It’s strange how a smell, a taste or in this case a series of words can evoke memories from long go as vividly as if they happened yesterday.
Over the last weekend on Radio 4 was a replay of ‘Under Milk Wood’ read by Richard Burton. I just caught a snippet while I was in the car in some headlong rush somewhere which took me straight back to childhood.
My day would start with a walk from home to my grand parents’ house which was on the way to primary school. I wasn’t allowed to stay in our family home by myself after everyone else had gone so I had to walk to my grand parents’ and wait there until it was a reasonable time to walk with my friends to primary school.
I would arrive just as Granddad would be heading off to work. Yes, he was my grandfather and he continued to work as a sommelier at a local restaurant until he was over 80. After he had left for work Grandma would go back up to her bed for a few minutes to herself before running the house like a well ordered ship. Her bed had a dark mahogany frame. It was high off the floor and was covered with shiny quilted covers over soft feather down quilts. It always looked warm and cosy.
Some mornings, if there was time, I was allowed on to the bed and snuggle into the soft luxurious folds of the bedding while Grandma slipped under the covers for those extra ten minutes. We would watch the clouds roll by and try to find shapes of animals and plants and countries. If there was a thunderstorm we would sit glued to the windows watching the lightning and then counting the seconds to the crack or rumble of thunder. It was Grandma who told me each second equalled a mile.
I would hear stories from her life as a child. It was not an easy life. Her mother had died when Grandma was born and it was Grandma who when she was old enough had to look after her Dad when she was old enough and make sure the house was kept properly. The only running water they had was a stream that ran in front of the row of cottages they lived in. At secondary school I read Lark Rise to Candleford and imagined the cottages described in the book were like the ones in Bibury, Arlington Row, that my Grand mother lived in.
There were stories about the wars. How Granddad had to be sent to the Isle Of Mann when WWI started as he was originally from Czechoslovakia and was regarded as an alien. How he went off to the Middle East as an officer’s batman when he was finally released. In WWII how everything was rationed but with good home economics no one ever starved in the family home.
Then it would be time to go to school. Away from those warm folds of comfort and into the often frosty damp English air pierced by the sounds of crows collecting in the poplar trees across the road. Oh, how I would have liked to have stayed in those soft enveloping folds and watched the clouds scud by and drink milky coffee from a bone china cup and saucer with Grandma.
The part of Under Milk Wood I heard was something along the lines of ‘his bread and butter pudding bed’ and that was what Grandma’s big, soft warm bed was like; freshly baked bread and butter pudding flavoured with milk and sugar and cinnamon.