It being a Tuesday, ActorLaddie and I have collected from school my niece’s children, Chantenay and Nantes. We are now picking strawberries and raspberries for our tea: the garden’s been rather neglected this year but the berries just did their own thing and we’ve ended up with plenty. Which is cool and groovy as Pa joins us for a meal on Tuesdays and he’s a good eater.
In the kitchen, we wash and strain the berries, then virtuously put the water on the sweet peas.
“Now we need to hull the strawberries,” I say. “That means, take the green bits off the ends. Some people cut them off with knives and some use their thumbs and sort of dig them out.”
Chantenay quietly goes to the kitchen cupboard where we keep the drinks, roots around in the back and reappears with an old plastic straw. She pushes it into the pointy end of the strawberry and it appears out the top with the green stalk neatly strawed up.
“That’s brilliant!” I say. “How did you know how to do that?”
Chantenay shrugs nonchalantly. “I saw it on YouTube.”
So that’s me told.
Oh what a beautiful morning! We’re forecast for 33° later today – gorgeous drying weather; so the soundscape of birdsong and imaginary church bells (it’s Sunday) is currently overlaid by the romantic clunk of a pillowcase-worth of Lego churning away in the washing machine. (Other brands of construction bricks are available.)
Pick us, Miss, pick us! Look how neatly we have lidded our marker pens! And see our flip-chart of ideas – a thing of beauty, too, in many colours, to which we all contributed collaboratively, working as a team…
Apart, that is, for the cow who teaches at – well, you know the one. Her anyway. Didn’t want to come on the course in the first place. Thought ‘Schemas in the Under Sevens’ was going to be about curriculum plans and not fannying around with a load of bricks. The only thing that’s stopping her playing with a mobile phone is that they’ve not yet been invented. We’d be better off teaching six year olds to name parts of speech, according to her. What a dinosaur!
“We’d been calling all afternoon,” said Douglas’s daughter. “We were about to have one last try when he rang us. Apparently he’d been out with some neighbours. They’d gone, Dad told us, to ‘sing to the old people’.” (Douglas was nearly ninety four.) “I do hope he mimed. Even the old people don’t deserve Dad’s singing.”
Forty years ago this week, lucky travellers on the Liverpool Street Line were treated to the sight of Ma and I manoeuvring a sizeable, empty metal trunk on and off the train. I was about to start at Exeter and the trunk would soon be sent ahead with all that I considered precious: radio/cassette player, gold table-lamp with orange shade and books from the reading list, some of which still sit on my shelves, spines barely creased.
Aunty Elsie and Aunty Bess are giving me lessons on how to do The Twist. We twist down; we twist up again. Well, shake it up Baby now. There’s standing room only– no, twisting room only – in Aunty Vi’s lounge because The Family – Pa’s family, that is – certainly know how to throw a party.
“What I most remember about Great-Gran’s were the mangles in the garden,” said LittleBro, as we were chatting this afternoon. “I was told that they were for the hens. It’s only recently that I’ve realised it was the chicken food that was mangled and not the actual chickens.”
For me, Great Gran’s was a garden with hollyhocks above my head. An outside loo with a wide, wooden seat and paper on a string. Ginger biscuits, a budgerigar and Dr Who.
And on the subject of Family Planning, did you know that Marie Stopes disinherited her son because he married someone whom she considered to have ‘inferior traits’, namely poor eyesight? You did? I only heard the other day, whilst listening to an old In Our Time. It had passed me by completely, Marie Stopes being a eugenicist. Another hero bites the dust.
I don’t remember anything about the film itself, though of course I have seen Dumbo again since then. The only memory of my first trip to the pictures is Pa trying to hurry me off the double-decker bus while I’m busy being travel sick over the conductor. So perhaps not the magical night he’d intended.
If only I’d had Dumbo’s feather, we could have flown home.
Even at four, Terry is built like a Great Dane who works out. So when, on his first day at school, he barges into wee Jack, there’s no question of who will be sent flying. Terry stands in front of me, sheepishly.
“Terry,” I say, gravely. “You knocked over Jack and he’s hurt.” Jack howls to underline the point.
“I didn’t mean to.”
“I’m sure you didn’t. You know that it is wrong to hurt people on purpose, don’t you?”
Terry nods. “It was an accident,” comes the gruff reply.
“Well, even if you didn’t mean to, Jack is still hurt. See how upset he is.” Jack is currently working towards a nomination for Best Actor in a Playground Incident. Terry himself now looks on the point of tears; the classic gentle giant. “Now, what do you think would make him feel better?” I ask.
Terry’s face brightens. “Flowers?” he suggests.