One of my earliest memories is being woken up in the middle of the night by my father. Then riding in a taxi, through the night to my Granny’s. It must have rained because I stood up to look out the back window (no seatbelts in those days) at the glistening road and the shining streetlights. I had never been up in the middle of the night, nor had I ever been out in the night in a fast car.
My father left me at my Granny’s.
The next morning I awoke to find that my father had packed a change of clothes for me, but nothing else. I was four. I think this must have been the first time I had dressed myself. Usually I stood in front of my mother and she dressed me, talking to me all the while. What an amount of buttons I had to do up. The ones on the liberty bodice had soft edges that made them difficult to do with my tiny fingers, but I did my best. The lino on Granny’s bedroom floor was cold to my feet even through my socks, and my father hadn't packed my slippers. The satin on Granny’s best bedspread was also cold. I felt cold all the way through my little body. I could hear kitchen sounds from downstairs, Granny was up, so I left the cold, dreary bedroom and went downstairs.
“My, yer up an dressed an athing. I wis jist gan ti come up and see fit like ye were,” said Granny at the sink.
After breakfast, when I asked Granny what I should do, she suggested I go out to play as she wanted to clean the house. When I told her I had no toys to play with she didn’t turn a hair. She handed me a cracked tea cup without a handle, and a broken table knife as if they were the most wonderful toys in the world. I loved my Granny, so did my best to hide my shock and disappointment, and went out to the back garden. Once outside, while I was thinking of what to do, I remembered my mother telling me stories about her childhood during the war. How they made dolls out of wooden spoons, etc. I didn’t like dolls, but tried to think what I could do with the cup and knife.
I made my way to the end of the garden where there was a huge (to a four-year-old) pile of bramble-covered bricks that I know now had once been an air-raid shelter. I kicked over one of the bricks. Something that had been underneath moved quickly away. I bent down and with the knife blade prised up another brick. This time I was ready. A many-legged brown centipede escaped, but not the black carabid beetle. Into the cup it went. I ran back to the house to show Granny. Though I could tell she didn’t really like the beetle she pronounced it bonny, and gave me an empty jam jar. Over the next few days my collection grew. All were examined at the back door and exclaimed over. There were only two rules: 1) No beasties were to enter the house, and 2) I wasn’t to get too dirty. I was in heaven!
A few days later my father and mother showed up with a very large Easter egg for me and a new baby brother. The egg was enormous, and all mine. It took over a week for me to eat it all. The brother was less interesting – he just lay there – he couldn’t even crawl. I could not understand the fuss the grown-ups made of him when there were far more interesting things just a few feet away in the garden. I went back to my beasties. A few days after that I had to leave my menagerie and return home. My Granny assured me she’d look after them, but I knew she’d let them go. I didn’t mind too much as I had a whole garden at home to explore.
I remembered those days of my childhood just a few hours ago. I was staying in my brother’s house (he eventually learned to crawl, and became more interesting with time), babysitting his dog and cat while the family were on holiday. I found a beautiful harvestman in the garden and wanted to take a photograph of it, but it wouldn’t stay still long enough. I rushed back into the kitchen to find something to put the harvestman in so that I could photograph it. In the cupboard under the sink I found an old, doll’s teacup that must have been a toy of my niece’s long ago. It was perfect. I got my photograph. Then I wandered round the garden, lifting up stones; the plastic teacup still in my hand, ready to scoop up anything that wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to have a good look. I am fifty years old now, and I don’t seem to have made any progress in life at all. I still get the same sense of anticipation I got all those years ago when I was four, every time I lift up a stone.