A Drink at the Crown

She sips a sherry in the lounge bar of the Crown Hotel. Leaning against the panelled walls, she peers through the window, where leaves are falling into the gardens. Sighing, she places the glass on the window sill where the light can fall through it. The sherry looks like distilled autumn.

She had promised she would wait till he returned. But it has been a long wait. Picking the glass up, then putting it down again, she walks back to the fire and then out into the foyer. Looking up the stairs, she sees the whisk of black skirts and rolls her eyes. That woman is about again, poking her nose into the bedrooms, looking for someone who can talk to her. Best stay downstairs. He can’t be much longer.

Back at the window sill, she looks past the staggering, swaggering man in the courtyard and beyond to the bridge over the Stour. There is a girl there, or perhaps a woman. Squinting, she shakes her head. Is the desperate creature really considering throwing herself in? To squander a precious life, what a terrible waste. If only she could…

The main doors open and a blast of cold damp air swirls in with a small group of people and though the room is already full, their entrance makes her turn round. She watches a man and two women find a table as a younger man approaches the bar and orders a pint each of Tanglefoot and Golden Champion and two glasses of dry white wine which he takes to the others.

Her hand on the sherry is shaking and she tenses.

The older man takes a box from his pocket and puts it on the table. The four people raise their glasses in a toast.
“To Henry.”

“To Henry.”

She draws nearer and hovers behind the older man.

“Go on Dad,” says the young woman, “Open it.”

“It’s a bit disrespectful,” admonishes the older woman.

“Mum, what’s disrespectful is that he was blown to smithereens a hundred years ago and the only thing they’ve found is a finger. And that finger and who knows what else has been ploughed up year after year until a few months ago.”

“I know but… it’s a bit gruesome.”

“Mum, it’s our great great grandpa. It’s your great grandpa. It’s family. He’ll be back under ground later.”

Glancing at his wife, who shrugs and thins her lips, the older man opens the box. The four people look inside and tears are forming in their eyes.

But she doesn’t notice them. She couldn’t see past them into the box if she wanted to but she does not want to, because he is standing before her, sweeping his cap from his head, bowing as if she was a duchess and then sweeping her up in his arms. Just like he always does. He has come back. Just like he promised he would. And tonight they will lie down together and sleep in peace.

leaf.jpg

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Advertisements

Menu Del Dia, Plat Du Jour

I was only fourth in line that Saturday morning. Two female butchers, head to toe in white, were serving ladies one and two. Lady three was chatting at a hundred miles an hour with ladies five and six and also with ladies one and two. Ladies seven and eight were just entering and picked up the gossip as if they’d been there all along. I just smiled in a friendly manner and looked (probably) foreign or at least, not local. They smiled back, said hello and returned to the latest news.

The place was spotless. Clear laminated diagrams of dissected beasts decorated the walls, should you not know the cut you were after; or in my case, what they were called in Spanish. Local eggs and honey decorated the top of the deli chiller, where cured meats and sausages were lined up like fat pencils alongside boulders of cheese.

I had been there a few days earlier and bought a chicken which had been deftly cut into twelve pieces, but today I wanted a whole one. Husband and children had left me to do some window shopping in the street outside. “I won’t be long,” I told them.

The only thing was… ladies one and two seemed to have both asked for half a pig’s side cut into wafer-thin chops. This involved the slender, feminine butchers bringing down a cleaver at one centimetre intervals (an alarming thing to watch but very impressive) to make twenty or so potential chops and then the rather slower (and judging by the glowing foreheads, quite strenuous) activity of sawing through bone. Husband and children reappeared to find out what had happened to me. The mercantile part of the town was very small, and they’d run out of shops to look into without actually buying anything. It was already 30°C (86°F) in the narrow streets even in the shade of the ancient white buildings and it was only 9:30am. I sent them back out as they were getting in the way of ladies nine and ten.

