Week Two

Mammy was a great help this morning. She remembered the clothes business and was already dressed and downstairs when I trundled down.

‘Tree’ was there, grunting his way through his second bucket of cereal.  Then Conor came down dressed, washed and brushed too. What a morning. And it wasn’t even 8am.

Mammy was smiling when I greeted her. She knew she’d done well. I told her so.

Conor is being very good about me not doing all the school runs this week. Soon he’ll be like his brother and find it ‘highly embarrassing’ to have me anywhere near the school.

But at the moment he enjoys the Nottingham novelty of me being a Mum in the playground to walk him home. But it is ‘The Broad Glade Day Centre’ again today and they don’t come until after 9am on a Friday. They have to vary the rounds and give everyone earlier and later shifts – to be fair to all.

Time to ourselves, mother and daughter, and I have a delicate announcement to make. Shocking really, but because I dread the response and disappointment from Mum, I have also neglected to prepare myself for the weekend ahead.

(Extricate those guilty feelings, Dawn, and do what you have to do.)

“I have to get things ready for a wedding this weekend, Mammy.” Pause to watch the response, but clear.

“It’s somewhere up… Yorkshire way, I think. It’s in a house called ‘Sledmere’.

I showed Mammy the painting in the sitting room of a former ‘Sir Richard’ posing arrogantly in his hunting gear in one of the rooms at ‘Sledmere’; at ‘the Big House’. I’ve never been there.

“Will there be someone here then?” she managed.

“No, I couldn’t get anyone to come here this time, but you will be able to stay for the night at ‘The Broad Glade Day Centre’ – like you did at Easter. You will be well looked after again. Is that OK?”

What can she say?

I was dreading telling her.

“But that’s not until tomorrow and I have to sort out what I’m going to wear for such a grand occasion. I need your help. Would you mind coming to advise me?”

The power of words to build up or to tear down sometimes astounds me. And the way we use and abuse their magic astounds me still more. I got it right this time though and she was right up those stairs to give me her wisdom.

I got the go ahead for the outfit and we came outside to wait for the bus.

The rain has stopped and we survey the sagging garden. The smell of green is rich.

It’s already 10 O’clock. No, you don’t need anything else. You are not staying there tonight. I’ll see you at teatime, later, today. Have a lovely time. Ah, bless her. I’m so glad I’ve told her now.

As I wave, I soak in the smells. I love my garden. The vegetables are nearly flattened under the weight of rain.

I bought a beautiful ‘Calla lily’ yesterday with flowers of the deepest cherry purple and freckly leaves. It needs ‘partial shade’ and wants to be brought in for the winter (can’t blame it for that, can you?) otherwise I’d have put it in the front garden. It looks like a meadow out the front. I take so many photographs of the garden; I could probably show you some. But you couldn’t really see it, smell it and feel it, so…

When I’m gardening I am so very much me.

It’s been about 5 weeks since the front garden was shaved and weeded and it’s now the middle of June. I wanted to weed it and tame it a little, but I’m so pathetic, I don’t have the heart – I look at those little plants squeezing between the paving stones and think: “Ah, it’s worked so hard and it’ll probably have a little yellow flower on it.” So I clear away that which is obviously dead and wander around my mini-meadow, wishing I could see the overshadowed plants that were intended to be pride of place. Still, they’ll all have their glory.

The sky is brightening and a hazy sunshine promises another lick of warmth. The cobwebs are dazzling as they bounce with the weight of the raindrops. The buoyancy and strength of the webs are amazing, as they move to the rhythm of the ground, shaken by the trucks going along the main road.

But I’m sure my garden must reflect me, as does the house – always in a state of needing stuff doing; everything in it’s place, but I’m the only one that remembers where that place is.

‘Round-to-its’ – everyone needs them and in my house there’s always a shortage. Simon keeps threatening to get around to it, but they’re hard come by.

Isabelle, on the other hand, seems to have plenty of  ‘round-to-its’. She’s very ‘out with the old, in with the new’; ‘if it doesn’t fit, give it to someone it does’, sort of girl. She’s my best friend since we were 12.  She is straight talking, efficient, looks great, knows me and still loves me. .

We both seek integrity in ourselves and share Christian values, vision and purpose. And I love her.

She is the sister I chose. When I was disowned by my own family, Isabelle and her father (‘Pa’) they took me in, and their home became mine.

Isabelle is married to Brian and they have two children, Bruno, aged nine and Violet, aged seven.

Her garden is years more established and about 4 times bigger than mine is and it looks out across a magnificent vista for miles. She pulls the weeds out.

I must go and do something domestic. No one noticed I’d done the tiles. I don’t suppose anyone would notice if I didn’t vacuum the place for another week. Isabelle would.

If anyone asks, I can now justify my day. I cleaned upstairs – well, not quite all the way up to Josh’s room – and did some painting and some gardening.

