 

To the retired gentleman in the woods, clambering through the shrubbery with his wife, who was waiting for me in a clearing as I walked through with a very wet and muddy Flossie at my heels, and called out,
“It would be better if you kept your dogs under control,”
“Excuse me?”
“I said, it would be better if you kept your dogs under control – we don’t like being splashed,”
(It turned out that Flossie had been running through the trees and as she passed by the couple, she had inadvertently splashed one or both). To them, I would like to say,
“If you don’t like getting splashed then don’t go walking in a very wet wood where there are so many dogs running about. Go to a country park where dogs must be kept on the lead and stick to the main  path. This wood is a well known dog walking spot and dogs are not required to be put on leads.  My dogs are under control.”

Oh, but that is more or less what I did say isn’t it? I must be getting better at saying what I mean then. 

On this occasion, it also pleased me to see, as we continued our walk, that there were five large dogs just as wet and as muddy as Flossie, heading in their direction. 

To the teachers at my primary school who recognised my love of words and allowed me to take centre stage in the school hall and read aloud to the assembled parents and children time after time, I say,
 “Thank you, you knew I could make my voice reach the back of the hall and that I loved to read. You ignored the fact that I was quiet in class and was not an out and out extrovert.”
To the teacher, new to the school, who knew nothing of this and told me I was far too timid to read to an audience and refused to let me show her I could, I would like to say,
“What a shame you did not take time to get to know me before labelling me ‘timid’. I would have loved to have continued to stand on that stage and belt out poems from John Betjeman and Ogden Nash or to narrate the school play. Being reserved is not the same as being shy and being quiet does not make me timid.” 

To my mother who once declared as I stood in her kitchen,
“I don’t suppose I’ll ever have any grandchildren,”
I’d like to say (in the kindest way possible),
“There, I have given you five and my sisters, one apiece – is that enough?”
To my children,
“I will doubtless become more like your grandmother as the years go by so watch it, but be warned, you girls are destined to become like me and you boys like your father. Think on!”


To my brother John who died far too young, aged 31:
“I am sorry we didn’t get to do half the things we wanted to do but I am so glad to have had you as a brother, and please be aware that the time you stuck your sandaled foot in my mouth when you were four, complete with grit and dog hair, is a memory hard to erase. Oh and way back in the eighties, when you and Eric knew Julian Clary from the local clubs and told me to watch out for him because he would one day be famous – you were right – he is!” 

There, that’ll do for starters…

Anyone else have things they would like to have said but didn’t?

P.S. *Sister Marguerite came to us from a local Teaching Order and was the only Nun I recall teaching at our school. She was dedicated and fair with a very knowing heart.

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • cj Schlottman

    Deborah, This is just so touching and well written. Yes, I have wished I could take words back, and I wish I had said some things that I didn’t. My mother and I were not close, but I cared for her in her final years. When she refused dialysis when her kidneys failed, she gave us the most wonderful gift – 13 days to say what we needed to say and not say anything we would regret.


  • Laura

    Mother dearest, I too am sobbing away at your beautifully written words. Perhaps one to add…in recent years when you tried to tell me how I’d blossomed by telling me “you’re like the ugly duckling that has turned into a beautiful swan” to which I replied “so you’re saying I was an ugly child” when what I should have said was “thank you, I certainly have moved on from those disastrous wardrobe choices which were only a result of you always encouraging us to be whatever we wanted to be and make our choices” love you x x x

    • Deborah Barker

      Ah Laura, I should have chosen my words more carefully. You were never the ugly duckling (I believe that was said in jest – a very odd sense of humour in our family at times) but just shows how one can repeat a mother’s mistakes so be warned now that you are a mum too!
      I used to love your wardrobe choices, very um unique 😉 XXX

  • Deb

    This is one of my favorites. What a great idea, and each little snippet was so powerful in its own way. Plus, everything came together into one complete, well-woven piece. So lovely

  • Patricia

    I so enjoyed reading your words today – thank you very much.