Lady one having been served, satisfactorily rounded off her bit of the conversation and departed. Lady three approached the counter and asked for… well it was all a bit fast to understand, but the butcher was reaching for another side of pork and flexing her muscles. I longed to be able to speak Spanish properly and to ask whether it was a Spanish thing to eat wafer-thin chops on Sunday or just a local tradition and how they’d be cooking them, but the few words I knew got tangled in my head and I was too shy. I just kept smiling brightly and wondering if I’d get served before lunch time.

Eventually it was my turn. I asked for a chicken. I could tell everyone was a little baffled, although, the butcher wore an air of one to whom a brief respite has been given. She asked me how many pieces I wanted it chopped into. “No gracias. Entero por favor,” I answered. There was a lull in the general hubbub of conversation. She doesn’t want pork? I could hear them thinking. She wants a chicken and she wants it whole? The butcher looked as if I was doubting her skills. How to explain in my extremely inadequate Spanish that I wanted to roast it for Sunday dinner but to a Spanish recipe with garlic and almonds and raisins and sherry? I just smiled. I left with my chicken and dignity and imagined them thinking: is she mad? Why would you want a whole chicken? She can’t want to cook a whole chicken in this heat? The following day, roasting it while the temperature outside our holiday let was 43°C (109°F) and the temperature in the kitchen was probably high enough to fire clay, I did wish I had bought some wafer thin pork chops and made my husband barbecue them.

This happened two years ago. The town has a supermarket, in fact it has at least three. There is the small Eroski on the outskirts and there are a few low scale franchises in the winding white streets, where you could buy everything you need. We used the Eroski mostly and it sold meat of course, but it was good to go to a butcher and buy exactly what I wanted. The villa had a very poor internet connection, so we didn’t use it. This took us back to how our holidays were years ago. Out of connection with social media and news, a little more connection to the area we were in and each other. We did have an excellent mobile signal so we were able to keep in touch when we needed to and any cafe with free wifi resulted in heads down for two teenagers who had forgotten how bereft they were while they were jumping in and out of the pool and reading and actually talking to people in the same vicinity, apparently having fun.

I count myself very fortunate to have been able to visit France or Spain every year for the last twenty-three.

In the beginning, my husband and I were touring and camping, travelling from place to place with a French Michelin guide to campsites. Using a mobile abroad was so expensive, we used them for emergencies only. Using the world wide web… well it didn’t even exist to start with. My husband’s linguistic skills are useful in a restaurant and that’s about it. I can speak French (rusty but adequate) and can manage Spanish at a very basic level. I learnt it for one year at school and then had to choose my O’ Levels. With no advice provided whatsoever, I assumed future employers would want me to have a science. Physics was the only one in which I had any hope of passing but was in the same option group as Spanish. If it had been in the same option group as Geography, or if I’d realised that no-one was ever, ever going to ask me what I knew about Newton’s Laws (not much) or Brownian Motion (nothing), I would have chosen differently.

Since both of us like being in obscure, back-of-beyond sorts of places, we just had to manage as best we could in shops and restaurants (and pharmacies/surgeries when that year’s medical incident occurred), making atrocious linguistic mistakes but getting by: cooking and eating delicious local food: cleaning mussels in the shade of the tent; making ratatouille on a two ring stove. We ate in out-of-the-way restaurants and cafés, finding (usually by chance) places the locals frequented, not always knowing what we’d been served but always finding it delicious and excellent value. We once hired a small villa in Andalusia, all on its own on a mountainside up a winding, precipitous stony track flanked by prickly pear. I bought a whole chicken then too, but didn’t realise, when they said whole, they meant guts and all. I would have handled this better if the hot water supply hadn’t just broken down.

