Saturday, 20 September 2014

My Mind is a Museum

My mind is a museum - ‘Let’s pretend.’ D’you remember when your world was new and how those two words promised the very best games? Then anything was possible so let’s pretend that I can invite you into my mind. If you wander around on your own you could easily get lost, much of it is like an old fashioned agricultural museum with stacks of ancient tools that no one wants these days, a bushel basket for harvesting apples or carrying logs to the fire in winter in one corner, a yard broom and a mattock in another. Round the corner there’s a door leading into the kitchen were coals are glowing inside the open door of a blackened range. On the floor is a rag rug with a tabby and white cat curled up enjoying the warmth, beside her is a basket of clean washing. On the top a kettle is just coming to the boil and two flat irons are warming. Michette will soon come in to make the tea, she’ll pick up the iron using a special pot holder, one I made myself, so she won’t burn her hand, then she will spit on the bottom of the iron and if it makes a sizzling noise she will pick up a shirt and spread it out on the ironing board and the room will be filled with the smell of warm cotton as she smoothes away all the creases. This all belongs to a time long ago, I can have been no more than six years old for I had just begun to sew, but everything is still as clear as yesterday. Laptops and mobiles were beyond any imagining, doors that opened as you approached them were the stuff of fairy tales, but I grew up knowing how to light a fire with a handful of twigs and as the sun went down we lit oil lamps and at bed time carried a candle up the stairs to bed. Every year there are fewer and fewer of us who remember a life like that when pans of milk were set beside the stove for the cream to rise till it was thick and yellow and a crack with thick sides appeared right across the pan showing that the cream was ready to be skimmed off. Thick clotted cream with a spoonful of strawberry jam on new crusty bread, does anything taste so good today? Last week I was asked where I came from, ‘I can usually tell from the way people speak but I can’t pigeon hole you’ said my friend, ‘Central China,’ I replied, ‘I was born in a French Convent on the banks of the Yangtze.’ ‘But you don’t look Chinese.’ ‘I’m not; my mother got me onto the last ship to leave Shanghai as the Japanese were coming in over the northern border. I was one of the lucky ones; a little baby didn’t last long in a concentration camp.’ But that, as they say, is another story.

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