Sunday, 22 January 2017

A walk down memory lane

A is off on a church youth residential trip this weekend. I spent the night, doing the grunt work for her, and left her this morning to get on with being an eleven year old without me. I'm told I wasn't too embarrassing; this is a relief. 

It was a glorious morning as I left them 
Much too nice a day to drive straight home again. And so I upset Pat the Sat, turned right instead of left, and found Isham, the village where Grannie lived when I was growing up. 

And I remember. 

Trundling around the garden, with my cousin my playmate, no siblings for either of us yet. Was there really a bottomless well at the corner of the croquet lawn? 

The farmyard behind, the comings and goings and "don't go in there." 
Closing the house up at bedtime, the thick wooden shutters on the windows. 

A whole room just for trains, with stars on the ceiling. The men playing backgammon; my uncle's laugh booming  loud against the quiet night. 

Milk bottle crates; I don't know why. 
And so many lovely hiding places. 

I walk a little farther along the road. 
The gate is open; beyond the wooden door, the service has begun. 
And I remember. 

Sunday mornings, my legs swinging in the high pews, listening to a service which sounds a little like our own, but which is largely sung not spoken. All rise for the Gospel. Chorused Amens and Alleluias; I wonder as a child if Heaven will be this choreographed. 

"from thence he shall come, to judge the quick and the dead." The quick? And are the slow already dead then? I wriggle faster, I do not wish to join them just yet. 

Echoes of Grannie playing the organ, or perhaps it is just this morning's service, decades later. Is it still 1662 inside? 

Outside, in 2017, I cross over the road. 
I turn back, to see the church, and Langton House, and beyond it the village store. And now I am an infant, and my brother and I are staying with Grannie for a while. 

I go to the village school. As a temporary pupil, they do not wish to waste resources, and so with the discovery that I am left handed, I am seated on the seat to the right of an existing pupil. She writes in the front of her exercise book; I write in the back. I do not remember her name, or her face, but I can still see her fingers clutching her pencil, still feel the clash as we both reached the middle of the page. 

I don't remember playtime. Just her shoulder against mine as we sat writing sides to middle in her exercise book. Looking back, I wonder if a new book would really have broken the school's budget? 

After school, I remember Grannie and Colin coming to collect me. An ice lolly from the village stores, and a walk to blow the cobwebs away. 

The same walk, always, then and every other visit. Down the lane, and over the railway bridge. 
The stomp and clang of the metal bridge, and then the delicious thrill of standing on the top as a train came through. The screech and clatter of the train, and the shriek and squeak of the children, terrified as the bridge shakes, but desperate to wait it out and do it again. 

But not today. 

Today, on and over the bridge. A bridge so perfectly designed for pooh sticks, that all other bridges seem mere imitations. After the danger and trauma of the railway bridge, this is a wooden footbridge to stand calmly on, watching the water flow, hunting for trolls maybe, and to run across and into the freedom of the field beyond. 
The horses are new. 
I cannot find the trees we used to climb. Trees with long, low branches, where half a dozen cousins could climb and swing together, with roots for tripping over, and upturned trunks tantalisingly close to the river's edge. 

Nor can I find the flooded millpond, where Grannie let us make rafts from abandoned building supplies, and punt ourselves around until we were thoroughly wet and ready for tea. Perhaps this is just as well. 
Breathing in, all I can smell is crisp, fresh, country air. No hint of the Weetabix from the factory over the field. 

A new generation of dogs and dog walkers; I look in vain for Sally's Dachshunds, and remember carrying them over stubble fields on half term holidays. 

And so back to the village, and more memories there:
 Grannie's new house. The door is the wrong colour now, but the rest seems the same. I wonder if the new owners have a decaying caravan at the bottom of the lane, ready for a new generation of cousins to camp out? 

The dubious privilege of being the eldest; sleeping not in the cosy double but in the precarious plastic hammock. Every wiggle threatening not just my safety, but that of my cousin lying inches below me. 

Musty curtains, dodgy deckchairs, and the ever present croquet set. 

Back in the house, the joys of a proper coal fire. Bagatelle and Shove Ha'penny. Cousin concerts. Lying in bed under the eaves, knowing that anything dropped will roll across the floor to the window; wondering if one night the bed might follow. A dozen blankets, an eiderdown and a quilt. Waking in the night and trying to decide whether to creep through Grannie's bedroom to the upstairs bathroom, or else brave the steep stairs, and the achingly cold kitchen floor, in return for more privacy. 

Melting Moments and Queen of Puddings, and tiny, tiny cereal bowls, my brother's nemesis. The breakfast cloth on the table, always removed before lunch. And napkins with rings, and which one was mine? 

And just around the corner, the garage. A house now, I cannot reconcile this with the concrete floor, the coracle hanging on the wall, and the enormous potting shed table. No ricketty wooden ladder to a treacherous half floor now, I assume, just order and cosiness, and a cottage which looks to have been there forever. 

And now I have walked past the school, and past Mrs Swannell's house, and past Sally's house. Past the kindling shop, and past Mrs. Someone Else's house, past The Lilacs, which looks unchanged, and past the other pub, which has definitely changed. 

Someone is growing vegetables in the chapel grounds, and there is a vast house with a swimming pool where I remember rubble. I see three small cottages being turned into one, and remember that Langton House has itself been divided into two. The railway bridge has been made taller; standing on it, I cannot see over. But the graffiti remains the same. 

The bus shelter is still a bus shelter, and there are people in it waiting for a bus. As I walk past the church again, a lone woman files out and walks back up the road. Surely not the only congregant? 

But I am back to my car, and I must step back into 2017, and drive home ready to be an adult again. I have enjoyed the walk. 



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