Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Brambles & Damsons

Damn. This always happens. The day before every flight home, anxiety kicks in, and I find myself sweeping through my mother's house for treasures from my childhood -- a little leather box, a heart-shaped pendant cut out of clay which I made in the Lower Remove, two tiny liquer glasses given to me by my grandmother, my English exercise book from 1973 (choc-a-bloc with hilarious tales), a Czechoslovakian glass cigarette box from a great great aunt, certificates for swimming the 1/4 mile, piano (Grade 2), Pony Club C test, ballet, acting, Duke of Edinburgh, old Gilman & Soames school photographs (I'm the one with the largest hair), old pictures.  All of these are furiously wrapped in newspaper and stuffed into my suitcase. There are books too. My copies of Koestler, an old Giles annual, Woolf's Orlando with the tattered cover, a little book on Blake I found in High Wycombe. And goodies from Waitrose: fennel tea, rose harissa, Rescue Remedy.  Postcards from Liberty.  Two pots of honey from my brother's Scottish bees.

The thing is, I hate leaving this place.  We've been away from Los Angeles too long. I miss my lovely husband, the greater and lesser spotteds, my bed, but I love that I can sit in my mother's kitchen overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury at six in the morning, with my cup of tea, and the sky is palest pink and the oak trees are still, and there are rabbits cropping (a word I learned from my ten year old self) on the lawn. I love that we went to Mr. Leach's farm stand yesterday afternoon to find a marrow of just the right size to stuff for supper for the three of us, that there were scores of big, fat green marrows lined up on a table, all for 60p (mine was 30p because, in comparision, it was a tiddler).  I love that I could walk the dog for miles in Ashridge yesterday in mixed woodland (silver birch, oak, some fir) and not see another human.  Although some West Highland terriers did interrupt my very scientific self-timed portrait on Berkhamsted Heath.

You see, the house we grew up in is here, just a few hundred yards away from my mother's house.  But it has changed a little, as you will see from the following two photographs:

circa 2010
circa 1996
And life goes on. Of course it does. Change is good.  But change does still tug annoyingly at one's heart strings.  The house we grew up in was messy, rambling, covered in ivy, full of flowers and trees and vines.  The house now is very smart, elegant and refined, and hidden behind an enormous wall.

But there are still sloes in the hedgerows.

And horses that greet us in Claridge's field.

And cattle that lie down in the pasture on soft mornings.

And old beech trees, silver birch and naughty dogs to walk with.

(That naughty dog is asleep on my pillow. I invited him into the kitchen but apparently he doesn't "do" 6:00 am.)

At the bottom of the garden is an ancient garden, full of fruit trees, amongst them four damson trees, heavy with purple fruit.  I've promised myself I shall make damson jam, and secret it into my suitcase, with all my other treasures.  My mother is preparing for 25 women from her Keep Fit class (hopefully not in leotards) to come to tea.  Downstairs, she has laid out tables with white, embroidered cloths; we've pulled tables out of the garden shed and let them be washed by the rain; there are cucumbers and smoked salmon in the fridge for sandwiches, plenty of brown bread.  My damson jam-making must be done on the QT and quickly for we must leave here at noon to catch our plane back home to Los Angeles. And of course there has to be one last walk, one more reason to take photographs of nettles and bracken and tiny, wee birds I can't name, to listen to the London train hurtle by the Grand Union canal, to eat brambles fresh from the bushes, the way one does in England when Autumn's on the doorstep.


Little Brown Bird said...

There really is no place like home. I'm beginning to really appreciate that. Must be to do with my first grey hair!


Louise aka @batpoet said...

Magnificent. Love your photos, the beautiful descriptions and details, the heartfelt memories you have of childhood in this lush place. You must be NW of London (but E of Oxford)? Reminds me of trips to the UK with my grandparents, coincidentally always taken in August - September. (Ah, I had my first real kiss there by a Cambridge guy!) When you drag yourself away, though, remember that it is awfully cold and gloomy there in winter, and we miss you here in So. Calif.! Regardless -- many thanks for the pleasure of reading your beautiful blog piece!

LPC said...

So beautiful. And it sounds as though you are always homesick in your bones. I was happy when I came back to California at 29. Even 11 years on the East Coast was too long. I missed the yellow summers. I cannot imagine living in LA and missing green England. Especially if you had ponies and brambles as a girl.

Sensible Footwear said...

Very touching to read about gathering your childhood treasures before heading home from home.

Mrs L. said...

So gorgeous. And so happy to have you back in the canyon. X