susys running away to sea

"The rigors (sic) of an expeditionary lifestyle"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Walking with ghosts

My sister has recently moved into the old family home - tile hung, 20's, Sussex style - very pretty, but on a main road in a busy town. For years it was my father's dental surgery, and we all lived over and around the shop. She's retained the layout, in many ways, letting out the former surgery as a self-contained flat. Above the flat is her sitting room, as it was 50 years ago.

I stayed with her a few days ago, the first time I'd really been there since moving out all that time ago. We were talking in her kitchen upstairs, and I was aware of speaking carefully, laughing quietly, so as not to disturb the waiting patients downstairs ...

I used to ride up and down in my father's dental chair, showing scared children how easy it was, and anyway he was my father, not a horrid ogre.

As I explored the house once more, I could see the old kitchen, with its solid fuel Aga (the bane of my mother's life), the cream painted dresser and my favourite delicate bone china teacup and saucer, relic of an old tea service, white with cobalt blue rim and gold filigree. I was there with my cousin Tim, playing 'himpa humpa' - boxes of washing powder balanced on our heads as we raced to be the first to get to the hidden front door in the kitchen and put th boxes on the crossmembers. I saw the long-gone wall in the downstairs cloakroom, dividing the loo from the basin, traceable in the patched parquet. I was in my old bedroom, now my nephew's, where I slept hunched up around the pillows for fear the horrors under the bedclothes at the foot of my bed would pull me to oblivion under the bed if I stretched out my legs.

And in the garden, I walked through the invisible pear walkway beyond the circular pond and looked back at the huge willow towering over the stairs and balcony on the back of the house. I saw a little girl in a sashed frock playing on the lawn with Jinx, the mad spaniel, who had to go ...

There, too, was the hull of the boat my father built - climbing the ladder to inspect his joinery, his handmade wooden plugs covered sunken screwheads, seeing him fitting the sink - the metal meat tray he stole from my mother's fridge. Then the boat being craned over the wall of the hotel next door, being launched at Shoreham, that first sail of my life - to France, when I was 6, seasick in the gales going, leaks through the planking, then returning in a calm sunset, to set a pattern for the rest of my life.


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