The gardening? You can’t really quantify it, can you? Not without sounding really nerdy (and I might just verge on that). I decided the indoor plants looked in need of a breeze and a bit of a photosynthesis boost. I needed some myself and stripped to my vest, but I seem to have embarrassed the sun again and now the rain’s back – just in time for everyone’s homecoming.

***

I have been brought up to love gardening and exploring the world of nature, especially as we lived in a tiny caravan space for nearly four years.

Fire damage and bad memories were probably as much why we left Nana’s house as anything. But I guess we’ll never really know now. Denial then and dementia now. It was a strange life at the caravan. The only time we were allowed to spend indoors was meals and bedtime. The caravan really was tiny. I’d say it was 12 foot by 5 foot, at the outside. My parents’ bed folded away into the wall and Debbie and I slept, head to toe, on a settee thing that ran the width of the back of the caravan. Debbie was sleeping with her knees bent long before we left the caravan.

But we learned all about the great outdoors. We climbed trees and lived in them. We scratched buckets in the well for water. One summer, the water was so low that Mum had to dangle me by my feet and I had to scrape the water and frogs from the bottom of the well. We made fabulous dens in the underworld of stream-side hedgerows – weaving doors, mats and shelves out of long summer grass – and had ‘parties’ of baked scones when our friend from the club used to come and play. Sometimes we would spend so long up the trees, that we wouldn’t notice the cows returning to the field. Once we were chased home – down through the field and under the barbed wire – by some excited bulls, after us dreaming in the branches for too long.

Long childhood summer days when we explored as many possibilities as young girls would dare and certainly wouldn’t have admitted. Daddy had a pick-up truck, ‘Marigold’, with stenciled flowers sprayed on, real hippie style. Mum would walk her bicycle to the village with us in the morning cycle home afterwards, but some days Dad would come to the square at home time, to meet us too, and us kids would go in the back of the truck with the bike, whilst Mum rode in the front. We loved that.

I am grateful for those unusual experiences we enjoyed, living in the caravan, and how we learned to work with nature, improvise, reuse and recycle. Nothing was ever wasted. I did learn to appreciate the value of things.

I wanted to be in the circus. I practised balancing a broom on my finger for weeks. I was good at hula hooping too. We had a ‘lean-to’ at the side of the caravan where much of our stuff was stored and where we often took shelter when the evenings were inclement and dark. There always seemed to be a mysterious glow around the caravan at night, that gave those long evenings a scary, but magical quality. My stilts lived in the lean-to. They were great – at least twice my height. I had to climb onto the roof of the caravan to get onto them. I would then totter like a peacock all over the campsite, then gracefully use the sticks to propel myself forwards until I could jump down. Anyone who saw me thought it was amazing, which encouraged me greatly. I loved to be a tomboy and to do clever circus tricks, or anything that might impress my dad, but I ended up quite impressed myself, so that was all right.

One day my stilt expeditions came to an abrupt halt. I was daring to ‘stilt-walk’ over the table and chairs in the lean-to, but the stilts were not quite tall enough to go that wide and they slipped – leaving me impaled on the ‘spire’ on the back of a chair. I was never taken to the doctor and I suffered a lot of pain for about a year. I don’t know whether it was that experience, or the fact that we had to go about 100 yards to the toilet blocks to use the loo, but I spent most of my childhood with headaches, nosebleeds and constipation. I hated going alone to the smelly toilet blocks. I dreaded the daddy-long-legs that flopped all over you as you went through the door and I hated the pain when I tried to wee.

Not having a bathroom, at night we shared a bowl of warm water, taking turns to wash our ‘top half’, then to stand in the bowl and wash the ‘bottom half’. This was a habit we continued right until Debbie left home at 17 years of age, despite the fact that the house we then lived in had a perfectly good bathroom.

Another vivid memory of the caravan was of Debbie and I being woken one night by Mum screaming, “No, Malc, please!”  When we dared to peep around the curtain, Dad had the hunting rifle up, threatening to shoot Mum. Shortly afterwards he came through to us with an offering of pickled vegetables and told us we were having nightmares. We certainly were. He was drunk.

Daddy used to get drunk at the club in Calverton and would still drive the car, after 14 pints. Twice he overturned the car (avoiding a dog in the road) and landed in a ditch. He smoked in those days too. One Christmas Mum bought him a cigarette-rolling machine, but he gave up smoking a week later – his New Year’s resolution.

Dad also once ‘left’ my Mum, and left me with a rare and beautiful memory – of Mum taking each of us girls onto her knees, eating ginger-nut cookies, with Mum crying and saying that she loved us and was sorry for everything. I was not sorry for that moment, I thought the good life had finally begun.

But he came back very soon. Daddy was formidable. He could be fun, but it was all so unpredictable. Unpredictable and with the power to kill.

early days at the caravan

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