Saturday, 21 August 2021

Memory Lane

So often I hear people say "never look back, it's not good for you; always keep looking forward" and whilst I agree (to a point) that dwelling on a past that has been-and-gone is not good for you, taking little trips down memory lane is definitely not a bad thing. Without doing so we'd never be able to keep the spirit of a loved one dancing, for we'd never talk about them if we couldn't look back, and I for one, love to chat about my loved ones who have left this earth too early. 

This past month I've done a lot of trips down the old 'Memory Lane' starting with a Saturday afternoon drive a few weeks back. I try to take my Mum out at least once a week. She's retired (it was forced upon her) living only off her government pension where she was left in so much shit after my Dad died at the age of just 49, with no life insurance; they'd not long remortgaged the house. She worked her fingers to the bone to keep a roof of the heads of herself and my younger brother (just 14 at the time) however, she wasn't in a highly paid job which meant all her money was spent on paying the bills; getting by from one day to the next, as so many people in this world do. This left nothing for a private pension. Don't get me wrong; she's not complaining. She knows that compared to a lot of people around the world she is lucky. She kept that roof over their heads, now it's kept over hers. Due to losing her job though, and her eyesight, she had to give up her car. She's not one who has spare cash to be a 'lady who lunches' so her only time away from home is if she hops on a bus and pops into town; something she wasn't able to do during the lockdowns, but she is back to a twice weekly jaunt for a few hours again now. Because of this, her situation, the fact she's not getting any younger, I made the decision to spend more time with her, making memories of our own whilst giving her a change of scenery. 

For a while we would go out on a Tuesday afternoon to visit different garden centres, always stopping for a coffee, and picking up plants we didn't need that were being sold off cheaper because they needed a new home, someone to tend to them, give them life. We can both relate to those plants! Then covid hit and we stopped. I know we can now visit them again, and we have a few times, however, I cannot bear to wear a mask. My whole face gets hot, sweaty, and I struggle to breathe wearing one so I avoid going anywhere at the moment for that reason, so now we've taken to going for a little drive to different places. Not too far away as the price of fuel is extortionate; I also don't do many miles-to-the-gallon myself and need to pee a lot more than someone my age should. Public toilets are not places I wish to use, and until such time as I win the lottery and can afford to buy the all electric camper van I dream of owning, that has it's own toilet (meaning I could be out for 15 hours in one hit if I needed to be) then I can't be too far from home, just in case I need to go! Having said that a few Saturdays ago we ended up finding ourselves driving several hundred miles (I'm going to admit by the time I got home I was pretty much dribbling as I ran up the stairs to our bathroom; another 5 minutes and I would never have made it!). 

It's always left to me to choose where we should go. Mum thinks because I have to drive she doesn't want to tell me places to visit in case I don't want to go where she suggests. This infuriates me as I am always asking her to help me out; I cannot think of everything, so when she suggested we take a couple of hours drive to the small village my grandparents lived on the outskirts of, I was not only surprised at her making a decision I was happy as I'd been thinking about the place a lot myself in recent weeks - I'd smelled a bonfire a while back and whenever I smell one I am transported back in time to my grandparents place. They were a lovely couple, your a-typical grandparents. Both of them short, slender people. My Nanny with a head of white hair, always kept styled, my Grandad was a darker grey. They'd raised 4 sons (3 of whom went on to do really well for themselves; the 2nd son - my Dad - wasn't one to be shut up indoors and started working on steam trains before moving to be a coach driver when the railways went to diesel; neither of these jobs were well paid but what he didn't make financially wise, he made up for in enthusiasm!) and they didn't have a pot to piss in. When they reached the age that they should have retired, taking life easy and been enjoying themselves, they had to sell everything they own and took jobs working for a family that owned a lot of land and properties. Whilst my grandad tended their 8 acres of grounds, my Nanny kept their house clean, did their washing/ironing and was basically a maid to them. Both of them were on-call 24/7 when the family were at home (which, thankfully wasn't that often). In return they got to live in a two-up, two-down, 15th century cottage (none of us can remember if the date stone above the door said 1435, or 1485; it was one of the two). They lived rent free, however they were never paid a wage; their pension was the only funds they had. They also had to pay all of their utility bills. The really sad part is how much my Nanny hated it; she'd gone from living in 2 cities (originally from Birmingham, before moving south to Portsmouth) where she was surrounded by people, her 4 boys, their friends/girlfriends; they took in lodgers at different times, were both from big families themselves (he was one of 13, she one of 11) to it being just the 2 of them, in the middle-of-nowhere. The nearest neighbour was a mile away, the nearest village 6 miles. My Dad was convinced it was living there which saw her pass away at the age of 69. She had no health issues, was fit-as-a-fiddle but just went to bed one night and never woke up again. A great way to go for her. The irony is that whilst she hated being there, I loved being there; a visit to go see them was a real treat (my Dad worked many weekends so rarely got the chance to take us all over as a family so when we got to go we made a proper day of it). I often went with other family members when they were visiting so got to see them quite a bit, and my parents would go during the week whilst me and my brother were at school which meant they got to see them too; it just wasn't ever enough. 

