“Happy Birthday to You”

My grandson is a year old today. We visited this morning and weren’t surprised that it was his older brother (27 months) who opened the cards and presents. After birthday cuddles we left the family to their planned day out. I looked after the boys yesterday so I’d had my time with them – today was for Mummy, Daddy and their babies.

It was only later in the day that I realised that another birthday is imminent. Tomorrow Radio 1 celebrates its 50th birthday. Fifty years since I tuned into my little transistor radio every morning before school and listened to Tony Blackburn. It became the soundtrack to my high school years. I’d just started at the local grammar school and everyone was talking about Radio 1. I was so glad that my aunt had given me that little radio for my birthday a month earlier.

That very first song, Flowers in the Rain became a favourite but I didn’t buy it since I had no record player and, unlike many of my friends, my parents didn’t own a radiogram. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about – this was a sideboard-style piece of furniture which housed a record player and had storage for 7″ singles and 12″ LPs (Long player).   But by the time Dusty Springfield released Son of a Preacher Man in 1968 or 69 (I Googled it but there seems to be some confusion), I had my own record player and it became my first single. Soon after I bought my first LP, The Moody Blues Days of Future Past. Funny the things that stick in one’s mind.

It was 1972 before I went to my first pop concert.  I felt as a teenager that my parents were very hard on me but looking back, I am amazed at how much freedom they gave me.  My best friend Margaret had a sister who was five years older and so long as she was accompanying us, I was allowed to go to places that I’d never have experienced if it wasn’t for her. She and her boyfriend took us to see the band Deep Purple and I was hooked on live bands from that moment. Over the next couple of years we saw The Rolling Stones, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Procol Harum, Family (and even spoke to the lead singer in the bar of Birmingham Town Hall – and did we live on the glory of that encounter!!).

I bumped into Margaret’s sister at a wedding a few months ago and told her that my teenage years wouldn’t have been half so much fun if it hadn’t been for her kindness and tolerance in taking responsibility for two much younger girls (for five years is a lot at that age). What’s more, she loaned us fashionable clothes, plucked our eyebrows, and helped us with our hair and make-up. No wonder I so wanted a big sister of my own!  Anyhow we reminisced about the parties and concerts we’d gone to and then ….we talked about our grandchildren! How quickly those decades have sped by.

I loved live music and later in the 70s saw Roxy Music several times, many more bands thoughout the 80s and 90s, and more recently  Elton John, Tina Turner and Neil Diamond but I think my concert days are now over as I developed a dislike for big crowds nowadays. I still listen to music a lot though and rarely drive without either Smooth Radio, Classic FM or a CD playing. No more Radio 1 though because I’ve turned into my parents – ‘What a row’ I think!

 

My life in cars

A Triumph Spitfire and me ~ c1974

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“A computer!” shouted my five and six year old sons when asked to guess what our surprise was. “It’s something we’ll all love,” I’d told them.  Their friend had a computer and they desperately wanted one too. (It was early in 1986 and very few families owned one). Their disappointment on being told that the surprise was actually a baby brother or sister was crushing. “But we really want a computer,” said the eldest.  I knew exactly how they felt – I’d be seven when I too was told to expect a surprise that evening. When my father arrived home from work driving our first ever family car (a dark green Austin A30, registration PAB 86), I sobbed because I’d wanted a rabbit.

But just as the boys got used to the idea of a new sibling (and even rather liked their little sister once she arrived – at least until she became mobile and wrecked their games) , so I began to enjoy the excitement  of ‘going for a spin’ on a Sunday afternoon. The Model Village at Bourton-on-the-water, feeding the swans on the River Severn in Worcester … Evesham, Broadway, Burford -the list of interesting places was endless and they usually had a decent ice-cream shop! Petrol must have been cheap in those days because it was very much later that I remember my Dad saying that if the cost reached a pound, he’d give up driving.