We didn’t really notice or care that we couldn’t get in touch with the outside world. If we were desperate for news, we could check out yesterday’s British newspapers in the shops or pick up the Herald Tribune or seek out the publications for ex-pats. Pretty much the only time when we were worried was when we went touring with a trailer-tent to the South of France in 2000. We had a son, just over a year in age, who had been walking since he was nine months old and I was six weeks pregnant and suffering dreadful morning sickness. As we travelled south, we noticed people queuing at petrol stations and wondered what was going on. Or rather my husband did, I was mostly trying to control the nausea and feeling distressed by the fact that surrounded with lovely cuisine, all I wanted was toast or fast-food burgers (which I usually loathe). Arriving at our final destination, we discovered there was a fuel crisis and we had no way of being certain what was happening. Desperate notices were posted up around the campsite: “we have to catch a ferry from Dunkirk on Friday, can anyone siphon some diesel for us from their own tank? We’ll pay good money.” Ringing home at extortionate rates elicited little sense from either sets of our parents, the newspapers were a day behind. Would we be able to get home? We only had enough petrol to get us half way up France. Fortunately for us, the crisis lifted before we had to drive north.

Other than that, it was nice to be away from the media and to be in our own little world, dabbling our toes in another culture. We tended to shop in the smaller shops and supermarkets, which in the main sold food for the national cuisine and if you were desperate for a taste of home (which in our case meant British strength tea, fresh hot chillies and curry paste) you had to hunt for the shelf which sold foreign food and hope for the best. Thus UK branded tea and biscuits rubbed shoulders with sauerkraut, American mustard, soy sauce and tacos. In France, you might find a section for Vietnamese style cuisine but not Indian or Mexican. Cheese was unquestionably French. It was not always easy to find fresh milk. In Spain, you might not find lamb and instead of beef there might be veal. In both countries however, there would be an array of vegetables like a work of art, fresh, varied and vibrant and a fish counter of gleaming scales and live crabs, many of which were from British waters, since the British won’t always eat them. We loved this. We both cook well and, since in the early days the exchange rate was very favourable to sterling, having such a choice meant that we had to restrain ourselves from buying more than we could cook.

So much has changed in the last few years, an evolution we barely noticed, as the children grew older. We started going on holiday with my in-laws whose generosity is overwhelming both in terms of financial input and helping with the children so that we had a break. But as time went on, even before the exchange rate dropped, eating out for six became expensive and trailing six people round looking for obscure places is much more difficult than when there are just two of you.

Over time, menus of the day have crept up in price as economies struggle across Europe. The local speciality, aimed at the tourist, is now likely to cost more than something generic. Meanwhile, in the supermarket, UK, Irish, American and German brands nestle in amongst French and Spanish, even in the cheese section. If I want to, I could pretty much buy exactly the same things in France or Spain as I do at home, in the same anonymity. Even on the high street, the same clothes shops appear everywhere with the same prices. Walking around the shopping district in Malaga, you might as well be in Southampton (albeit you need shelter from the sun rather than the rain). It’s not so easy to guess where someone is from by their clothes anymore.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t got wifi, you’ve got 3G. You can access the whole world and your social media contacts twenty-four hours a day if you want to. Without making a deliberate choice to do so, you can’t get a break from the political machinations, the desperation of refugees, injustice, celebrity gossip, the online arguments: all of which you can do nothing about.
What’s the point of all this?

It’s nice to be able to get in touch when you want to and know everything is all right at home when you need to. All the same, I miss those days when we didn’t know what was going on, when we just sat and watched the view, sipping local wine, eating local food. I miss going into a shop and having the challenge of working out what to cook for dinner with what I can get hold of.

I wish more people realised the joy of being part of a Europe which is rapidly disappearing and dividing. What really seems tragic to me, is that while everything appears homogenised (food, brands, clothes, behaviours), people seem further apart. Heads down at devices, taking photos of ourselves rather than everything else, eating our own food rather than trying someone else’s, worrying about what’s happening elsewhere rather than enjoying the here and now. People no longer have to make the effort to communicate if they don’t want to. So they don’t.

I wish I had hadn’t been too shy to ask about the pork chops. I wish I hadn’t been too shy to explain about the chicken. Very likely, no-one would have understood my terrible Spanish, but I like to think they’d have got the gist. I hope I get the chance to find those out-of-the-way places again and next time, work up the courage to do more than smile.

balloons

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Refugee

I flick the fly from my face and arms. Its incessant unhygienic search for moisture irritates and repulses me.

