The sessions celebrate the coming of spring through poems, memories and stories inspired by images of spring, new life and hope. We explore, notice and value the seeds of growth that have been scattered throughout our lives, making us who we are.
THEN and NOW by Sue Evangelou
THEN – I lie in a moss lined dell watching the red squirrels leaping from branch to branch of the tall pine trees as they search for pine nuts and scatter emptied cones around me. Ferns tickle my nose and I pluck a pink freckled flower from a nearby foxglove and pop it in the palm of my hand. I like the sound it makes.
NOW – I sit on the director’s chair. I rescued this chair when it had been dumped in a road nearby. It’s a sunny day. The grey squirrels have been out causing havoc earlier but now it is peaceful. There is persistent humming sound. I look up and in the branches of the arbutus tree I can see bumble bees of all shapes and sizes feasting on the nectar of the small white flowers. Ferns grow in the garden and foxgloves. There is even some moss in shady corners.
THEN – Teddy was already old when he was given to me. Teddy with his round black button eyes and threadbare nose. I tell Teddy stories to keep him amused. He doesn’t always talk to me because sometimes his growler doesn’t work no matter how I hold him.
NOW – Now Teddy and I are both old. We like to think we have aged gracefully. Maybe the ladies at the Repair Shop could renovate Teddy but really I like him just the way he is. I do worry about what will happen to him when I am gone. Now instead of telling stories to Teddy, I type them out. They are mostly family stories. Memories to leave behind.
THEN – I make my way to the oak tree. It is very big. I can climb a little way up but I am too scared to go higher. My brother goes much further. He’s bigger than me. Dodo and Deedee are here. They have white powered hair. Dodo wears a satin jacket, an embroidered waistcoat with shiny buttons and knee breeches. Deedee wears a long side hooped silk dress and has a patch beauty spot on her cheek. They have leapt out of my book about Cinderella to come to live in the oak tree.
NOW – Now it is me that has white hair. I can go to the V & A Museum to look at the 18th century costumes there. I can go upstairs and pull out the drawers to see all sorts of fabrics from every age. I can meet my friends for a trip to the Textile Museum to see a Jazz Age clothes exhibition and study the fabrics used. I can watch historical dramas on TV and of course Poirot.
THEN – The oak tree provides me with acorn cups to use in the house I share with Mr. Rarrey. Whilst he is out driving his jewel laden lorry I am busy cleaning the sand stone floor with a rhododendron twig. I make his mud pie dinner and serve it on leaf plates. Sometimes I give him shiny red rowan berries for his pudding.
NOW – I have cups of all shapes and sizes. I love pottery especially from Charity shops and Ebay. Maybe it is because I lived near the Potteries when young. I try to keep the house as clean as I did for Mr. Rarrey but I am not as thorough as I ought to be. My husband is retired. He didn’t drive a lorry full of jewels but he did work in a bank in the City and I do prepare him delicious meals that aren’t mud pies.
THEN – Mrs. Gray lives with her family in the dolls house that my Grandad made for my mother. Mrs. Gray wears 1870’s clothes that I have found pictures of in a book. I make her clothes from 6 penny bundles of remnants that are sold on Market Day in the small town a bus ride away.
NOW – I still have two of the outfits I made for Mrs. Gray – only because my mother thought to save them. I am amazed at what I achieved at such a young age – all hand sewn. Now of course I use a sewing machine. I wanted to be a dress designer at one stage and filled notebooks with my ideas. Throughout my life I have made clothes, curtains, patchwork quilts. I have a stash of fabrics that needs to be culled. Will that happen? We shall see.
THEN – Near the back door there is a rounded indentation in the sandstone bank. I can squeeze in there. It is my magic cave. I can put my treasures in its niches – a tiny blue feather from a Jay’s wing, a shell from a seaside visit, a shiny smooth stone, a pinecone, a brightly coloured marble.
NOW – I still collect treasures. They are dotted around our home. Some are boot sale or charity shop finds, others are mementoes of dear friends and family. I have found blue Jay feather or two in our garden and still admire their beauty. Visits to Cyprus always involve beach walks to search for sea glass. Someday soon I am going to have to sort out my treasures as well as my fabrics.
THEN – I found Sammy on the ground. A pink skinned little heap. I looked up but I could not see where he had come from. I very carefully lifted him and took him to show my Mum. She found an old shoe box which we lined with cotton wool. We fed him on Farex (a baby food that I still liked to eat even though I wasn’t a baby anymore) with a tiny dolls spoon. Sammy liked Farex as well. As he grew his feathers we found from the Observers Book of Birds that he was a Song Thrush. He grew bigger and got fidgety so I took him outside. I gently nestled him in my open palms and encouraged him to fly. He managed it. Eventually he stayed outside but each morning when I went out and called to him he flew down to sit on my shoulder to say hello. Then came the day when he didn’t fly down to my shoulder. Mum said he was living a happy life with the other birds. I hoped she was right.
