Paradise

Rayleigh is a town built on two levels. We lived at the bottom. Mother found it hard work to push the chair with Colin in it up the steep hill to the High Street. Half way up there was a space where the old castle had stood. The moat that had encircled it was still there. It was a dark eerie place with trees overhanging the green stagnant water. Mary and I loved going there. The first thing we did was run round and round the perimeter, enjoying the feeling of our legs flying through the air. Inside the mount was a small hill and a bigger one. Our aim was to climb to the top of both. The small one was easy but the big one was steep and slippery in the winter. In summer the ground was full of flowers that attracted a myriad of all kinds of insects and butterflies. Lying flat on our stomachs we could see all kinds of tiny creatures and plants. We gazed down through the trees and saw a group of miniature houses far below us. This was the best part. It seemed that they existed only in our eyes. I felt the same excited feeling later in my life when I used to travel back and forth to Scotland. I often caught a glimpse of a bridge leading to a small village. One day I drove there to explore it. I wished I had not done so. The magic faded and it looked like any other seaside town.

I soon learned to write which enabled me to put my stories into words. When we had gone to bed I told endless stories to my sister. She usually fell asleep before I had finished. Although I still did not make friends I discovered that I could round up a small group of boys and girls and organise games for them. Cowboys and Indians was one of my favourites, inspired from my visits to the cinema. I was always the leader of the cowboys and I always won.

We loved Christmas and Guy Fawkes day. These events were eagerly awaited and all the parents did their best to make them fun. In May we enjoyed Empire Day. This was celebrated at school. All the children wore special clothes in red, white and blue. We sang patriotic hymns and songs. Every year there was a carnival in which nearly everyone participated. We had rare days out to the seaside. Everything seemed very peaceful then. Both my parents liked being away from London. My father especially was happier in a country town.

Something wonderful happened to me when I was seven years old. My mother’s sister and her husband invited me to stay with them. I had never seen them before. Most of us rarely saw our relations unless they lived near enough to walk. I couldn’t wait to go. This was the first time I would be away from home. When I think of this now I realise just how independent I must have been. I didn’t miss my family at all, though home looked very welcoming when I returned.

The first adult I ever met, with whom I could have an intelligent conversation was my Uncle Ronald. He was a professional man with a degree in chemistry. My aunt had her first baby who was seven months old. They lived in a much bigger house than ours and my uncle had a car, unusual in those days, so he came over and fetched me to stay with them for two weeks.

Both of them had plenty of time for me. I was the centre of attention and I loved it. He took me out in the car to search for wild birds and flowers. One day he spotted a bright purple flower; stopped the car to walk back and picked it. He hadn’t seen one before. When we got home we looked it up in a book. It turned out to be a variety of wild orchid. He was just as thrilled and excited as I was. That was a new experience for me. I could ask all the questions I wanted and if he didn’t know the answer we would look it up together.

My aunt played the piano. I was bowled-over by this music: the first time I heard any. We could not afford to buy a piano until I was fourteen. In three years I got to grade six. Father told me I was working too hard. “Give it a rest. Moderation in all things!” he said when I played well past bedtime. “If Beethoven had believed that he would never have composed so much beautiful music” I replied. “And a jolly good thing too” he said. “I don’t know what you see in that heavy stuff.” He liked what he called “a good tune”. Once music became more complex he was out of his depth.

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