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Wimbledon, Grass Soup and a Randy Dog
Getting my daughter off to sleep for her nap, window open to let in some air, I could hear the gentle noises of other people in their gardens.
A spade quietly clanking against something, some birds singing, a distant child calling out, the sound of the spring breeze swooshing the trees around. And I could feel the breeze coming in to cool the previously stuffy bedroom, making the window blind dance around, so that the light kept changing from bright to shady.
With my own eyes closed and my body relaxed these sounds and feelings instantly transported me back to my own childhood. It could have been a spring or a summer day, because from the time when the sun appeared, my sister and I pretty much led an outside life. The garden was our domain, our own special place where we could run free with very little supervision.
As soon as school finished or at the weekends we would have adventures in our garden. Riding on our swings until we reached a precarious speed and height, we would jump off onto the grass below. We would see who could jump the furthest from the swing set. This resulted in many injuries, but thankfully none that led to the hospital.
We would make up adventures for ourselves. The swing set would be our boat, and anything below was the sea. We would avoid falling into the sea by climbing between the swings, the sea-saw and the metal support bars. Scaling the metal support bars was also an activity in itself. We (although maybe more me..) loved scaring parents and relatives by climbing up really high and then leaping off or doing somersaults on the top bar.
One day we decided to do make-believe cooking. Using a flower pot, some water from the hose and some grass seeds, (the kind you find growing on some types of long grass), I made a special "healthy" soup. Mixing it up with a muddy stick, I told my sister that it was a special soup made of wheat and grass that would make her feel really good. Being my little sister she trusted me and did everything I told her to, so putting the pot to her mouth she took a big gulp. I couldn't quite believe she actually did it. Grass seeds are quite course and not that easy to swallow, so some choking noises followed. Luckily she was fine, but still remembers this incident and remains a bit dubious of my cooking.
Another memory I have is of the day a yorkshire terrier dog found its way into our garden through the broken fence between our garden and the one that backed onto us. My dad was terrified of dogs, and it amused us that this tiny creature caused him to retreat back into the house. "There's a monster in the garden", he called, semi-jokingly. Our back neighbours were a mystery to us. We would often hear the kids calling each other, and from the noises we heard we would imagine what they were doing and what they were like. So to have the dog come from their garden made the whole incident especially exciting.
We heard the dog's owner calling his name. It was a woman, perhaps the children's mum. "Randy!, Randy!", she called. This then caused us to run after the poor, terrified creature, ourselves shrieking "Randy!", making him run more. My parents were in hysterics at the dog's name. Little did my sister and I know this at the time, but in the UK, randy is another word for horny. Later we found out that we'd heard wrong, and his name was Brandy. Phew! I don't remember how Brandy got back into his own garden, perhaps my mum coaxed him back through the fence, but we never got to meet his owners, and they remained mysterious.
My sister and I decided to make perfume, how hard could it be? So we got some rose petals, put them in a pot of water and left them there for a few days to scent the water. I still remember the stench of those disgusting rotting petals. Undeterred, we moved into sales. We would pick a bunch of grape hyacinths, tie them into bunches (of maybe three or four little flowers), make a sign "flowers for sale, 10p", and wait for our neighbours to make us rich. But as we were both pretty shy, the sight of one of our neighbours walking towards our makeshift stall, would send us running, full of giggles, away.
Another of our garden endeavours was animal rescue. Thinking back, we must have somehow thought that the creatures of the garden would be much better off in our care than Mother Nature's. We would re-house insects, worms and crustaceans, in plastic ice cream tubs with air-holes; our equivalent of animal hospitals. One time we found a giant cocoon. Into the ice cream box it went. We checked on it regularly, only to find sometime later, a beautiful but dead giant brown moth. We were sad for days, wondering where we had gone wrong.
One summer there was a "plague" of ladybirds where we lived. We were very excited about this, and of course we decided that they'd be most comfortable in our special ladybird sanctuary (otherwise known as the ice cream tub). We easily persuaded around 30 of the poor, doomed creatures to stay in our luxury lodgings which we had furnished with nice green leaves and grass. Sadly the garage where we kept the ladybird sanctuary was a bit leaky, so water came through the air holes, and we drowned our spotty guests. And 30 drowned ladybirds was a very sorry site.
Whenever I think of our garden life it's always inextricably linked to Wimbledon. When the sun got too hot or we grew tired of the outside, we would come in and Wimbledon would be on TV. We never actually went there, but there was something nice about watching other people playing outside when we'd been outside ourselves; it sort of magnified the feeling that it was summer. Our mum helped to get us into the Wimbledon spirit by serving strawberries and cream or strawberry pavlova, which was my favourite. She would drench the strawberries in sugar, which no doubt gave us extra energy for our garden pursuits.
My childhood garden memories are full of sugary treats. I remember copious supplies of ice creams, lollies, fizzy drinks and chocolate cold from the fridge. My mum still reminds me of this when I am "being mean" and limiting my own daughter's sugar intake.
I sometimes joke that I spent most of my childhood upside-down, and one of my predominant memories in the garden is of turning cartwheels, doing handsprings, back flips and walkovers on the grass. This gave me the most amazing feeling of liberation. It was like I was a bird, flying completely free. I felt as if I could do anything, and it was a truly magical, almost surreal sensation. I can still remember this feeling very clearly, although I can't recapture it exactly, as my body will, sadly, no longer allow me to do such things. But listening to the garden sounds before, I got pretty close.