Wednesday, October 12, 2011

At Land's End

As I watched Richard Wilson, on the television programme Britain's Best Drives, approach Land's End in Cornwall, I remembered it with sudden clarity. It's the most south-westerly point of England. What I remembered most was the scent of the grassland, and all the little flowers in the grass.

There are cliffs, and wild seas, but actually I don't remember those at all - - just the approach to them, and the grass, and the flowers.

It's not really surprising that I don't remember the views - I wouldn't have been able to see them. This was nearly a couple of years before anyone knew that I couldn't see very well at all. But I've always remembered the smell of the grass, and those mysterious words "Land's End" which sounded both pleasing, exciting and faintly scary.

We were on holiday in Penzance, and I was three.

The approach to Land's End is one of my three memories of that holiday.

The second one is of visiting what must have been a gift shop. It sold donkeys and carts made out of pottery. It was a low-lying, stone building and they had lots of the same ceramic donkey-and-carts of different sizes, in greens and pinks. Some were as big as me - or that's how I remember them, anyway. My grandmother - my mother's mother - bought me one, a little one. Of course I kept it for - - well - ever. I'm not sure where it is now, exactly, but I'd guess it's in this house somewhere: it was quite chunky and I don't remember it ever getting broken.

My third memory, however, is not so happy.

It's nearly four hundred miles to Penzance from Leeds if you take the quickest route by motorway.

Of course, in 1959, there was no motorway route. I expect it was well over four hundred and fifty miles, and never very fast.

So we stopped on the way, in Bath, at one of those old-fashioned boarding houses.

In those days, our family was made up of the Communist, my mother, and my grandmother, who had come to live with us just that summer. It was the summer we all moved into this house, the house where Stephen and I live now. Grandma had moved to Leeds from Barrow-in-Furness, because her husband had died a couple of years earlier.

So that summer was the first time she'd ever come on holiday with us.

All went reasonably well I think - though I can't remember - until the boarding-house in Bath.

Somehow the Communist lost the belt from his trousers. I have absolutely no idea how.

Grandma was one of those women who thought of men as a separate species - useful in some ways, but perhaps a bit dim. She had herself been very happily married. Grandma was a ferociously intelligent woman who had never been out to work but who was very much in charge at home.

She and the Bath landlady joined forces in finding the Communist's missing belt absolutely hilarious and mentioning it with tremendous hilarity every ten seconds or so throughout breakfast.

The atmosphere became more and more tense. I remember crying and being taken out of the room by my mother. I was aware how upset the Communist was at being the subject of such teasing, and how the two women wouldn't stop laughing.

I think the events of that breakfast cast a long shadow over the future years. Grandma lived with us for the next thirty-three years and the relationship between her and the Communist was never easy - they tolerated each other, but that was about it. Grandma always made lots of little digs. Every day when he came home from work, she would say "Oh, is there a man here?" in such a way that it was very nearly a joke - - but not quite.

I loved my Grandma, and I loved the Communist of course, and I often felt torn between them. I think it must have been difficult for my mother.

Whenever I have heard people, in the company of small children, say something like "Oh, she's too young to understand," I have thought of this incident. Of course I didn't know exactly what was going on - - but I knew it was horrible, and I hated it.


Anonymous marcus said...

I remember more of that than I thought I would have. Times flies.

9:57 pm  
Blogger JeannetteLS said...

I've always wondered why some adults seem to think children do not sense enough to fill in the blanks even when they do not exactly understand the conversation. And it hurts them...

In central PA, when I lived there for a couple of years, I loved to wander north. PA has some marvelous town names: Bird-in-Hand and Snowshoe are two I love. Anyway, I was looking at the map for the first time when I saw something called the Endless Mountain Range. And just south of them was "World's End" State Park. I think I'll have to do some journal diving about those places.

My sister and I thought that they made up the song "The bear went over the mountain" There, in the mountains. You'd drive along through woods, and suddenly all would open up. And on either side of the road you looked out--and over other mountain tops as far as you could see, before you and on either side. We were there, driving along on top of the world, it seemed.

Why your entry made me think of that, I'm not sure. Just Land's End, I guess.

I am so enjoying your memories and your beautiful country.

11:19 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

We have terms like racism and sexism but you never hear about childism. Many children are wiser and more perceptive than a lot of "adults" might understand.

12:43 am  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

I remember conversations being cut off because "little pitchers have big ears"....

12:04 pm  
Blogger Kate said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:21 am  
Blogger Kate said...

I used to get painful indigestion at most meals meals with my grandparents... similar story, with the sexes reversed, and the patriarch including my mother too. Sometimes my tummy was so sore I had to leave the table and have my meal in my room. On reflection it was, of course, blessed escape.

Thank you for sharing this Daphne. I should pop in more often.

8:22 am  

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