Saturday, 1 July 2017

My pacamac and a day in August 1957

When you are nine years old and spending the summer in the village of Chellaston, time can hang heavy, especially when it’s raining. 

They say you only remember the sunny summer holidays; well this is true only up to a point.

Given our English weather all too often I woke to a wet morning. And as if to rub salt into the wound it would still be hot which made it a double whammy. Hot enough to go out in just shorts and shirt which in August is how it should be but so wet that there was no fun in being outdoors.

To make matters worse Nana would insist I wore my pacamac which was ideal for summer showers. But they were a cruel invention. Despite being light and flexible enough to be squeezed into a small bag they smelt awful and were a nightmare to wear. It didn’t take long before the warmth of the body trapped in a sheet of clinging plastic made you sweat and the more you walked the hotter and more uncomfortable you became. Which meant you had a choice, wear it and suffer or take it off, get wet and suffer later when Nana discovered that this act of rebellion had got me soaked.

Now their garden was a big one, which they had lovingly restored. The ornamental ponds had been repaired and once again water trickled from one to another down one side of the garden. They had replanted the Japanese bushes and tamed the overgrown trees. All of which was fine on a dry summer day, but after a night of rain and some brief but powerful morning showers, the bushes and trees held the water like a reservoir. And I never seemed able to avoid them. Even if I took care not to brush up against the bushes which would smother you in wet clinging leaves there was the ever present danger from trees, any one of which could send an avalanche of rain drops on to the back of your shirt or worse still down your neck.

All of which meant you were forced back into the house. Now my grandparents didn’t have a television back in 1958, and with grandfather out at work and Nana doing something, the long morning from breakfast stretched out before with little hope that the tedium could be broken.
The house was large or so it seemed to me, but it had been turned into bed sits and so I was confined to the kitchen, scullery and the posh front room. There was also my grandparent’s bedroom which was off the kitchen but this held little mystery and any way was their private place.

So it had to be the posh front room which was like a grave yard. The furniture was the “best” and never used and so the room had an air of being forgotten. It also had an odd smell which I suppose came about because for most of the year it was never used and not even aired properly. Nana kept it spotless but it somehow smelt dusty. Nor was it much fun to be in. The clock on the mantel piece ticked away and emphasised that it was the only thing in the room that regularly did anything.

This just left the landing with a fine old massive oil painting hanging from the wall. When all else fails a gigantic depiction of some historical event is guaranteed to pass the time. There were days when I sank myself into the picture reliving the event and acting out the story. And there were other days when I tried copying some of the detail. Eventually my grandparents took advice, had it cleaned and sold.

The same fate befell the suit of Japanese armour which had somehow been left by the previous owner. It fitted perfectly but even at nine I was aware that it might have been valuable and so it became something to put on and then take off. Sadly I never remember fending off fierce Samurai warriors or saving a young girl from the hands of an oriental dragon. On the other hand the army holster from the Great War was something different. It had that strong leather smell and was perfect for the Roy Rogers cap pistol. I kept both in a draw in the cupboard beside the kitchen range.

And more often than not when the posh room and the landing had been exhausted it would be the kitchen I sat in. Thinking back I am amazed at how my grandparents lived in just two rooms. There was their bedroom and the kitchen. The kitchen doubled up as the main living space, work area and of course the place we ate. But then they had spent almost their entire married life in a two up two down in Hope Street.

So nothing had changed except for the garden. Here they spent much of their time. Granddad in the greenhouse with his tomatoes and Nana pouring over the vegetable patch. Even now fifty three years later the memories of that green house are powerfully vivid. Nothing prepared you for the heat as you entered or that pungent smell of tomatoes or the damp. Behind all that glass it was a silent place and for a nine year old it held my attention for about ten minutes.

Which was about right, because summer showers eventually go away and are replaced by sunshine. And that of course is another of those experiences of summer that has never left me, that damp warm smell of wet grass which you know soon enough will be dry and offers the promise of hot carefree afternoon under an August sun.

Picture; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

No comments:

Post a Comment