I can’t say exactly when it was that the A30 gave way to a turquoise A40 but I do have clear recall, aged around ten or eleven, of the night we slept in the A40. Until then we had holidayed with my grandparents in Gloucestershire and always spend a few of the days visiting Weston-Super-Mare which was less than an hour’s drive away. Quite what possessed my mother to book a holiday in St. Ives in Cornwall, a journey close to 260 miles away, I have no idea. It was ‘the main holiday fortnight’ and I doubt very much that in those days the A38 ‘Holiday Route’ offered dual carriageways or bypasses. With our parents in the front, my brother and I were squashed into the rear seats alongside our mother’s sister, Aunty B, and various bags which couldn’t be accommodated in the boot or on the borrowed roof-rack. It was not a comfortable trip. As darkness fell we pulled off the road and were told to sleep; it wasn’t a comfortable night either.

After that came more Austins – first a pale blue 1100, and later still a sludgy green (described, not inaccurately, by my younger brother as cat-muck green) 1300. In 1975 the first brand new car appeared outside the house. Yet another Austin – this time it was the latest design – the Austin Allegro. This was the car that took me to my wedding the following year. Eschewing tradition, I chose to have my dad drive me. (I think I’ve mentioned previously my green wedding dress and matching nail polish – I was anything but conventional!)

The Allegro was the one and only brand new car my father ever drove.  There was to have been another and this time a change from the Austin; a VW Golf had been ordered and on 4th August 1981 he was due to pick it up after work at 5.30pm. Shortly after 5pm my lovely Dad suffered a fatal heart attack. He was just 49 years old.

At 18 I had passed my driving test (in a mini which was what pretty much every one learned to drive in back then). My soon-to-be husband and I shared a purple Mk. III Triumph Spitfire and, though hopelessly impractical once my first son arrived in 1979,  we held onto it and bought a six year old mini estate for me. With the back seats down the bulky Silver Cross pram fitted in a treat, complete with baby. It was a few years before baby seats became the norm.   After Dad died and Mum had been persuaded to keep the new VW, I was given the Allegro and drove it until 1984. After that came a bright yellow Ford Capri, a turquoise Capri (which I absolutely loved but it was the most unreliable car in the history of motoring), a white Mini Metro and then a blue one but by then I had three growing children who regularly complained of being squashed so in 1991 I bought a bright red Ford Escort which due to changing home circumstances I kept for nine years.

My next car was  another red escort (I have no idea why I chose the same) followed a year later by what I had longed for – my ‘dream car’. A colleague had a sporty Escort Cabriolet Ghia. It was dark green with a black canvas roof. A throwaway comment one morning, “If you ever want to sell that, I’d love it,” resulted in me buying it from her Just weeks later. It was fast, reliable and with the flick of a switch the roof  retracted. I loved the look of it  but the dream, whilst not quite turning into a nightmare, soon died. It was an incredibly heavy car and the steering lock was awful. We live in a cul-de-sac and when I turn my present car around I can do so in one or two turns. The cabriolet necessitated a minimum four point turn. Parking it in the town centre’s multi-storey car parks was a complete pain and after a summer of knotty hair (headscarves and I have never gone together), I gave up and bought the car that still remains my favourite one ever – a bright red Ford Mondeo. It was a joy to drive. But then I got a promotion at work and with it a company car – a VW Passat at first and very nice it was, but the sale of the Mondeo was a reluctant one. Over the next few years I drove many, many miles in a Toyota Avensis and then a very sporty VW Golf (both black).

And then I didn’t want to drive all those miles any more. The offer of voluntary redundancy came up and I volunteered. In late 2011 I bought the car I still have now – a silvery- blue Vauxhall Astra. I like driving it but quite recently I had to get three new tyres fitted. Though the cost was not as high as the recent £700 repair to my husband’s car, my purchase, alongside ever- increasing insurance premiums, has once again raised the question of ‘going down to one car’. It is something we have talked about periodically.

My husband retired on the same day that I received confirmation of my voluntary redundancy request. We had both driven company cars for years and at the time neither one of use felt ready to relinquish our ‘un-shared’ car status so we each bought our own. We agreed to reconsider in three years time. Nearly six years on, a decision is very overdue.  We each have our own interests and whilst we do enjoy doing things together, we also do a lot of things apart. Much of what we do as individuals requires transport and the public variety simply doesn’t offer the flexibility required. I’ve had my own car and the independence that goes with it for over forty years. I really hate the idea of relying on someone else not needing the car when I might want to use it. However, the irrefutable fact is that, for a large percentage of the time, one or other of the cars is sitting outside the house, unused. Both cars are getting older and with that comes the prospect of more frequent repair bills. Both are depreciating in value but if we sold them now it would give us a half reasonable amount to put towards another one. But this is where we stumble – another ONE.