To be a kid allowed to roam so much open space was amazing; alongside the grounds, fields and paddocks, directly outside the back gate were hundreds of acres of woodland. The owners also had several hanger size workshops filled with old cars, motorbikes, jeeps, and pretty much anything mechanical. They didn't care where we went, or what we did, as long as we locked up buildings after being in them and kept the gates to the paddocks closed. Over the years I explored every inch of their grounds. I got to ride a shire horse (wildly entertaining). We went fishing in a pond on a neighbouring property; I spent hours making dens in the woods, picked sloes for my grandad to make some home brew. I saw for the first (and so far, only time) red forked lightning over there. When over there with my cousin we'd climb trees, shell conkers for conker fights, ride his 3 wheel ATC bike thing around - we took out a whole new post-and-rail fence on that thing. I had the time-of-my-life on every single trip over there. Not just because I got to be outdoors doing crazy stuff, but also because I got to spend time with my Nanny, who was just the sweetest lady; she was also an exceptional cook and I enjoyed many helpings of her roast dinners. 

Fast forward 30/40 years and there we were, at the bottom of the long drive which leads up to both properties. I yearned to walk up it, hug the tree where John first kissed me, the tree with the "Drive Slowly, Children Playing" sign nailed to it. I wanted to run across the field, open the side gate, rickety as it was, pushing it back carefully so it never fell off the hinges, before crossing the red brick-paved courtyard. I wanted to unlatch the back door, open it wide and enter the kitchen where my Nanny would either being standing by the sink, or heating something up on the aga and give her the biggest hug, yet  couldn't. They don't live there any more, and I'm not sure the people who owned it when they did are still there, for the main house did go up for sale a few years back. From the drive I could see they cottage has been extended, and another additional extension is in the process of being built; there is also what looks like a 2-bed guest cottage down the bottom of their field; I fear they may have dug up my grandads old sheep dog 'Rebel' to build it; I hope not, and if they did I hope they were kind enough to re-bury him. To see these properties on there was hard; they've taken away the whole character of the place - the high bushes around the main house have also been removed so you can now see it from the bottom of the drive, something you never could before. The pond was gone, and new post-and-rail fencing surrounded the paddocks. Aside from those few things though I could still feel the excitement and love I felt each time we turned into the drive. I could imagine my grandad having the logs piled high in the shed, the aga burner filled to the brim with ones he'd already dried - he never let that fire burn down, even in the middle of summer. That and the fireplace at one end of the living room was the only source of heating in the whole building. The bathroom was furthest away from any source of heat, with it's own red-brick tiling on the floor; permanently cold, even in the midst of summer due to the tick cottage walls, small leaded windows, being north facing and having towering oak trees less than 20 feet away. My Grandad would wheel a small calor gas fire in the bathroom during winter. How he ever survived living there with no heating is beyond me as he'd go to the beach in the middle of summer in a thick layer of jumpers.

I drove away from there talking about my grandparents, my Dad, the fun times we all had over there, the holidays we had thanks to the people they worked for, and I smiled, like I've not smiled for a really long time, because although there is no going back to those times, remembering them reminded me how things have been wonderful before, which means they can always be wonderful again. You cannot live in the past, you shouldn't dwell on it, but my goodness, every-now-and-then go revisit it, remember the good moments, lament the bad, and remind yourself that there is always sun shining somewhere. Dark clouds always blow over eventually. I loved some of the past, I hated some of it to, but without it I'd not have a future to look forward to so I'm going to dip my toes in once-in-a-while for a few hours, then turn myself around and look off into the future. 



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