I’m not from round ‘ere. Eerily like Ben in Not Your Heart Away, I grew up in a country town. Also like him, I don’t think I knew anything much about the countryside that I hadn’t got second-hand and decades out of date from Thomas Hardy or Housman. The process was helped by my school, the local C of E (it was just the school, not a lifestyle choice. People didn’t have lifestyles in those days) village Primary in Wiltshire, where we learned to read on Dick and Dora. Well, not me, my parents made sure I could read before I went to school. That said, Gibbon’s Decline And Fall was still a bit of a struggle. Dick and Dora wasn’t about co-eds in Minnesota at all, but a reading primer that I later found-out had been replaced everywhere else in 1949.
Well, not at Southwick Primary it hadn’t. It’s fair to say it totally warped my world view. Obviously every decent family had an Aga. Daddy went out to work every day, wearing a suit and tie (brown or dark grey in summer, of course. Why do you ask? Everyone knows that), slipping casually into a pair of flannels and a cardigan when he got home, invariably on time, by steam train. Daddy had a car with running boards and an income sufficient to keep Mummy at home in some style, long before our fetishisation of Agas and vintage cars felt stylish to anyone at all. Dick and Dora the children, (no, one doesn’t talk about contraception. Mummy and Daddy may well be and obviously are quite progressive in that respect, but one simply doesn’t) in their own turn looked after Fluff the cat (also eerily named after my cat, I think) and a dog. I can’t remember what kind of dog it was. Probably an Airedale or something similar, one of those sturdy dogs you used to see on wheels, pushed around as children’s toys. Well, I used to, anyway. It almost certainly wasn’t a Rottweiler or a trendy Iberian waterdog or a pit-bull, muzzled or not.
Chaps’s hats were expected to blow off in Spring gales as March roared in like a lion and went out like a lamb and somehow that was something to do with the lamb of god. Houses had fences around them, gardens provided eggs and vegetables as well as flowers and umbrellas (remember them?) blew inside out, usually in November, unless you were lucky enough to get one through to March, when the lamb/lion combination would mean another visit to the umbrella shop.
It marked me. In almost every garden I’ve ever had it hasn’t felt right unless there was rhubarb and mint growing and let’s face it, that isn’t the hardest stuff to grow on any rubbishy old soil. (Gardening tip: plant it. Leave it alone until it’s ready to eat. Eat it. You will have more rhubarb and mint than you know what to do with). One of the most pathetic things I ever saw was coupled with hearing one of them. The pub chef was walking down to the shop while someone told me what a great chef he was. When he came back he’d bought a jar of ready-mixed mint sauce. Obviously the pub had run out of vinegar, sugar and the bushels of the stuff growing practically everywhere. Maybe he’d read the new Janet and John books instead. I never have. Spiritually as well as at Southwick Primary, they were after my time. Childhood leaves its mark, good or bad. But adulthood is its own responsibility.