We talked about it again the other evening and to came to a (wholly unsatisfactory) decision:  we’ll think about it in a month or two!  Which is exactly the decision we came to last time and the time before that….and the time before that…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Button Box

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Who has a button box nowadays? I haven’t asked but I’ll bet my daughter or daughters-in-law don’t.  I have one but it’s small in comparison to the one my grandmother owned. So far as I’m aware she wasn’t a great one for sewing. Neither was my mother but she too had a considerable stock of buttons. One of my earliest memories is playing with the contents of my grandmother’s button box. I’d sort them into colours and sizes, count them, make patterns in the table and generally stay happily occupied for what seemed like ages.

Lynne Knight’s book The Button Box: The Story of Women in the 20th Century Told Through the Clothes They Wore begins by describing the delights of her own grandmother’s button box.  The book is on my list to order from the library. She writes:

           ‘I used to love the rattle and whoosh of my grandma’s buttons as they scattered from their Quality Street tin’……. [they] reached back into the past with metal-shanked beauties from the nineteenth century and came forward into my childhood with the pale blue waterlily buttons….’

The thing about button boxes is, at least in my experience,  that the contents are rarely used. Rather they are collected ‘just in case’ or because ‘they’re too good to throw out’ when the clothing to which they were once attached is discarded.

My grandmother’s button box was an old biscuit tin, my mother’s a bamboo lidded basket with handles brought back from Japan, and mine is part of a set from Dunelm… it serves the purpose but doesn’t do much in the excitement stakes!

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It’s not often that I investigate the contents of my own button box but I was looking at some old school photos of my children recently. I was reminded of my daughter who, aged about seven, asked if she could have a ‘proper’ school cardigan instead of the hand knitted variety that she had been wearing up until then. My knitting days were all but over.

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The triangular green button was cut from the last school cardigan I made. It was a basket-weave design – the uniform called for a green cardigan but with no stipulation as to the design so, with a love of the non-conventional, I put my own spin on it forgetting that children just want to be the same as their peers! I remember being so thrilled when I found some little peach coloured rabbit buttons for her baby cardigans. There were white rabbits and yellow ducks too but I’ve no idea what happened to them. Flower shapes were a favourite too but although I must have done, I can’t remember using the pink hearts. Babies don’t wear much in the way of hand-knits now, do they?

I’ve lots of metal button salvaged from the 1980s shoulder-padded ‘power’ suits that I loved wearing. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever use these buttons again. I don’t really sew any more apart from the odd replacement shirt button so I suppose the contents of my button box will remain just that.

 

 

 

 

Introducing Oscar

Oscar

This is Oscar. He is 25 years old and lives at the side of the garden shed, or sometimes on the steps which lead up from the patio.  Oscar was recently  treated to his annual coat of paint as I like to ensure that he stays looking nice and well cared for.  I’m not generally given to filling my garden with concrete animals but Oscar is a very special exception.
We used to live just a few doors away from the local shop and I had just started allowing my then six year old daughter to walk there by herself. Desperate to be as grown up as her elder brothers, this was one small freedom that could be allowed. I would stand  at the garden gate and watch until she returned.
One day she was adamant that Daddy, rather than Mummy, should watch for her because she was going to buy ‘a secret’. Realising that this might well have something to do with my forthcoming birthday, I understood her insistence.
Minutes later she returned from the shop in tears.
“Whatever’s happened,” we both asked.
“I’m only telling daddy,” she sobbed.
Shortly after the two of them returned to the shop together and I was told that all would become clear later.
It transpired that on an earlier visit to the shop daughter had seen the rabbit and, on her return, asked her father if she could have 55p ‘to buy mummy a lovely birthday surprise’. The ensuing tears were her reaction to being told in the shop that she hadn’t got enough money. The rabbit was £5.50. Needless to say Daddy felt under pressure to pay up.
So that’s the story of Oscar. Since he is exceptionally heavy there is no way she could have lifted him let alone carried him back by herself even if he had cost only 55p.