NOW – I still love the birds I see in the garden. We don’t have any Song Thrushes but there are Robins, Blackbirds, Blue tits, Coal tits, Long tailed tits, Jays, Magpies, Wood Pigeons (who are sometimes in disgrace because they think the vegetables we are growing are for them) and my top favourites, Wrens. One year wrens nested in the bird cage we have hanging from a branch of the Arbutus tree. They could fly in and out between the bars of the cage. Hopefully they will come again.
THEN – Mum gave me some Nasturtium seeds to plant and they grew. I was so pleased. Mum takes us on nature walks where we look for wild flowers. John runs ahead so he can have a rest whilst Lizzie, Mum and I catch up. One time we found some Scarlet Pimpernels. They are hard to spot. We only take one stem of any flower as Mum tells us it wasn’t right to pull the plants up. When we get home we press our wild flowers between blotting paper and put them in heavy books.
NOW – I still remember the names of the wild flowers and names of the different parts of a flower. I enjoy spotting wild flowers wherever we go. I also enjoy growing our own flowers, shrubs and trees in the garden. When I was in my 50s I very narrowly missed getting a job at the Natural History Museum. This was looking after the pressed flowers there, pressing new flower exhibits and showing the pressed flowers to school children when they came to visit the Museum. It would have been fun but at the time the policy was you had to leave there at 60 so I think that tipped the balance against me.
SOWING THE SEEDS by Maureen Thomas
I grew up in a small market town in Norfolk, countryside all around, not far from the coast. Most of my childhood was spent outside. In the garden, making mud pies or ‘perfume’ from rose petals, using whatever was available – leaves, stones, sticks, flowers to ‘cook’ imaginary food and share either with pretend guests, toys, or maybe my real friend from across the street. On the street, where any children who were out would join in games of hopscotch, skipping, jacks, hide and seek. We also spent a lot of time in the park as this was just across a road from the street where I lived, using the playground equipment or just being free to do what we wanted. Probably my favourite was den making. This could be improvised in the park or better in the field/meadow next to it. There were trees, bushes, brambles, grassy bits and we could find a hollow in the brambles, carefully make it big enough for a couple of children, take in anything needed to make it ours/comfortable – some dried grass to sit on, sticks to make a pretend fire, a torch, sometimes snacks. Although I had an older brother I don’t remember playing with him much outside, he had his own friends and games. I played with Eileen and Muriel, sisters who lived across the road, we all loved ‘pretend’ play. I am still in contact with them.
In the house we had a large hall/entrance room, with a sofa along one wall, with coat hooks above it. Also a space under the stairs. Both of these areas made excellent dens with the addition of a few blankets/cushions, soft toys and dolls, and lots of imagination. I spent many happy hours in the hall either with a friend or if on my own I had the toys to talk to and boss about!
The seeds of creativity, love of cooking, love of nature/outside, imagination were sown in my childhood. I still love nature, getting out in the countryside when possible. I enjoy cooking. I’ve continued these interests, both in my career and with my children and grandchildren. Having grown up in the city my children don’t have the same love of the countryside, but they all love food, and are all creative and imaginative in different ways. After a large delivery my (middle-aged) daughter could not resist getting inside the cardboard box! Whenever my granddaughter used to visit we usually made a den behind the chair, which could be the starting point for so many games.
Childhood Outdoor Play by Alex Grott
It’s hard to realise that 63 years ago, when I was 10, there were few cars on the streets and no TV. Milk was delivered by horse and cart, with competition between neighbours for the garden manure. Quiet streets encouraged play outdoors, in fact you had to have a very good excuse to get past Mum and enter indoors. Soldiers, dinky tanks and jeeps were a favourite game in soil moulded into forts and roads. Neighbourhood boys had much better vehicles, so my brother and I enjoyed bombing their shiny vehicles with stones. Battles were given names from the current news such as Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam. In Southampton, where I lived as a boy, there were big bombed sites after the 2nd war. Branches from bushes and old cellars were used to make dens, cricket was played in an open patch and fires were erected for firework night. They had to be guarded as boys from other roads would light them early. Philip next door had a cowboy outfit and Jill his sister a headband with feather. They had a bought tepee tent and I was happy to be Jill’s Indian husband as I think she was the first girl I really liked. In those 1950 days, dogs were allowed to roam free. Ricky, our mongrel, used to come for walks with me without a lead. I’ve been to a shop over a mile away for my Mum and would see Ricky trot by, always purposefully.
Outdoor playing has given me a lifetime taste for the outdoor and early playing with friends had shown me how fine it is to be with others, doing things together. Making dens as boy immersed me in buildings and nature and I’m interested in both as an adult. It’s funny how life in early days rolls over into later days.
Rules and Risk as a Boy of 15 in ‘62 by Alex Grott
In house I didn’t have rules, but then didn’t upset the cart,
being happy at home, parents are held in your heart.
There were some jobs that had to get done,
and yes they were not always great fun.
My special task was chopping wood for the fire,
doing dishes with my brothers created not too much ire.
Scrumping apples and pears from gardens could be risky,
to get over the fence you had to be frisky.
Riding bikes was daring when fast downhill,
sometimes you just felt the need for a thrill.
“Had your eyeful,” boys would call as you were walking along,
I glared back with a reply, pretending to be strong.
In the sixties you were always out of the house,
there was risk but few rules, like the life of a mouse.