She does not flinch as flies crawl along her dry lips and tiptoe through her eyelashes.

I wish I’d managed to lose that excess weight.

She wishes she had enough food to fill her breasts with milk for her baby.

I wonder if I will ever have a child of my own.

She wonders if her child will live till tomorrow.

I wonder if I will ever have a man to share my life.

She wonders if a man would protect her from other men.

I wish my period wasn’t so heavy, worried the blood might spoil my new clothes.

She wishes she had sanitary towels; worried that she will be shunned as unclean when the blood soaks through the rags and spoils the cast-off clothes from the charity bags.

I wonder how I will pay for my parents’ care as they age.

She wonders, in her damp shelter, under grey skies, how to dry her parent’s urine soaked mattress and shame drenched eyes.

I wish she had a home like mine: cosy and safe, with nice things and friendly neighbours.

She wishes she was back in the home she left, with a roof and a floor and a kitchen and a bathroom, with her own country safe enough to live in.

I wonder what her job had been; if she had been like me once upon a time: educated, qualified, responsible, respected.

She wonders if anyone will ever recognise her worth and skills again.

I know I will never forget her face.

She knows she will never remember mine.

She is a mirror. Not because she looks like me, but because she makes me see myself: not as I want to be, but as I am: well-meaning, self-centred, pampered, rich, safe, ignorant, born in the right place at the right time. Taking my life for granted.

grey-sky

Here is a link to a charity which helps women in refugee camps set up and operate machines to make sanitary towels, nappies (diapers) and incontinence pads. Please check it out and if you know another charity you think is worth mentioning, let me know.

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Penfriends

It had seemed such a good idea. Daisy and Molly had been corresponding via social media for a year and having similar interests and being at a “sensible” age, meeting up seemed like a nice risk-free idea.

Daisy knew that Molly was a “sensible” age only from the content of her posts. Molly argued that she was not photogenic and hinted at some medical issue which made her shy of cameras; her profile pictures tended towards images of turquoise calligraphy surrounded by pink flowers. Admittedly Daisy’s own profile picture had once been a cartoon hippo, but nowadays she displayed herself as she was: fine lines, wrinkles, grey hair and all.

Daisy had formulated a mental image of Molly as a glamorous woman, surrounded by antiques and fine china, writing romantic tales at midnight in turquoise ink and digitising them afterwards. Judging by the times of her posts and emails, Molly was a night owl, slumbering till late morning like a lady of leisure. She alluded to regular holidays in the Mediterranean and Daisy imagined her home would be luxurious and her IT equipment state of the art, despite the turquoise ink. Now and again Molly mentioned a shadowy man and while Daisy envisioned a butler or bodyguard, she sometimes wondered if his role was purely domestic. Molly wrote novels, which while apparently sweet, held an undercurrent of some hidden passion.

So all in all, when the opportunity finally arose when they could meet in person, Daisy was thrilled. She checked out the address Molly provided on “streetview” and noticed that it was in a very leafy suburban avenue. So leafy in fact that it was hard to make anything out clearly, although it seemed rather grand. Molly’s final email before the trip spoke of fine foods from her continental estate and Fetească Neagră from her own vineyard. Daisy looked up Fetească Neagră and salivated at the thought of blackcurrant richness. Reconsidering the £4.99 bottle of pinot grigio she had planned to take as a gift, Daisy splashed out on some Harrods chocolates instead. Then she went to a charity shop in an upmarket district for a designer outfit, so that she wouldn’t look as impoverished as she actually was.

The day finally arrived. After a long journey by train, Daisy turned left at the station as Molly had directed and walked in the late afternoon autumn sunshine until she found the entrance to the avenue. Dusk was falling rapidly, darkened further by immense plane trees and tall walls. Were there several houses or was the wall for just one house?

Daisy hesitated, standing on the corner in her pre-loved Christian Dior and shifting the Harrods bag from hand to hand.

