Sunday, November 24, 2013
Autobiography 3: Abandoned child, wild gorse and honey bees
I think I may be dashing about in time. I cannot really put things in date order. My memory seems to be a bit like a dark night sky wherein a star suddenly appears and I fasten on to it with my telescope.
My parents drove me to friends of theirs where I was to spend a week on holiday. We went in the new (second hand) family car, a big Rover with walnut dashboard and leather seats. My father must have been doing well as a soft drinks salesman. He had given up on the motor bike which, once every few months, he would dutifully strip down and clean in front of the fire. I never knew why I was ejected from family life like this. Until I left home for college this was the only aberration in a continuous existence at home in Shadforth. They cannot have lived too far away and they were called Donaghy. They had a much older son in his mid teens. They lived in what was a piece of Durham’s mining-related architecture, a hamlet of houses, a handful strip of each on either side of the road. Their toilets were out the back and communally shared with other houses on that side of the street. A horse and cart came once a week to remove the contents of the joint septic receptacle which ran along under all the wooden toilet seats. You sat in your cubicle, above the floating mayhem of drunken miners and their Edwardian pursed lipped wives, hoping to be quick and to get out before being overcome. Constipation was a slow death – not that I can remember having it.
Two memories of this visit. The first was that my father gave the teen of the house a steel compass and other mathematical tools, embedded and glittering in a velvet and wood box, as a present. I know I felt jealousy. They had been in the Shadforth house for some time. They were MY heirlooms. Many years later my father gave someone else my half-size slate-bed billiard table, much to my volubly expressed anger. He said I had gone to college and didn’t think I wanted it. It was a curious element of his complex personality. He seemed to need to be seen as generous even at the expense of his son. Or is that too harsh? It was a table I had paid for.
Behind the latrines was a small field, though large enough for me. It was a meadow but inundated with dock, dandelion and gorse. It must have been summer when I was there. I spent much of the time catching bees in a jam jar with holes in its lid to help them breathe. The art was seeing how many you could capture. Many times you might lift the lid to entrap yet another and accidentally release one or two. Stings were common. I put flowering dead nettles inside to make them comfortable.
Why was I sent to the Donaghys? I assume with the jaundice of adult wisdom that something must have been up at home. My sister, four years younger than me, was not excommunicated. When you think back you find certain events which have nestled in your brain as unchallenged, isolated islands, suddenly develop a hidden plot, a conspiratorial odour. My child-like, lonesome distraction from wondering about the motives of my parents could be found in jars full of yellow striped or red-bummed bees.