I still think this is amazing now. Especially the green kind. Like a lot of children, when I used to go to circuses or fairs, I was running scared from the clowns or the ghost train (or the rollercoaster come to that), but I loved those hook the fish stalls, and I gravitated towards candyfloss (which always seemed to be near the fish) every time. I did not understand how sackfuls of what looked like fat pink sand could be poured into this…er…butter churn gravitron thing, and then metamorphose into thin spider webs of eatable sticky hair. Mystified me. I had a very cute smile when I was little, and the makers of the candyfloss used to let my mum or dad lift me up so I could lean right over the machine and see the making process better. The slow churn of the machine, its of sort of rolling motion, and the moving of the magic stick around the edges, picking up the spun threads…
The way I used to be given such a massive bag or stickload of the stuff (how did it stay up on the stick?!), and when I bit into it, it was rough like my mothers scouring pads in the kitchen, and yet wettened so easily. Dissolving into goo and then resetting as darker coloured bite marks in the middle of the floss clump; while I pulled back my head, chomping on the quickly becoming nothingness in my mouth. Hard lumps of recrystallized sugar in my teeth.
That sharp smell. Sunlight in my eyes, my upper arms getting that first prickle of sunburn. Old summers. Wondrous stuff.
Walks with my Dad around the Coast
We used to go on a 2 week holiday to the seaside every summer without fail, until I suddenly stopped seeing it as fun (what on earth was wrong with me?; teenage hormones are insane).
Every very early morning, while mum did I don’t know what, dad and I would go for a walk. Hand in hand, while the air was still full of the chill of the night, I would trot to keep up with his incredibly long stride. If it was very chill he would tuck my hand in his jacket pocket. Sheepskin, fur lining. So soft and warm.
We always stayed very close to the sea, wherever we were. So the way we would go would be down to the path on the seafront, and follow the coast way, sometimes for up to 2 hours, as far as the next town. We walked from Westgate to Margate; from Hove to Brighton. That sort of thing.
This was back when Walkmans were a miracle of new technology. Dad had the most snazzy one available: with 2 headphone sockets, AVLS and a jog equalizer (i.e. if it got bumped while you ran, your tape would play on undisturbed, not jumping).
We would both plug in, and sharing Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Grieg’s Peer Gynt, Beethoven’s Eroica – whatever he fancied, occasionally Sinatra or Miller, we would walk the coast.
I used to try and match my stride to his, big gulps of sea air to keep up. I used to love the look of our legs, striding out in perfect unison. Shared sounds, shared reactions to the music, seagulls breaking through, waves crashing against the bits of the path that were very close to the beach – droplets of salt smelling spray landing on my face and hair. And with dad, who back then used to call me “chicken”. Such wonderful happy memories.
Walking Across Victoria Park with My Mum
Another great walk, from when I was really small and collecting my first memories. Aged 4 or 5.
We used to live in Bethnal Green to begin with; where I began. I walked with mum a lot. Wandering through Roman Road Market with her, my hand firmly in hers, and being knocked constantly by people much bigger than me – by their bags mostly, and shopping for very cheap easily breakable plastic toys in blister packs – we did that walk often. And we fetched a lot of fabric and buttons for her sewing. Sometimes I was given buttons by the stallholders (that cute smile again): one was in the shape of a green flower with red edging: I kept it for years and then it vanished.
The other walk was Victoria Park. As a child, everything is so BIG. I remember Victoria Park as an endless stretch of green, going on and on and on.
In the hot summer of 1976 there was one day when we walked forever. I don’t know exactly where we were going or coming from; usually we had a destination, we didn’t just walk. I asked for an icecream, because I was so thirsty, and truly, we had been walking for days, I was convinced. Mum responded with her usual frugal reply that we had icecream at home and would be there soon.
I don’t know why we adults ever bother saying ‘soon’ to children. I remember this mythical soon tormented me in its not now-ness. The present moment of my thirst was everything. The way the sunlight was too too much, and the grass so dry it crackled beneath my sandals. I could feel the heat coming up from the earth through my feet.
“Please?” I wheedled. Doing cute face.
“Soon,” she said, pulling me on patiently. She'd seen that face a thousand times before.
The world was nothing but grass and flatness and blue sky, with trees in the distance on all sides.
I have no memory of getting home and having the icecream, though I must have, because mum never lies: if she promised me icecream I would have had some.
All is remember is the eternity of the hot weather, the baked out ground, the sun on my head through my hat, and the dried grass prickling my feet round the edges of my sandals as we walked.
Though the moment is filled with unsatisfied longing, the fact of my hand in my mother’s, clammy and endless, and the day never finishing…it’s a favourite memory, burned with the heat, in my brain.
The Red Wedgey Shoes
I wonder if every child has a memory of a really cool pair of shoes??
I don’t know where these came from, but there’s pictures of me in them, looking very proud and happy. Little red leather slip on’s, with thick rubber soles, and a slight wedgey platform.
They were as comfortable as wearing nothing on my feet. They were cold weather shoes, and I would wear them with patterned white woolly tights. And my little red coat with the fake brown fur collar. For some reason I have no strong sensory memory of the red coat, or great feelings of happiness about it, though in the pictures it looks as cool as the shoes and they go great together.
It’s the shoes I remember. I did that kid thing of not wanting to take them off and wanting to wear them in bed. I remember studying them and staring at them, stroking the softness of the leather (I know its weird!). The very gentle muted red. That rather ugly thick tan coloured rubber sole, the matte finish.
I have never been as enraptured by a pair of shoes since, and have not grown up to be a shoe person. (I am a bit of a boots person, but not in a 'I have 50 pairs and worship them' kind of way, nope).
Something about those shoes appealed to my sense of perfection. They were absolutely 100% harmonious with me. The design was simple and uncluttered, oval toed. A little bar of same colour leather came over where the navicular bone would be, with a curlicued ‘V’ cut into it. Perfect fit. Their warmth on my feet.
I felt like…not a lady or a woman in them, or a princess, or anything like that. But I sort of felt like I became the shoes. As though I became the soft red, the snug warmth of them when I wore them. They were me and I was them and we were a good thing to be.
Funny the things you remember.
I have more memories of gardens and grass than almost anything else before I was 7.
Which is odd as only one place we lived then had a garden and that garden isn’t one I remember well. Apparently I played with my cousin Suzy in it often, as she lived over the fence next door.
I have extensive memories of my maternal nan’s garden – 2 of them. The first garden I used to help her pin washing up in. There are pictures of me in a small fabric pinny, grinning away officiously as Mistress of the Wooden Pegs which I am holding in a small woven basket. The garden is long and thin, with a concrete path going down the centre bisecting it.
The 2nd garden is the one I remember more. Lying with my Uncle John (favourite uncle of them all!) on a mattress brought out onto the grass. Jumping about and elbowing him (poor man, shirtless and pinking in the heat, with his old blue jeans on, patiently keeping company with the energetic jumping bean that was me). Or just lying on my back, watching the clouds go by. Wondering what would happen if the sky was the ground and the ground the sky. I knew everything wouldn’t fall down from what used to be the ground; trees would just hang upside down, shedding their leaves to the sky, in the opposite direction. There would be so much more space in the world, because the sky seemed infinite and uncluttered. (I forgot that humans will always put stuff down and surround themselves with things wherever they are, wherever the ‘ground’ is.)
Sometimes I would lay in the tall uncut grass at the bottom of the garden, to look for grasshoppers. Of which there were infinite varieties, no 2 the same.
I was expert at lying very still and then reaching out to catch one. I would hold it very gently by its back legs, so I could look at it for a few seconds. They were so interesting. Then I would let go and off they jumped again. So many different kinds, all with different colourings and head shapes and size of legs.
In the autumn the garden smelled of smoke often, as granddad would have bonfires. Crackles, sparks of orange shooting up to the darkening sky, and us standing about, well back. Sometimes I was allowed to hold sparklers. The air was sharp and prickly on my nose, thick with swirly smoke snatched this way and that by the breeze. When the brightness of the flames began to hurt my eyes, my nan would lead me inside, and I would have white bread toast with mixed fruit jam, cut into perfect triangles.
I find it almost impossible to believe that they are gone from the world. That their house is long sold and changed beyond recognition. That I will not see their cool pantry again with its old fashioned latch. In my head, I still stand in the small tidy kitchen, being handed a plate of toast by my nan, while granddad potters in the garden, in and out of the shed. Its all still so. (And if all time happens simultaneously, then it is indeed so, and I am still there – always there – so should feel no sadness at this, and other things past.)
I think a part of me will always be making daisy chains in the tall grass at the bottom of that garden, before I am called in to tea.
Always on my stomach down really low, examining the grass and looking at its striations, watching ants moving so fast over all obstacles.
Feeling the coolness of grass against my cheek when I put my head down to rest and look at the world sideways.
And that thrum I hear in my head and feel through my body when I close my eyes. Coming from deep in the earth. Deepest comforting thrum, moving through all of me.
Grass is brilliant. Grass is still my friend now, after all this time; one of my bestest friends.