“You don’t want to go down there, love,” said a passer by, making her jump, “it’s always a bit foggy and all them high walls and trees give me the creeps. Plus they’re a bit posh for the likes of us.”

A little worried that perhaps she looked like second-hand Rose, Daisy remembered that she was a rational woman. It was darker and lonelier in her country hamlet with the nearest police station twenty miles away. She messaged Molly to say she was about to arrive and plunged into the avenue.

The house, seen through the enormous gates was certainly very impressive. Perhaps Daisy was surprised to see dragons on the gate posts instead of horses’ heads or pineapples but she was more surprised to find the gates open before she’d even pressed the intercom and to discover that crunching her way across the gravel drive took less time than it looked as if it ought to.

There was a fountain in the driveway but it wasn’t running and the water, under late evening skies looked dark and viscous. Hearing the flick of a tail as she passed, Daisy would have peered into it, but a creak drew her attention to the heavy oak front door which was opening under a porch of ivy and virginia creeper. Beyond it she could see nothing but darkness, lit only with candles. Again, Daisy hesitated, but telling herself not to be silly, she mounted the steps.

A man awaited her, the butler presumably. As she had suspected he was young, very handsome and just looking into his dark lashed eyes made Daisy blush and her heart beat faster. Molly was a lucky, or clever, woman.

“Welcome,” he purred in velvet tones, taking my gift, “her ladyship is just rousing from her… nap. Perhaps you’d like to freshen up a little after your journey?”

In a small cloakroom, Daisy looked for a mirror and found none. Coming out into the empty hall, she found no mirror there either. She really wanted to check her appearance and feeling a little guilty, crept up the stairs to find a bathroom. The bathroom, opulent and ornate, also had no mirror and Daisy decided to sneak back downstairs and hope no-one had seen her. As she passed a bedroom, she heard voices low and throbbing:

A woman said “what is she like, Gilbert?”

“Nice and plump but hardly in her first flush; though she’s younger than you, by a century or three.”

“Don’t be so cheeky!” the woman chuckled and Daisy heard a creak, not of springs but of hinges.

Peeping through the crack in the door, Daisy saw not a bed but an open wooden chest. At least… it looked like a chest.

As fast as she could, Daisy started to tiptoe along the landing, and then in desperation, slid down the banisters to avoid capture.

Catching her breath in the hall, she hobbled to the door and turned the handle … but it would not budge.

Behind her languorous footsteps sounded on the stairs.

“Lovely to meet you at last!” called a soft voice.

At that moment, Daisy managed to open the door and stared out into the darkness.

How had night fallen so quickly? She looked towards the impossibly distant gates. Weren’t the dragons facing the other way? Had their eyes been lit up before, flickering irregularly? Daisy heard a gloop in the pond under the fountain.

“Don’t stand about getting a chill, there’s snacking to do,” Molly said, grasping Daisy’s arm.

Daisy turned to look into the face of a woman so pale, she was almost transparent. In the shadow of the door her lips were the colour of blackcurrants and her eyes were… turquoise.

Daisy kicked off her fake Jimmy Choos.

“Oh good, you’re making yourself at home,” purred Molly but Daisy was legging it down the drive, the gravel cutting her fancy tights and soft feet.

As Molly watched Daisy trying to climb the gates despite the fact that she clearly hadn’t been remotely nimble for at least two decades, she sighed.

“Rescue her before she breaks her neck, Gilbert,” she said, “I thought she was dippy, but didn’t think she was actually mad. We all need a stiff drink.”

“I told you to get the electrics fixed before she came, Grandma,” said Gilbert, “and I really think you’re too old for coloured contact lenses and goth make-up.”

“Maybe you’re right,” conceded Molly, as Gilbert ambled down the drive. She noticed the glooping in the pond and frowned. Gilbert was right, the electrics needed to be fixed, it really wasn’t wise to deprive water dragons of oxygen for too long. They could ruin everything.

dragons-eye

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Candy Haikus

Apologies to all real poets and Haiku writers. These are from a prompt to write horrible Haikus about candy. Brought on a wave of nostalgia. As you can tell from the first few, I had a misspent youth whenever I had the opportunity.

