Childhood Books

My favourite stories when I was five were the Greek Myths my mother read to me. They were ‘as told to children.’ But I realise now that they all came straight from Ovid. I was obsessed with Mercury and was comforted when I found a statue of him in the courtyard when I went very unwillingly to school. He was my refuge from all the noise and confusion, and I sat at his feet at playtime. It was a prep school where, due to my background, I was not allowed to fit in.  The 1950’s hadn’t changed the world much. I was relieved when we moved to a village, and I went to an ordinary school.

     I read all of Monica Edwards and that caused me to cycle to visit every horse I could find within about ten miles. It also got me a job in a hunt stable at the age of ten, in exchange for free riding lessons. Monica Edwards gradually let the children grow up in her stories at about the same pace as me.

     The fields around the village were a great place for the play of imagination. That’s where C.S. Lewis came in. After I read the first book, aged about nine, I found so many doors into Narnia. I don’t think I identified with any of the children particularly. I was just myself in that world. I had my own adventures there.

     After that I read any book that landed in front of me, romances, crime, thrillers, James Bond, Austen, the Bronte’s, Dickens, Wilke Collins, J.B. Priestley and even Jung but no fantasy until at sixteen I found Lord of the Rings. I was regularly painting signs for a local bookshop, and I asked them to pay me in books instead of money. I read the whole fantasy shelf and discovered George MacDonald whose descriptions and strangeness I loved.

     I read a lot of poetry too. The Beat Generation were a new phenomenon. But I liked Wordsworth and Keats and Dylan Thomas more and the lines of a poem that have stuck in my head my whole life is from Wordsworth. I remembered seeing the world like that as a child.

‘There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.’

Dylan Thomas infected me with an almost sensual love of words and his poem ‘Fern Hill’ has the same vision of childhood.

Perhaps I am an escapist, but I don’t think so. It’s the clarity of the vision that attracts me.

My Nan

Coffee, toast and three paracetamols were my Nan’s medicinal solution to everything. Ah, no, tea. And it was always aspirin back then. If your throat was sore, she would bring out her special mixture of lemon and paregoric and a little tin of Zoobs. I am not even sure what paregoric is, but I know you aren’t allowed to buy it now. She didn’t give you much sympathy. No coddling. We were just told to go to bed and get on with it but later she would bring up beef broth. I have tried making beef broth over the years but it’s never anything like hers.

My Nan used to crochet blankets made up of little squares and she was quite the wizz with a sewing machine. The clothes she made were better than we got in the shops. She told me her first job was picking pins up off the floor for a dressmaker. She was about twelve. After that she moved on to wrapping parcels. She was always very proud of her ability to wrap a neat parcel with as little brown paper as possible. Granny’s parcel boasts were a bit of a family joke. So were her fairy cakes. My father once said he liked them, so he got them every time we went round.

My brother went to live with her for a while. He said he liked the cheese and tomato sandwich she put in his packed lunch, which was wrapped in a neat grease proof parcel of course. I am sure you can guess what happened. Yes, cheese and tomato sandwiches, every blessed day thereafter.

My Mum used to say my Nan was hard. I think she just had a dry, caustic sense of humour. My Gran was a realist. She made me laugh. The best reassurance she ever dished out was ‘cheer up ducks, it may never happen,’ and I have found that it rarely does, whether you want it to or not.

Coal Dust and Soap Powder

That smell reminds me of winter. In summer the washing was hung on the line, so it smelled of fresh air and sunshine but in winter it was hung over the clothes horse and stood by the fire to air. A coal scuttle stood close to the fire. Coal dust and soap powder, a strange combination, one I am unlikely to smell again but if I did, I would be straight back in that high ceilinged room with the big bay window and red and gold patterned carpet. The carpet was cut up later and put into two smaller rooms.

Rain

The rain was constant all night. I listened as it drummed heavily on the outside window ledge. Blocked gutter, for sure. In the morning the rain had stopped. I looked out of my bedroom window at the pavements. The smooth tarmac had a damp gloss and the world looked clean.

