. . . I was in disgrace. Aunt Lucy was frugal, to put it mildly; visits to her were only survived by the making of secret forays into Saltdean to buy buns; and she was not a very good cook. At this particular lunchtime I had refused to eat my pudding, on the grounds that it both looked and tasted pale grey. I had not meant to be rude; the pudding did look and taste pale grey, and I was simply giving her the true and valid reason for my refusal to eat it. But social lessons had to be learned; one cannot go through life telling one's hostess that her pudding is pale grey, even when it is. So there I sat in disgrace outside her back gate. It was quite safe to leave me there because, though by that time I could walk a little, my knees were set rigid and I could not get up without help, so I was securely tethered from wandering off and coming to any sort of harm. And there I was to wait, until somebody came and opened the gate and asked me if I was sorry, and took me back into civilised society.
But then I did not feel in disgrace, and I was in no hurry to be forgiven and taken back. I was perfectly happy where I was, I was discovering downland turf for the first time. As we grow older, we forget how near to the ground we once were. I do not mean merely because our heads were lower down than they are now, though of course that comes into it; but near in the sense of kinship. A small child is aware of the sights and smells and textures of the ground with an acute awareness that we lose in growing up. So I sat outside Aunt Lucy's gate, with my legs stuck straight out in front of me, and investigated and experienced to my heart's content the foot or two of world going on around me. Pink and white convolvus smelling of almond paste rambled along the foot of my aunt's raw new fence; and the turf itself was not just grass, but a densely interwoven forest of thyme and scarlet pimpernel, creamy honey-scented clover and cinquefoil and the infinitely small and perfect eye-bright with the spot of celestial yellow at its heart; all held close to the ground on stems less than an inch high, which is the result of a few hundred years of cropping by downland sheep.
And I, looking down into the forest, and yet at the same time feeling its tall matted overgrowth meeting above my head, watched a tiny metallic green beetle climbing industriously up one grass blade and down another, found a yellow-banded snail-shell, caught a seven-spot ladybird that lingered on my hand for a moment before flying away. Later, for I must in fact be remembering a blend of many afternoons after that first one spent sitting outside Aunt Lucy's gate without having first been rude about her pudding, I learned to put heads of rye-grass up one sleeve of my cotton frock, for the sake of enduring the delicious tickling agony as they crept across my shoulders and down the other sleeve. Later, also, somebody, I have no idea who, showed me how to make dolls in red petticoats by turning back the crinkled scarlet silk petals of the little field poppies and tying them in at the waist with a blade of grass, then sticking a thicker stem through just below the seed head for their outstretched arms.
Above all, I soaked in the 'feel' of the downs, the warm sense of the ground itself actively holding one up; a sureness, a steadfastness; and the sense that one gets in down country of kinship with a land that has been mixed up with the life of man since it and men began.
Thank you, Aunt Lucy, for your pale grey pudding.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
A Child's Eye View of the World
Here is an extended quotation from Rosemary Sutcliff's Blue Remembered Hills, recently released in pocket book format by Slightly Foxed. She relates both a child's honesty and the distinctly different physical and psychological perspective a child brings to the world around them.