Oh Biba, how I loved you

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It was late in 1974. My then boyfriend was to attend a course in London and wondered if I’d like to go along for the ride.  Since I had only ever been to London on a school trip I jumped at the chance to do a bit of sightseeing. Quite early in the day I found myself on Kensington High Street and came across the iconic Biba department store. That was it, I got no further. The spectacular blend of modern, Art Nouveau and Art Deco with a nod to Pre-Raphaelite and shades of the Moroccan souk for good measure, drew me in.  The Hollywood-style surroundings, the like of which I had only ever seen in films, were awesome, lavish, unique; I could go on …and on. It was love at first sight and there I stayed for the rest of the day.

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The brainchild of Polish born fashion designer Barbara Hulaniki, Biba had already been in existence for some years when the old Derry & Toms seven storey  department store on Kensington High Street became available and, in September 1973, Biba moved in.

‘No-one could fail to be stunned by the sheer scope of the enterprise’ reported the Evening Standard at the time. ‘You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped inside a dream machine.’

‘Like stepping in of the cold reality of the street into fairyland’ said The New Yorker.

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Reputed to attract hundreds of thousands of customers a week, the newly located store offered a bewildering choice of clothing, shoes, makeup, house ware, toys, and even groceries which were displayed on the likes of massive baked bean and sardine tins (the latter complete with enormous key), much of the food packaging sporting  the store’s logo. Biba was intended as more than a shop – it was sold as a lifestyle. The true Biba devotee even used its branded washing powder. As Alistair Best in Design Magazine said at the time. ‘shopping is almost a fringe activity’.

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Everything was larger than life from the over-sized hat stands used to display all manner of fripperies to the magnificently proportioned black and gold mirrored make up counters artfully displaying thousands of tiny pots and palettes. A giant record player, enormous Snoopy doghouse, huge toadstools in the cafe which also boasted a castle and moat, all added to the feeling of being part of a film set. The fantasy was even more evident as I ventured onto the fifth floor and peeped into the Rainbow Room. Reconstructed as a 1930s palm-court style restaurant, resplendent with mirrored walls, it had a lasting impact and remains steadfastly a style of decor for which I have great affection. Having discovered the sixth floor tea rooms and roof gardens  (rather less intimidating for an unaccompanied teenager) I remember sitting for a while with refreshment, but I have no idea what I chose. I think it was here that I discovered the delight of people watching, something I still enjoy greatly.

Back on the ground floor I could hardly wait to spend my hard-earned Saturday shop girl wages on those tiny pots of make up and perfumed oils in their distinctive Deco-style glass bottles. They lived on my dressing table long after the contents had been used.

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I vowed there and then to return with enough money to buy some of the Biba fashions and, most importantly, a pair of the amazing suede boots. I went home and I began to save. I worked extra hours all through the school holidays and watched  my savings grow. Some time late in 1975 I returned to London, so full of excitement, you cannot imagine.  I was seventeen when I first encountered Biba, impressionable, headstrong and determined to develop a style distinct from that of many of my peers. I wanted that ‘Biba lifestyle’. The disappointment was crushing – Biba had closed.  It’s demise is well documented in the book The Biba Experience but in a nutshell, a combination of financial reasons and board disagreements sounded the death-knell and despite attempts to re-launch, it was over.

Biba, in it’s glorious final form, was so short lived and I feel privileged to have experienced it, to have been there at the right time. The brand name was eventually bought by House of Frazer in 2009 and is still trading though Ms.  Hulaniki criticises it for not reflecting the original style of Biba.

Quotes and background information taken from The Biba Experience Alwyn Turner

 

 

 

 

Looking back

A friend recently visited, and very much enjoyed, the Beatles Story in Liverpool. It took her right back to growing up in the sixties, she told me. But the person she was with hadn’t derived anything like so much pleasure from the experience, saying that she didn’t like looking back to the past and that we should only look forward.  Well, of course we should look forward, but I don’t think we should do this to the exclusion of enjoying the past.

