That bloody John Lewis advert is doing my head in. Seriously. It’s given me the mother of all earworms – the original version, not the breathy, which female singer can we get to cover a song for our Christmas advert Lily Allen one – and that song never fails to make me think of one place. Located on a single acre, on the edge of a tiny Fenland village, it’s all just fields now. But I spent half of my first seven years there, and I have very fond memories of it.
That’s me. The summer of 1982, when I was two years old. We didn’t know the name of the horse, so we just called him ‘Whitey’ (yes, I know, very imaginative). Apparently this would happen every night. My mum would tell me it was time for bed, I’d giggle and run off towards the top of the drive, before being picked up and carried back to the caravan we lived in from April until September.
Last year, with a few hours to fill before we collected The Blondies from The Out-Laws, Alistair and I drove there. It was a beautiful, crisp December afternoon. Leaving Alistair in the car, I went off for a little walk.
That’s the entrance. Up a little track, past the cosy looking cottage on the left with a vegetable patch.
Follow what was once a ‘road’ of sharp stones (the number of times I took chunks out of my knees when I fell over) to the willow tree where I used to play, or sit and read an Enid Blyton book. Always a solitary child.
Then when I was six, I saw a piece of green and black striped hosepipe at the base of the trunk. I called my sister over to ask her what it was. She told me it was a very, very poisonous snake. I stopped playing under there after that.
Keep walking. Past where the kitchen & stores used to be. Look across at the square of concrete which once housed a (to my childish eyes) towering barn and six caravans. Every weekend there would be a disco in the barn, and I was allowed to stay up for the first hour of it. International students from all over the world would try to win points with my father by asking me to dance.
The flatter ground beyond the tufty grass was where the office, TV room and staff accommodation was. There was an oldfashioned telephone system with a buzzer on the wall outside, so if the phone rang when my parents were working in the kitchen, or cleaning rooms, they would hear. I used to think the houses on the far side of the field were hundreds of miles away. The world seems a smaller place now.
Roman Bank. I wasn’t allowed to walk along it on my own. I had to have either a grown up or one of my siblings with me. Again, to me it seemed terrifyingly high at the time. A vague sense of disappointment now.
This tree was the boundary marker. I wasn’t allowed to go beyond it on my own. Sometimes gypsies used to camp in the field beyond it. I was fascinated by them, and they were always lovely to me. But my parents weren’t happy about me playing with their children, so the tree boundary rule was enforced. I got around it by sitting next to the tree, and the gypsy girls came and joined me.
This was the path my brother, sister and I used to take to walk to playgroup/school in the village. Ironically, because we were only around for a few months of the year, the older children thought we were gypsies…
Then across the Troll Bridge. The dyke is full of water in winter, but in summertime it was dry. Mum used to collect me from playgroup at twelve and we’d walk along the path skirting the school field, and over the bridge. Far too many times, Dad would hide under the bridge and grab my legs as I crossed, making me scream. Ah, sweet innocent terror of childhood!
And then back up the drive again. Time to go home, back to life as it is now.
No two year old me. No horse called Whitey. But more than thirty years later, not a lot has changed. The buildings may have gone, but memories remain.