Autobiographical: My childhood garden

Children in a garden

I don’t remember much about Evelyn and Alan, my paternal grandparents, because Dad moved away. They lived in Darlington, Yorkshire, or “God’s Country”, as people call it. My earliest memory of them is in their back garden. There were stripey deckchairs. Grandad was wearing a woolley tank top over a shirt and Grandma, a blouse and billowing skirt. 

Grandma gave me a plum to eat from their plum tree. I remember it was rough on my tongue and I didn’t like it, so I spat it out. I remember Grandma laughing as I spat it into her hand. 

My parents back garden was equally idyllic. I was gifted with a swing, a slide and when the preschool playgroup I attended closed for summer, we borrowed their wooden climbing fort. I loved climbing and clambering over that climbing frame, King of the Castle.

There were rules in the garden. You could not play ball games because it damaged the flowers and plants, but mum gave up because my brother, James, was going to be the next Gary Linekar. 

James was in a Sunday League football team called The Saints, and he was the captain. Dad used to call him Number one son, because apparently they do that in China. Dad would produce a newsletter each week with the league scores and other news for the lads and dads. He wrote it by hand, because we didn’t have a computer at home- it was the 1980s. 

When The Saints used to play, I had the responsibility of handing out the oranges at half time, and the mums shared the burden of washing the kits. I used to go and play by myself while his matches were on, and I think James was embarrassed by me because I didn’t stand and watch, but football has never been my thing. 

We had rhubarb in the garden and my sister wouldn’t eat mum’s rhubarb crumble because our Aunt’s dog Nelson had weed on it once, according to James. Mum didn’t tolerate that, and Caroline was back on rhubarb with the rest of us at the dinner table. 

James refused to eat carrots, he can see in the dark just like Jamie and his magic torch, an old TV show. Caroline my sister refused to eat tomatoes. I wouldn’t eat my greens for an embarrassingly long time, although studies later revealed that green pigments in vegetables taste bitter to small children, so I felt vindicated. 

Once, James pulled a face as he was eating mums rhubarb, and she flipped 

“Don’t start all that nonsense again, I’ve spent hours in that kitchen” but mum had used salt instead of sugar in the crumble. We gave her stick for years about that, because it was the only time she put a foot wrong in the kitchen.

Ofcourse, sugar and salt look the same but they’re very different in character, something I wish I would remember more often in life, that looks can be deceiving. 

My other grandma was a widow, her name was Constance, or Connie England. What a name. My grandad Walter passed away before I was born, and he had his own plumbing business. My mum grew up in Cheshire then moved to Warwickshire, where we live now. Grandma lived in a small cottage in Lichfield near Cannock Chase, with roses around the door, in Staffordshire where they make the finest porcelain in the UK.

I remember visiting her and all the flowers were in bloom and bees were buzzing all around her back door. I closed my eyes and leapt through the bees and flowers and she greeted me with a big kiss and hug. She was making preserves from the gooseberry and blackberry bushes in her garden, and our favourite, Almond Cake.

Grandma didn’t use the front door because it went straight onto the street. She kept a draught excluder across the base of the front door, a stuffed blue snake that she wouldn’t let me play with even though it was fluffy.

The other rule in mum and dad’s garden was don’t eat the apples off the apple tree because they were rotten. Dad told me he once bit into one and bit through a worm. When I had a cat he used to scale that tree although he once got his collar caught on a branch and nearly choked. Luckily our neighbour spotted him and got him down safely.

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From tiny acorns mighty oaks grow.

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