I’m excited by the prospect of said friend’s forthcoming birthday celebration in a tepee complete with hippy headbands and sixties music (definitely blasting ourselves into our past-  more of this in a later post). I’m looking forward to watching my mature student son graduate in September, and to several planned social occasions and I’m enjoying watching my grandchildren grow in to the wonderful little people they are.  All these things are joys but the longer term future, particularly in terms of health, is the unknown so I really don’t want to consider that. Of course the past isn’t a place where we should dwell, but isn’t re-living the happy moments in our lives surely one of life’s greatest pleasures? I like to think that life is about making memories that can be enjoyed when I am too old to make new ones.  It is past experience, along with the books we read, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear that shape our identity and make us who we are. I believe that my past is an important part of me.

Our conversation got me thinking about my own growing up years and wondering how much of the ‘then’ me is evident in the ‘now’ version.  I was fifteen years old when I climbed out of a caravan window, followed by the friend who had accompanied us on holiday. It was a little before six in the morning and we couldn’t use the door because we’d have had to pass through the dining area where my parents were asleep on the fold-down bed. For the sixth or seventh consecutive summer my family were in Tenby, holidaying in the pastel pink and blue caravan loaned to us for the last two weeks in August by one of my father’s colleagues. Tenby was the place to be seen that summer; anyone who was anyone was there. In truth, ‘anyone’ comprised  mainly the previous year’s sixth form boys now located at various universities around the country, hanging  around the beach by day, working in the bars and restaurants at night and by fortuitous coincidence (and to the chagrin of our school friends) we were there too.

In our ankle length, embroidered dresses purchased in the Birmingham Bull Ring’s Indian Bazaar, our long hair, plaited when wet to produce masses of pre-Raphaelite waves, we glided (often bare-foot) around the narrow streets, in and out of shops heavily fragranced with incense, ducking below coruscating glass mobiles hanging like stalactites from every ceiling and making friends with the left-over sixties hippies who worked there, and Anne, owner of one of these exciting places, who told fascinating stories  of pop festivals and the icons she had met.  We promised ourselves that as soon as we could leave home, this was where we would be, and Anne was the epitome of who we would be.

Had we even heard of the Isle of Wight festival before then? Probably not, but heedless of the fact that we would need tickets and rather more cash that we had, and anxious to turn in to reality the sounds hitherto experienced only on twelve inch vinyl – Jimi Hendrix, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and others whose names, so important in 1972, now escape me, we descended from that caravan window and made our way out of Tenby with a vague notion of hitch-hiking our way to Southampton. Our intentions were solid, no question – at that moment we’d meant to go.  Maybe no-one stopped for us or perhaps we just lost our nerve. I expect we were each as apprehensive as the other but neither one of us would have wanted to lose face and admit the fact. It’s a long time ago; some memories are crystal, others hazy, faded with the passing of years but this morning, sitting here remembering, I wonder how much of that girl is still evident in who I am today. It’s hard to define oneself, but I think there’s still a little bit of the hippy left in me, a little bit of the person who pushes the boundaries. But I’m also the mother who would be horrified if any of my children admitted to hitchhiking (please, if you are reading this, don’t tell me) and who would voice concern at the potential horrors of walking barefoot where ‘you could pick up anything’.

Yesterday evening a friend and I were reminiscing about people we had both known during the 1970s (even though we had not known each other at that point). His wife commented that we both  had a good memory of the time, saying that her own recall of those years was unclear. I was interested to hear her say that she doesn’t really look back,  which is where I began this post. I’m not sure that there is a right or wrong here. What do you think?

“We are the sum total of our experiences. Those experiences – be they positive or negative – make us the person we are, at any given point in our lives. And, like a flowing river, those same experiences, and those yet to come, continue to influence and reshape the person we are, and the person we become. None of us are the same as we were yesterday, nor will be tomorrow.” (BJ Neblett)

Fruitcake for the rabbit

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This is a house that was once called Cartref. Some fifty years ago, in the kitchen of this house, I must surely have asked a question. I suppose at the time the forthcoming answer provided some measure of satisfaction, but since I have no recall of either the exact question or its response, I cannot say. With some certainty, however, I can tell you that answer would not have been the truth.

