Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Place of Birth

I'm not exactly sure what started me thinking about my birthplace. Not the village itself, you understand, but the one half of a pair of unremarkable dwellings known as 'Yule Cottage'. Whatever it was that stirred my thoughts, it sparked a chain reaction of flashbacks. Some as clear as crystal and others murky and indistinct.

Chocolate buttons kept by my maternal grandmother in a tin decorated with flowers. On one side of the tin the design was scorched and blackened. I have no idea why or how. My immediate interest would have been concentrated on the contents.

A little cross-bred dog called Bobby. His patchy white chest moving rapidly as he panted during warm weather.

Watching men working in the field adjoining our garden. They must have been hay-making but I wouldn't have known that. All I saw was men labouring under the sun and a cloudless blue sky.

I sensed that our neighbours were elderly, even though I had no concept of what being old meant. Mr Plank, a veteran of the First World War, softly spoken and never without his flat cap, always called me 'Smarty'.

Later, when I was old enough to identify the sound of a cricket match being broadcast on the radio and long after my time at 'Yule Cottage', I recognised that Mr Plank must have been a keen cricket fan. You see, I was alert to the sound and vision but had not yet developed a method of interpretation. I was only aware of Mr Plank's front door being open, the interior of his cottage being exceptionally dark (in fact, no light made its way much beyond the threshold) and the distant staccato tones of a male voice, punctuated occasionally with what might have been applause.

It wasn't unknown for Mrs Plank to cross over into our back garden to pick a leaf of Laurel. She was adamant that it enhanced her custards with the flavour of almonds. For goodness sake don't try this at home. I'm sure Laurel is toxic.

We had no mains water and, like a lot of people in 1950s rural England, our outside privy was emptied regularly by men in blue overalls and long red rubber gloves. We did have a television though, one of only two in the entire community. In fact, the coronation of Elizabeth II was viewed on our set by a substantial audience of villagers in the cosy confines of the parlour.

I was easily influenced then. After seeing a man, with no shirt, riding his bicycle in the next village, I decided to emulate him, much to the consternation of my family. At every opportunity I would pull my shirt up to my chin and run around the way all good would-be cyclists do. Strangely, I recall pressing my bare torso against the cool interior walls of the cottage, imagining that the sensation was the same as being exposed to a healthy breeze.

I knew when I was on to a good thing too. If I clung to the front gate when Mr Draper walked past,  it was a surefire bet that he would stop, plunge his hand deep into his overcoat pocket and produce a Murray Mint for me. Likewise, a visit to the village shop usually ended with me being given a green foil-wrapped triangular chocolate from the Quality Street jar.

Perhaps being born at home plays some part in bonding us with the actual fabric of the building. As I stated at the top of this post, I'm not exactly sure what started me thinking about my birthplace. What I am certain about is that such memories are valuable and worth giving some time.

© 2009, copyright Martin T. Hodges


  1. Hello Martin

    I enjoyed your stream of memories, the little incidents that are indelibly marked on childhood minds are fascinating in their persistence and poignancy...

    We each have a cast of neighbourhood characters and anecdotes connected powerfully to the senses, sounds, smells, tastes, sights and touch...the body as well as the mind, never forgets...

    Happy days

  2. Hi Delwyn

    Glad you enjoyed this post. You are so right in your comments. We're such complex creatures aren't we?

    I seem to have become more sensitive to these 'triggers' as I've got older. The other day we were driving along when an undefinable aroma transported me to my grandmother's kitchen in an instant. It was wonderful!

  3. Your flashbacks were very entertaining, thank you. You're lucky that chocolate buttons were part of them - sweets were home-made, or non-existant during my earliest years.Luckily, my Auntie and cousin were dab hands at making toffee, or a mint-type confection which had National Dried Milk as a basis! A sweet shop was a thing of wonder, when eventuially one opened near my Gran's house.

  4. Hi Jinksy

    Yes, well I developed a sweet tooth as a result. Funny thing is, nowadays I can take them or leave them. At last, I may have outgrown the chocs!

    Thanks for dropping by.

  5. Lovely post.

    Sunday tea time I always remember the mawkish, "Sing Something Simple" theme tune and shudder.


  6. GG

    Thanks for dropping by. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Ah, I'd forgotten about 'Sing Something Simple'. There must be a reason for that!


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