    My father came from Scotland via Canada – his meanest word he used was “stupid” As a child I always knew that the word was directed towards my behavior not me as a person. I used the word when talking to my children too – meaning I wanted them to think about their actions. One day my second daughter said to me, “Why do you say that, it makes me think I am dumb?” I explained my habit and then tried to not use it any more.

    One day it popped out directed at my mother-in-law, who had done an action I thought was very dangerous for my youngest child at the swimming pool (I had been to the restroom and she did not swim) and the older two girls needed to made a rescue move and I labelled the incident stupid. Mother-in-law began to cry and and went to hide herself in her bedroom until my husband came back home and could soothe her and we began to work it out.

    My youngest throws this moment in my face often and at embarrassing moments. I am pretty unflappable about it and just talk it through each time.

    I was relieved to see that “stupid” is used often by the characters in BBC and BBC Scotland television programs – as a behavior context descriptor.

    Then I went to my Aunt’s Funeral in Canada recently and at the dinner table her grandchildren were bantering the word around and it popped into my head that maybe both my sibling, who had reading problems, thought that my father thought them stupid /intelligence wise , as the word is used in the USA. I am able to check in with my brother and he responded that yes of course, he thought my father was branding his intelligence.

    I always wish I had a quick come back or clever comment to say, but this made me think that maybe I need more to clarify with people…since quick wit is not my style.

    Wow I think I need to share this “stupid” story on my own blog Thank you for the memory and the understanding.

    • Deborah Barker

      Patricia, your story just goes to show the power of words or in this case, of a single word. I do think the word, ‘stupid’ is used over here more to explain behaviour than intelligence but is still quite a strong word. My mother was wont to reprimand herself as well as us, for doing something mildly wrong by saying, “oh idiot,” the word was used for comic value i.e. “look at me and laugh,” in fact she would often be laughing hysterically as she said the words! I can see how someone not used to such usage might think us all being labelled ‘sixpence short of a shilling’ another old saying that I love!
      As I said, the power of words…I look forward to your blog covering this story 🙂

  • Katie Gates

    Oh, Debbie, this one brought SO MANY personal memories to mind that it would be impossible to share one or two here. You definitely hit on the familiar! I was thinking recently about maybe drafting a piece where I share the regrets and take the time to say I’m sorry. (Sort of the flip side of what you’ve done here.) There are a few things I did (or didn’t do) in my life for which I still feel remorse. They are mostly quite minor (and possibly even trivial) in the great scheme of things, but I still feel bad about them.

    Also, I completely relate to this line: “Being reserved is not the same as being shy and being quiet does not make me timid.” I remember, when I was an early teen, being accused of being a “snob” (which, of course, is one of those big deals during adolescence). But I wasn’t. I was simply a quiet person with good posture.

    Thanks for the wonderful, provocative read!

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi Katie, I am quite astonished by the reaction I have had to date for this piece but delighted that it has ‘hit the spot’ for so many. My middle sister would relate to your last few lines – as a teenager she was often thought of as a snob because she walked along with her head held high and long thick hair bouncing on her shoulders as she went. She was in fact just trying to cover up her how self-conscious she was – oh to be as wise then as we are now eh?

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. good to read and with many lessons to be learnt or absorbed, or to realise the errors of our ways – many over the years have I made.

    I’m glad I’ve made peace with my mother these last few years .. I wish the same could be true of my brothers and SILs .. but I can only do for my mother what is best – and learn as I go .. and have fun with my own experiences – if they don’t want to share there’s not much I can do .. other family members and friends appreciate the work and dedication I put in.

    I try and temper my comments with people .. it’s something I’ve learnt through my mother’s illness and reading blogs etc .. we learn so much .. a really good read & delighted your daughters are sharing too .. have great weeks to you all .. Hilary

  • Deborah Barker

    Hi Hilary, tempering comments is a good lesson to have learnt. So easy to say things in the heat of the moment. I think it is a shame when people remain bitter when it is so much nicer to forgive and forget in just about all circumstances. You cannot make people change though and it sounds as though you are much appreciated by the rest fo the family. The warmer weather seems to have come again today here – I hope you have a good week!

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