Happily I did not have to wait long before my childhood memory was activated. My world took on shape and form as my eyes focused and etched lasting images in my brain that are still visible today. I treasure them: they are part of my heritage.
They are mostly country scenes as I lived with my Dad, my aunt and my grandmother in Primrose Cottage in a small village not far from Henley-on-Thames.
We walked in the majestic beech woods, carpeted with bluebells in the spring. Running through the leaves. Falling over and sitting down in a cow-pat – and my Dad cleaning up the mess with his handkerchief!
The annual horticultural show provided a buzz in the village. My grandmother, a keen gardener, submitted her best apples, pears, runner beans, cucumbers and carrots and often came away with the most prizes. “She’s the cat’s whisker!” people used to say. There was much rivalry among the neighbours along the Avenue. It became quite tense as show-time came and went.
The harvest was another landmark event in the life of the village as the combine harvester moved in to reduce the golden ears of wheat to bags of grain, bales of hay and lots of stubble. Tragedy struck one year when Ethel Picton’s cat got mowed down by the big red machine. I was quite distraught… My first memorable encounter with death!
The tragedy was almost as hard for me when Black Sambo, my favourite rag doll, had to be burned on Grannie’s bonfire. I had accidentally dropped BS in the slops pail with all the waste water (before we had main drainage). No way back, sadly. It choked me up as the flames went up into the night sky. My grandmother was always having bonfires. The fact that I never even wanted to smoke cigarettes possibly dates back to those evenings of choking smoke that I had to battle, while intrigued by the fire itself and the red cheeks it gave me.
Night skies in those days were spectacular when there were no clouds. There was little pollution in the country air and the stars blazed overhead from a black sky. They were always clearer and more spectacular on frosty nights.
Saturday night was bath night and I used to have mine first. The ceremony took place on the kitchen floor where I lay in a galvanised iron tub. The water had to be boiled by hand and the right temperature obtained before I climbed in.
The highlight of my day was when my daddy came home. Every weekday evening I would go and stand out by the front gate straining my ears for the sound of the bus coming. Finally a big double-decker would arrive and stop outside the New Inn on the other side of the field. My Dad would get off and I would watch him coming across the path and up the road. Then at the gate he would pick me up and give me a big hug.
Somehow I remember Easters much more than Christmases. Perhaps it was the many chocolate Easter eggs that I used to be given – all decorated with sugar candy and packed in elaborate cardboard containers. Five, six, seven or eight eggs – some big, some small, but all very tasty for a 3-year-old! I think I might have been spoiled…. I made them last for weeks….
Soon, when it was time for my dad to re-marry all this would change and I would need to learn a new environment – a semi-urban scene with old ladies for neighbours… Stay tuned!