As you can tell from the last one, any coins left in pockets because people can’t be bothered to empty them before putting clothes in the laundry, become the washerwoman’s (e.g. my) reward…

Marathons, spangles,
A penny for four blackjacks:
A candied childhood.

Spittly Gobstopper:
Spat out wet and examined.
Slurping through rainbows.

Dry out licked toffees,
Wrap them with tongue-stuck-out care:
Gift for my sister.

Oh Flying Saucers:
Rice paper glues my palate,
But my tongue fizzes.

Opal fruits are wrong
When called Starburst. My childhood
Winces in anguish.

Laundress collects coins:
Lazy family pays for
Housewife Pick ’n’ Mix.

fair.jpg

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

The Truth, The Partial Truth and a Little Bit of Nostalgia (with explanatory notes at the end)

Yesterday, I wrote a story. I sent it to a friend for input and she said “why am I always convinced your stories are true?”

Well, the fact is that there really was some truth in that story.  In fact, there is a lot of truth in most of my stories. Some of the twists and turns may be imaginary; some of the characters and creatures may not exist; but somewhere in them is something that’s real.

Answering her question though, brought back a lot of memories. The story starts with two girls and their little sisters carol-singing round the neighbours’ houses, hoping for money. The girls have put a lot of effort in, but the local boys, without putting effort in at all, got to the neighbours first and received all the spare cash anyone was willing to give. The boys had done exactly the same thing with “penny for the guy”* a month earlier. This part of the story was pretty much true.

My friend and I were very creative. The good thing about my house, from her perspective, was that my mother absolutely didn’t care how much mess we made, whereas her mother absolutely did.  I made papier-mâché headed glove puppets and together we put on puppet shows for my sister’s birthday parties. The puppets acted out our versions of fairy tales scripted with some under-parental-radar naughtiness. Sadly I can’t remember any of them now.

She and I also organised a bunch of girls into putting on a play. The script was in rhyming couplets and had allegedly been written by another girl’s mother.  It was a classic drama with an evil villain, a swooning heroine, an elderly mother and a swash-buckling hero. We performed it for anyone we could round up, taking milk bottle tops as payment which we then sent to the Blue Peter** appeal which was raising money for guide dogs for the blind. Dad (who probably wished he could have joined in) even bought us stage paints to make our faces up with. The only lines I can now remember are the heroine’s, when faced with the choice of eviction or marriage to the villain:

“Sir Jasper, don’t be such a creep;
The snow outside is six feet deep!”

We always had our doubts that the other girl’s mother had actually written it, but on the other hand, she may have.  I wish I still had a copy.

I was lucky enough to grow up at a time when, in the absence of anything else to do, children were outdoors, unsupervised, whenever it wasn’t raining. There were few cars in our village and we could run and cycle and play tennis in the road or venture into the wilds. I grew up within five minutes’ walk of woods, old quarry workings which we called caves, mountains, two rivers, a canal and a waterfall. In the woods there might have been elves; in the mountains there might have been giants and dragons; in the caves there might have been witches; somewhere under the bracken was an old Roman road and we might meet a centurion’s ghost. It was always worth trying to find out.

If I count up the ways in which I could have died or seriously injured myself, ambling about, often alone, in all of these places, I run out of fingers. One of the local boys nearly did die, almost hanged while messing about with rope in the trees, but he survived, and so did I. The greatest danger I think I faced was when two of the nastier boys grabbed me when I was on my own and bundled me into one of the caves.  I remember being very frightened but also angry. At that moment, an older girl called out for me across the woods. Even though I was being threatened to keep quiet, I shouted back “here I am!” and the boys let me go. It was only many many years later, I realised what might have been in their minds.

Our village consisted of two roads which led off a main road. They started at the bottom of the hill and immediately parted company.  I lived on the steepest road which twisted in narrow hairpins towards the chapel and then straightened up just as you passed the big black and gold notice board with “whosoever” on it.  I loved that word.

