Today is Saturday – Watch and Smile (& Other Memories).
I must have been only five years old when my family lived in that old Victorian flat. Across the road and only a fifty-yard hop and skip down it – was the infants’ school I had just started at, and next door, the Doctor, his wife and their two boys lived in their enormous four-story mansion. I mention this because, my father, who had his own Monday to Friday job, used to make extra money by hiring out his services as a builder and landscaper to friends and others he knew and, because during the seventies money was scarce and, he was never able to, well, relax. For as long as I knew him, he was either working at full-throttle or, asleep. On Saturdays, during the mid-seventies, from spring through to very late autumn, he would spend his hours right next door, working for the doctor.
The grounds around the house were not surprisingly, huge. They were thickly bordered with all manner of shrubs and trees which we young boys would climb, hide in, build dens under and eat hurriedly thrown-together picnics inside – the lawns were perfectly trimmed and striped, ideal for boys’ games beneath a never ending summer sun and plenty of out-buildings to muck around in too. If it was raining, we’d remain indoors for the morning – shut ourselves in their playroom and watch TISWAS before venturing out to find something else to busy ourselves with, come rain or shine. Sometimes we’d help my father but moreover, he preferred to work on his own and I think the real reason that I was there was to give me a little play-time without him having to constantly watch over me. We never, as far as I can recall, got into any real scrapes. The house next door was a perfect retreat, a happy distraction and, I still miss those Saturdays. I only realised just how much – forty-four years later, when I visited Drumlanrig, not even a fortnight ago.
Some two-hundred yards away from the main castle, towards the main road, sits this beautiful little bungalow, with its greenhouse almost twice the size of it; gravelled paths, shrubs, rustic borders and plenty of places to hide in, build yet more dens – and, to lark about under a bright and warm sky. I saw this place and every memory of those Saturdays came flooding back. The smell of the laurels, the sounds of crunching footfalls and the mysteries of what I didn’t yet know of what was around each next corner. As I approached the gate, I simply stood and – exhaled. The house here is markedly different from the mansion of my young-boy Saturdays, but this place echoes my past in ways I simply can’t explain any better. For a long time, well, ten minutes or thereabouts – I stood and just soaked it in, as best I could anyway. As much as I could, did not feel anything like enough, though. Some places speak to us, I suppose. Without rhyme or reason, without intention or provocation. Yet the voice is always my own.
As I leaned on the gate and grabbed a few frames, I was aware that I seemed to be exhaling far more litres of air than I was inspiring, in disbelief of the feelings invoked most probably – and as ridiculous as all of this may sound to some, many even or, to you, I felt alive, that both a joy and a sadness presided in me with such weight that I should even feel it now, enough to write a few words about it. You see, I’ll never know exactly what happened to my father and, there’s a natural feeling of disconnection that has presided in me all of my life – not because I want or need to know the details (I’ve had one or two opportunities to find out, had a fear of the known not been so strong) but because I can’t ever remember him being the father I would have always imagined I’d have wanted or needed him to be. In some way – I think views such as this, places that so intimately mimic the more beautiful memories of a past so far removed from a life of responsibility, simply remind me that I came from somewhere.
And some of it was good.
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