On a Saturday morning in May 2015, the unexpected warmth of the early morning, pre-summer sunshine tempted me into the garden with a cup of coffee, a newspaper and the intention of catching up on the post-election rhetoric. Flicking through the pages, I would likely not have stopped to read the article which proclaimed that Bob had been poaching for seventy years, had it not been for the fact that my keenly honed skill of scan-reading picked up on a single word in the opening paragraph: Wickwar.

Sitting equidistant between the market towns of Chipping Sodbury and Wootton-under-Edge, Wickwar had been a moderately successful town in medieval times, with many of its inhabitants employed in the cloth trade. Centuries later it was a small, but thriving, village when, in 1888, the local brewery installed its own hydroelectric generator, allowing the village to make use of the excess. Wickwar had enjoyed short-lived fame as its High Street became one of the first in the country to enjoy electric lighting, even ahead of Bristol. But it was for a different reason that I knew of this small South Gloucestershire village. It had been home to my maternal grandparents, the village in which my mother grew up, and the place that I regularly visited during the school holidays each year.

My grandparents’ cottage was located in West End, about a mile from the village centre, on the western edge of Wickwar. It was forty years since I had visited. The newspaper article told me that Bob Tovey had been poaching to help feed his family since he was a small boy in the 1940s. Any surplus was passed on to others in the village. In the days before welfare benefits and food banks provided a cushion for the needy, widespread rural poverty had meant a hand-to-mouth existence and for some, poaching was essential to survival. Whilst protective of game birds, a few enlightened landowners realised the mutual benefits of allowing locals to snare rabbits and other small creatures on their estates. But many betrayed the trust of their benefactors; greed proliferated and gang violence was rife so, more often than not, the law was invoked – fines, imprisonment and, historically, even hanging for the worst offenders. Fortunately for Bob, his own punishment had fallen short of the latter!

For several days, recollections of time spent in Wickwar interrupted my conscious thought: the early morning crowing of the cockerel, making rose-petal perfume in my grandparents’ garden, and walks in the Deanery with my grandmother, Kitty, where we would tiptoe quietly to peer at the dormice asleep in their nests of bark and grass, or search at the river’s edge for signs of water voles, now sadly, Britain’s fastest declining mammal. I was the little townie who could recognise sheep’s sorrel, harebells and stichwort, and we would pause to pick tiny wood violets, wild primrose, and whole bunches of cowslips, their delicate flowering clusters atop stems standing tall above the crinkly green leaves that sprouted at ground level. Oh, the horror of realising, decades later, that I had contributed to their sad decline.

Apparently, as adults, we are particularly drawn to those places that were part of our lives from the age of five to twelve. Memories of this time are amongst our most vivid and this generally has less to do with people than neighbourhood. For some there is a need for understanding, closure and healing, for others a desire to recapture and reflect. Whatever my own motivation, something niggled away and so it was that one sunny morning last summer, I found myself driving southbound on the M5 to revisit an almost-forgotten piece of my past and wondering what tangible remains I might find familiar.

In a curious dichotomy, though little has changed, much is different. The village is, in essence, linear with the centre comprising a wide main street with narrow burgage plots. Sitting on the route of the Old Saltway which runs from Droitwich to Chipping Sodbury, on the edge of the Costwold escarpment, the area is designated one of historical interest. Astonishingly, this small village is home to almost seventy listed buildings, many built from the grey stone local to the area, though some of the 18th century, rendered and stuccoed houses are now painted in pastel tones.

The flat fronted homes, with their doors opening directly onto the pavement, look, at first glance, exactly as they did so long ago, but no longer do the elderly women of multi-generational families sit outside on straight-backed chairs, exchanging greetings with passers-by. Not a single person strolls along what used to be a bustling high street. I can see no butcher, baker or newsagent and the drapery-cum-toy store which was actually the front room of Mrs Handel’s house is long gone. A cafe now stands where a brown-coated Mr Marsden presided over the highly polished counter of his general store into which I would accompany Kitty and wait patiently whilst she read out her shopping list, item by item, as Mr Marsden’s wife reached for each from the shelf.

