these two vivid and enduring memories were inspired by this post, by the amazing Vina Green.  i urge you to visit her blog – her prose is mesmerising in its beauty.

sometimes…

it’s the tag end of winter.  the heavens are intermittently filled with sunshine and sticky, stinging rain.  the air is raw and viscious.  in contrast, the coach is warm and humid, its windows steamed with the breath of thirty-odd junior school children and a handful of adults.  there is a fug in here of wet outerwear in a warm, too-cramped space. the children themselves are noisy and somewhat bored.

the occupants of the coach have recently emerged, blinking, from the dark depths of Buxton Opera House, deep in the heart of the English Peak Disrict.  they have spent the morning watching an incomprehensible spectacle of ballet dancers moving to dull classical music.  it is an honest-to-goodness wonder that any, let alone all, of the children managed to remain wakeful.  and now, they are finishing their lunch.  one particulat little girl is getting more and more uneasy the closer lunch gets to its conclusion.  this is because the teachers have gaily informed them that after lunch, there will be A Walk.  they will march forth into The Beautiful Srrounding Countryside and Get Some Healthy Exercise.  the girl finishes her soggy sandwiches, her too-salty crisps, and her eye-wateringly acidic and chemical tasting orange squash.  an insidious sweat bathes her body as she waits in trepidation for the order to move out.  fidgeting with her long blonde ponytail, she gets herself more and more worked up.

don’t want to go on a walk!  why do we have to go on a walk?  walks are stupid.  it’s cold. it.s wet. it’s muddy. walks are boring. I DON’T WANT TO!!!

but she goes, just like the rest of the children.  she has no idea how long it lasts.  her head is sunk between her shoulders, her beanpole body is curled as far in on itself as it is possible to be and still remain upright and moving.  she endures the walk in misery, and it lasts forever.  before the end of the walk, she is in tears at the sheer injustice of the world that makes her do these things that make her so uncomfortable and cross.  she hates it and wants to go home.

returning to the coach is a mixed blessing.  yes, it means the torturewalk is over (and she fervently hopes that she never sees Buxton, or ballet, or open moorland, ever ever again), but she is surrounded by, woven into a web of, of smell.  entwined throughout the whole day, and now hardwired into her hippocampus for all of her life, is the smell of warm, half-fermented, tupperware-tinged apples, and its associated horror.

…on the other hand…

the girl with the blonde ponytail is now a little older, and she is on a farm.

the girl loves being on this farm, and jumps at any chance to visit.  it’s an old farm,  crammed full of the most fascinating and mysterious objects, all tucked into seemingly endless secret corners and hidden nooks and crannies.  in the summer, she and her brother spend hours exploring it, playing in the woodpile, or down by the river that runs past the farmyard.  she loves just spending time here even if, as it is now, it is just her and her mother, in the caravan, minding the stall.  you see this farm belongs to some family friends.  the families met through the social media of the 1970’s and ’80’s–the CB radio–and they often need help.  wether it’s with bailing, harvesting, treating counting or marking the animals, or (in her dad’s case) tinkering with machinery ad infinitum, the girl’s family often pitch in to help.

today, the year is rolling rapidly towards winter, and it’s apple season.  as a sideline to the farming, the farmer sells apples transported up from his brother-in-law’s orchards in Suffolk.  they have one of those roadside stalls you see everywhere in the more rural parts of the country.  it consists of a couple of crude, handpainted signs, a table, a caravan, some scales, and more apples than the girl has ever seen in her whole life.  whilst everyone else is busy elsewhere on the farm, the girl’s mum is minding the stall for the afternoon, until it is time to take the girl to her pantomime rehearsals, and the girl is with her as she is too young to be left home alone.

the girl is in the caravan.  it has that old-caravan smell.  slightly musty, slightly mouldy, slightly damp.  old and worn and unloved.  it sits just off the roadside, on the drive that leads into their farmyard.  the air is dry, still, and bitterly cold.   the blonde girl is bundled up to the eyeballs in woolens, and she feels awful.  she won’t realise until days later, but the inocculation she had yesterday against measles, mumps and rubella has given her a fever.  she is pretty out of it, drifting in and out of sleep, though the fever has not taken hold completely, yet.  that will not happen until later in the afternoon, when she will get into trouble during rehearsals for lolling about and not paying attention.  her mum just thinks she is tired – she had a late night last night.  so her mum lets her sleep as she serves the customers.  as the girl lies dazed in the caravan, her mind drifts on a sea of nothing, buoyed up by the sharp and all-pervading smell of coxes, jon ‘o’ golds, bramleys and, her eternal favourite, russets.

ever after, for all of her life, the russet apple, its rusty skin, its sweet, sharp, tasty yellow flesh, will take her back to that farm, that caravan, and that feverish afternoon in the arse end of the year.  but she won’t remember the feeling of awfulness engendered by the fever – she can barely remember that.  what she will remember was the sharp, clean freshness of mountains of apples that seemed to fill the whole world.

the feeling of possibility and potential and joy of discovery that place held for her.

in memory of Richard Stirland.  my reserve daddy, and still so sadly missed. 

love you, Richard, wherever you are.

XXX

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