Blackcurrant Lemonade and Hawthorn Dene
My birthday is in May. It is my favourite month, by far. Every year on my birthday my Dad and I would make a pilgrimage to Hawthorn Dene. We would walk through the woods to the sea. Afterwards we would call into the local pub and drink blackcurrant and lemonade (which, in the late 70s, seemed as sophisticated as a champagne cocktail).
Hawthorn Dene is beautiful English woodland. In May it is carpeted with Lily of the Valley and frothy, aromatic Wild Garlic. It is a magical place, cool and shady with wandering paths and streams. The dene opens out to wide, airy grassland and huge jagged cliffs cutting down to the North Sea.
In later years I would walk the dogs there and collect the wild garlic for salads. It is beautiful at all times of year, but nothing comes close to the lush, surging freshness of the woods in May. These days the beach is clean and the sea water is sparkling and fresh. When I was a child everything was blackened and mired with coal dust.
The sweetness of those moments was truly in the simple pleasure of warm May sunlight, the biting freshness of the North Sea air and the sweet stickiness of a glass of blackcurrant and lemonade. And of a day with my Dad, of course.
Fanny Rat Christmas
You may have read the account of my first date with Rochester. Our second date was 2 months later on Christmas Day. The 300 mile distance between us did make the usual 'getting to know you' ritual rather problematic. He came back North (in the tradition of a disgraced, fanny-ratting Tory MP) to 'spend time with his family'.
I was already very aware of his capriciousness. At times he was intense and romantic. Other times sullen and withdrawn. I was looking forward to seeing him. I knew he was North, but we had made no concrete plans to see each other. I hate uncertainty. I loathe spontaneity. He didn't even get in touch on Christmas Eve, I began to agonise and fret. I am good at fretting. In the end I switched my phone off and went to bed. When I awoke on a very sunny Christmas morning there was a text from the swarthy rogue asking if I wanted to meet for a walk along the cliffs.
We met an hour or so later. He was late (yes, capricious, withdrawn, sullen AND tardy). Boo acted as our shaggy, waggy chaperone once again. When I saw him stalking up the path, huddled against the wind I felt inexplicably happy. I was quite overwhelmed with warmth and joy. We walked up and down the headland, stopping to read the 'In despair? Call the Samaritans' signs, trying to discourage Boo from peeing on the tattered bunches of flowers forlornly tied to cliff-top benches. I slipped my arm through his and buried my hand deep in his coat pocket. It was a perfect winter's day: bright and golden and fresh. We had an hour or so, and then he was off to meet his brothers for a drink before Christmas dinner with the whole family. We talked nonsense probably. We usually did. We were both fluent in it. Our nonsense always made me smile. It was comfortable and gently teasing. He walked me back to my car and we kissed for a long, long time. And then he was gone.
That morning felt infused with warmth and happiness and longing. For once, I felt full of optimism and hope.
Cider Lollies under the Apple Blossom
My first house was a modest Edwardian terrace in Sunderland. It had high ceilings, bookcases lining the walls of the sitting room and there was a big, cast-iron open fireplace in the dining room. The sash windows would rattle in the wind and the floorboards would creak. I loved it so. I moved in December. I remember sitting at the top of the staircase looking at the empty house and feeling so moved and happy. It seemed massive. My first home.
My favourite part of the house was the back yard. It was my own secret garden. It faced south and was sunny all day, but it was full of mature fruit trees and cottage garden plants. The light there was always dappled and soft. From May - September I would spend all my time there, I ate all my meals at a little table by the back door.
My street was on the route of an ice-cream van. Whenever I heard his wonky, tinkering chimes I would rush out and buy a cider lolly. One of the warmest memories I have of my time in that house is cider lollies under the apple tree: the dogs snoozing on their blankets in the sun, a book by my side, the cats prowling along the red brick wall at the back of the garden.
I don't have any memories in this house that even come close to the perfection of those long, languid afternoons in the sun.