We moved there when I was eight. The old school house was redundant and was in the process of being turned into a dwelling. There simply weren’t enough children to keep it open and we went by bus to school in the next village. Houses ranging from semis to terraces to miners’ cottages lined the road. On one side was an upward slope which led into the woods. On the other was a field which led down to the river. (The field was, much to our disgust, later turned into a housing estate.)  The river led down to the waterfall and then joined a bigger river which ran alongside the newly renovated canal.

We’d sometimes have picnics at the canal, and Dad would send us with a bottle of home-made ginger beer which he made from what he called a “ginger-beer plant”. There is another version, using a lot more fresh ginger, but this is the one he made. The resulting liquid looked utterly disgusting but was sort of nice and nasty all at the same time. I have just looked this up and this is how it’s made:

Ingredients for the ‘fake’ ginger beer plant:

Half a teaspoon of dried yeast
1 teaspoon of ground or fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
Making the ‘fake’ ginger beer plant:  Mix ingredients in a jar and cover with a piece of muslin. Secure with a rubber band. For the following week, add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of ground or fresh grated ginger daily.

Apart from a few teenagers (of no interest to us), in the village there were, as far as I can recall about ten girls and about ten boys under twelve.

One of the girls used to pop in to see her grandmother on the way to the school bus because the grandmother would open a drawer full of sweets and select something for her to take to school against starvation. Candy was discouraged in our house, so I was always jealous. On the other hand, the poor girl subsequently spent most of her teens trying to lose weight and going to the dentist.

Many of the boys were trouble.  Some of them were motherless, which might have been why they were so wild, but even so, they were a horrible bunch. They stole our apples. They set their dog on our cat (although she got her own back by slashing it across its nose). At Hallowe’en they would chuck eggs at doors and torment people by placing leering Jack O’Lanterns along their walls.

Of the nicer boys, I remember that one said he saved time at breakfast by putting his toast and marmalade on top of his cornflakes and poured his tea over the top so that he could eat the whole thing as a sort of mush.  This always appalled me, because chaotic as my house was, table manners were rigid.

As we grew out of childhood and into our teens, we spent less time outside, found friends from other places and discovered other pastimes. Our secondary education was fragmented and split us up. We attended one school in a village a bus ride away between the ages of  eleven and twelve and then another, a mile’s walk away, between the ages of twelve and sixteen. At sixteen, if we wanted to go to sixth form or college, they were in a different town altogether. At eighteen, those of us who went on to university, mostly moved away and never went back.

The point of all this nostalgic rambling is that just looking back at being eight to twelve years old, I have plenty of fuel for my imagination. So yes, a lot of the stories are true, just not entirely true.

Apart from the dragons of course…
JUST IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW:
* “penny for the guy”. I haven’t seen this for a very long time. When I was a child and where I lived, not much was made of Hallowe’en. We’d never heard of trick or treating. My husband who is the same age as I am, says he does remember it. But then he lived in a city and I lived in the west about twenty years behind. However, we did celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, also called Bonfire or Fireworks Night. Nowadays not many people do this at home as fireworks are expensive and people are more safety conscious. Except in a few places, the taste for making a “guy” (an effigy named after Guy Fawkes who, in 1606, was caught in an act of terrorism and subsequently executed) and setting fire to it, is also less popular, especially because of the sectarian implications. Back then however, children (who couldn’t care less about the political or religious aspects, but just liked the chance to get some cash) would make a guy out of old clothes and cart it round the neighbours’ houses. If you were lucky, they’d give you some cash. Sometimes you got sweets. A month later, we went round carol-singing with the same aim in mind.

** “Blue Peter” is a long running BBC TV children’s programme. It runs an annual charity appeal, giving children the chance to raise money in simple ways. I like to think we contributed to training perhaps a paw of a guide dog.

dragon
Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon (pottery dragon bought many many years ago in Neath, West Glamorgan, South Wales.  I would credit the maker if I could!). All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission