THIS WEEK we have been visiting our families. We left our house parked in its Dartmoor field and hopped on a bus and then a train. The train took Tui up to the north-east where the fog horn blows out at sea and where they pronounce cake keeak and film filumm and call their mothers me-mam. And the train took me down to London (which despite being a Londoner, I find altogether alien now and horrifically busy with millions of people. I found myself like a green visitor from faraway, unaware of city customs and taboos, staring too long in fascination at
billboards and people in their closed little commuting worlds.)
...and back to the house where I lived since I was about this age...
It is strange how a place holds memories in the walls, almost as if my childhood is trapped in the folds of the brown gingham curtains. Though my parents' house is in an ordinary corner of an ordinary suburb, they have over the years made a unique artistic nook amongst pebble-dashed ex-council houses - "the odd house" - where neighbours would hook their disapproving snouts over the garden wall and not understand.
This house was home for me for the longest time in my life so far, and it has always been full to the brim with artistic inspiration and love.
In all fondness I think my mum and dad are possibly the world's most infrequent bloggers, and so I bring a report from their rustic nest instead because I think they do beautiful things here.
In the back garden my dad has built a courtyard and workshop, all by hand over the years, from wood and slate and cut-in-half bricks for cobblestones. The red autumn has begun to grasp the roofs and all my mum's hanging plants in ceramic pots are stitched together by spiders building webs in the October suns.
In the house, shelves are made beautiful with little things. My mum makes hearth and windowsill into shrines of seeds and sculpture and stones.
Books on shelves in dark corners remind me of days off sick from school when I'd lie on the sofa, the titles and fonts and colours of the spines chanting and marching through my flu-dreaming head.
Those canvas tool rolls, full of chisels, for the making of my parents' work, are still stacked on the shelves of my memory.
And the wonderful faces of my dad's carvings that have looked at me, and I at them, for many familiar years.
My mum has been creating - beautiful shapes in alabaster and soapstone, birdlike and moonlike and budlike,
and smooth and round as these pebbles.
She has also been creating in the kitchen: knobbly tasty barleycorn bread,
And there's mackerels for tea.
This little personality lives here now (though I have dear memories of a large and kindly black predecessor) - the cat with the chequerboard chops, and an I'll-do-just-what-I-like look in her eye.
The other day we walked in the woods that were wildness for young me, and which now seem so much more edged than the countryside forests we wander in these days...
On the walls there are words beautifully penned,
(calligraphy by mum's art school friend Karen O'Neill-Newman)
an alphabet drawn by my grandmother when she was a girl at school in New Zealand,
And in the garden the little apple tree is still making apples, just in time for Apple Day.
I went back to the library yesterday where as children we would hungrily borrow our weekly allotment of six books, books where I learned to lose myself in story. There is a book I remember loving back then, the cover was a black and gold chessboard and there was a chase through the forest in the tale, with knights, and a good measure of foreboding, and the word mire, but not for the life of me can I rememeber the title or anything else about the book. I wonder if you recognise it?
I love to pop into the childrens' sections of bookshops now and then and delight in the wonderful selection and visual sumptuousness of what there is on offer for kids these days.
Story is in us all: our days gone before and yet to come, the lives of others that we hear about. We are ourselves stories and we must continue to tell and be told.
On the train here I was reading a mouldy old Dylan Thomas Miscellany that I found in a box outside a house once with "please help yourself" written on it. As well as his beautifully crafted poems and stories, there are his broadcasts - delicious evocations of the sights and sounds and smells and thoughts of a childhood vividly remembered.
Here is an extract from his radio broadcast "Reminiscences of Childhood":
I was born in a large Welsh industrial town at the beginning of the Great War: an ugly, lovely town (or so it was, and is, to me), crawling, sprawling, slummed,unplanned, jerry-villa’d, and smug-suburbed by the side of a long and splendid-curving shore where truant boys and sandfield boys and old anonymous men, in the tatters and hangovers of a hundred charity suits, beachcombed, idled, and paddled, watched the dock-bound boats, threw stones into the sea for the barking, outcast dogs, and, on Saturday summer afternoons, listened to the militant music of salvation and hell-fire preached from a soap-box.
This sea town was my world; outside, a strange Wales, coal-pitted, mountained, river run, full, so far as I knew, of choirs and sheep and story-book tall hats, moved about its business which was none of mine; beyond that unknown Wales lay England, which was London, and a country called ‘The Front’ from which many of our neighbours never came back. At the beginning, the only ‘front’ I knew was the little lobby before our front door; I could not understand how so many people never returned from there; but later I grew to know more, though still without understanding, and carried a wooden rifle in Cwmdonkin Park and shot down the invisible, unknown enemy like a flock of wild birds...
& apologies for the dubious photo quality - I am testing out a new camera!