     Before breakfast, I took a coffee outside and sat on the bench regardless of the damp patch it made on my pants. The grass was waterlogged and felt spongy. It smelled good out there. I can never quite define the smell after rain but it’s slightly metallic unless it’s fallen on hot earth. 

     I was happy to see the blackbird and threw him some raisins and sunflower seeds I had brought down especially, hoping he would come. The clouds were clearing, and little patches of blue were appearing. The smell of frying bacon wafted over the fence from next door. She was yelling at the kids again. The blackbird flew off and I went back indoors.

A Ginormous Pom-Pom

I turned the corner, and there, coming towards me was a ginormous pom-pom. It was dressed in a pink and purple knit cover, and it swayed as it came towards me. It looked extremely confident. At that moment I felt far from confident. I was sure I was having delusions, until it pushed me up against a brick wall and squished me. I couldn’t breathe. It was in all the papers later. The BBC showed it on the news. No-one knows where it came from. It’s made me a bit agoraphobic.

A picture to use as a writing prompt.

Butterfly Dreaming

This picture was created in Virtual Reality by posing an avatar, placing static butterflies around her and adjusting the inworld lighting. The resulting photograph has not been edited.

If you decide that you would like to use it as a writing prompt please post the link to your blog page in Comments.

The Gnome at Your Door

The gnome at your door is not what you think!

He was a proud elven warrior, well-versed in poetry and lore, an excellent harpist descended from Lugh of the Silver Hand, his mother a promiscuous nymph.

When he witnessed the Industrial Revolution he shrunk in stature, fleeing to the fields to hide.

Years later he went to the Somme. It was then his heart turned to stone and broke clean in half. He was transfixed, unable to move, deformed.

How he arrived in our shops I don’t know. I pray that he doesn’t either.

Bow with respect as you pass.

Sad City

The buildings in that part of town had seen better days. The white paint was peeling from classical porticos, the concrete steps were stained, the tall sash windows needed fresh paint and the curtains that hung limp behind them were worn and in need of a wash. If they were washed, they might fall apart. The trees at the edge of the pavement, too closely hemmed in tried to push up the slabs. I notice a dandelion thrusting its way through a crack by the wall. That made me smile for a moment, but the mood didn’t last. 

I turned and walked into a shabby little park with sparse grass and bare stunted trees. Then I saw her; a misplaced middle aged fairy-tale geisha in a long, fitted, brocade dress that had once been the colour of dark jewels but was now faded and made me think of thick dust. She took small hesitant steps. Her hair was up, piled on her head. Her delicate oriental face and her fragile neck were beautiful but outlined by deeply imbedded smoky grey grime.

I imagined her room in one of those houses, feeling sure she lived alone with her old treasures. I couldn’t imagine her cleaning her room. Why would she bother?

I would have liked to invite her to tea, with full ceremony and grace, but I didn’t approach. I was young then. She must have died long ago. 

Broken Mirror

It was new moon when we moved into the new house and, when my mother unpacked the mirror, it was broken. She was distraught. ”Seven years bad luck! And it’s already cut my finger!” My mother is very superstitious. But my grandmother, dragging the first aid box out from under a purple blanket and a pile of old books, said ‘No problem, love. Take is out back to the stream. Bury it under running water. Then bow to the moon. That will sort it. I’ll go and buy us all fish and chips while you do it.’

Now my mother is no longer the person she was. She forgot to bow to the moon that night and grandma drowned in the stream the next afternoon.

His Spirit

If I compared him to a horse, he was sweet natured and easily lead. Faced with aggression he would posture, curl his lip and say grrrrrr. He was a teddy bear. But his wit was as quick as a monkey. His intelligence flashed. His memory was elephantine.

He passed through the doors of perception, almost unscathed, but his sensitivity was heightened until he could barely survive. Cut loose in a field with the gates open wide he ran and was lost from sight. There were too many tigers out there. They sunk their claws in his back.