In the terraced gardens that once belonged to the long-demolished Poole Court I encounter several large round brick-built structures with pointed grid roofs in the meadow which align with the tunnel that emerges just beyond the village. Until this moment I had forgotten their very existence. A small child, I would stand on tip-toe and lean over the wall hoping to feel the vibration of the trains passing beneath, whilst I watched the steam billow through these air-shafts. At the top of the hill stands the 12th Century Holy Trinity Church with its sinister looking gargoyles clinging to the parapets and staring down as they have done for centuries. Inscriptions on the tombstones repeat names over and over – interconnected family networks that go back generations. Just as my own children did not, and my grandchildren now don’t, the child I was had never quite understood the adults’ obsession with ‘views’. Today, as I look towards North Nibley, at the monument erected to honour local man, William Tyndale, for his English translation of the bible, I am gratified that we come to appreciate them. The church, with which I have so many links, is much smaller than it had once seemed. Here my parents were married and I was Christened; my cousin and I were bridesmaids to our uncle, and family members were buried. I sit for several minutes and reflect, enjoying the absolute silence. How rare this luxury.

From the church, I follow the lane that runs parallel to the Wickwar Ridge which stretches across South Gloucestershire, and wonder if much will have changed. Little, it seems, as I pass by the meadows and vast areas of grassland; past the brambles that so often had supplied the juicy contents of the pies that followed our Sunday roast, past ancient hedgerows which follow the natural topography of the land, past dense thickets that still create little woodland spinneys, once so perfect for games of hide and seek. And then, past the waist-high, dry-stone wall that still meanders alongside the lane leading to my grandparent’s cottage.

The hedgerow grows taller and wilder than I remember and the cottage, at the end of a gravel driveway may still be glimpsed from the lane. It had been called Cartref – no number, no road name, just Cartref, West End, Wickwar. An internet search had revealed no such address, though Google Earth confirmed that the building was still in existence. I had addressed my envelope with a description of the cottage’s location, indicating its proximity to the landmark Clock Cottages. Explaining that it had been my grandparent’s home for almost sixty years, I asked the owner if I might visit. A response had arrived by return: she would be delighted to oblige.

The large garden seems little changed. It was here that Kitty’s organic vegetables were grown and free range eggs were collected long before such labels were fashionable. No weekly trips to Tesco, no on-line ordering from a choice of forty yogurts. Had we even heard of yogurt? The milkman called daily and milk was just that – no skimmed or other varieties -and if we wanted it thick and creamy to accompany those blackberry pies, we took a jug to the farm along the lane, the risks of raw milk unknown to us.

Each morning, on his way to work, my grandfather would roll a small boulder into place to hold open the wide metal gate at the end of the drive, and in the evening the process would be reversed. The boulder was always referred to as ‘The stone’ and, according to my mother, had been there when she too was a child. I’m certain that it is the same one as I see now, and at that moment Something stirs in my memory.

By most people’s standards, Kitty’s Sunday tea-time fruitcakes were unexceptional, but in our family they were legendary, if only for the fact that what little fruit they contained, always sank to form no more than a sprinkling on the bottom of said cake. I had often helped to bake the cakes, though this consisted of little more than an ineffective stir and a lick of the spoon. The day I recall was unusual in that two fruitcakes were now cooling on the marble slab in the pantry. I had never before seen them in duplicate. Kitty brought one to the table. Opening the drawer at the end of the kitchen table, she took out greaseproof paper and scissors and proceeded to wrap one of the cakes. Securing it firmly with string, she told me to go and place it behind the stone.
I asked her why and she replied:
“It’s for the rabbit.”
A serious child, I was not given to airy-fairy ideas of humanised animals. Most certainly I would have protested that rabbits did not eat fruitcake. Maybe I laughed and would have asked a further question, perhaps several, but on this point recall fails, as it does with Kitty’s response. What is indisputable, however, is that it would have lacked veracity. I know for sure that she would not have wanted my grandfather to be aware of her illicit barter.
Bob Tovey says that poaching was a way of life; that men were hunters long before they became office workers or lorry drivers. I brush my fingers lightly across the stone. That fruitcake had indeed been for the rabbit.