I can remember my third garden.
The first was in Hurlford near Glasgow, the second in Dumfries. I must have spent many hours in both; I’m told it was still common in the seventies to put children out in the pram for a bit each day whatever the weather. And I suppose I must have made my earliest explorations, stumbling across rough concrete paving slabs into wet grass, rose hips and what not. But by the age of two I had left Scotland for London. And flickers of memory start there.
Deep pile carpets, often chocolate brown or forest green. Spikey white bricks in wall-mounted gas fires (they can melt your mac btw). Dropping off amongst big coats to the sound of records and voices and then waking to the sway of the car and the slow strobe of the sodium lamps out the window. The Cadbury’s machine on the platform at Harrow on the Hill – were we ever allowed any? And the garden of 34 Ovesdon Avenue.
So many of my sensory images of the outdoors must be associated with that place. There are layers laid down since of course but I’m sure I can still touch some of the experience of smallness from then. The lawn was big – big enough for circles – and beyond it a large and worrying wilderness. Nettles taller than me, filled with Red Admirals and tangled against lolling tanalised panels that reeked in wet and in heat. A pile of gritty builder’s sand that we could sift through or sludge about in – the local cats used it as litter. Red ants, rust-bubbled paint, plastic pots. Sun baked jalebis sometimes shared from next door.
I broke my arm on a half-hidden half brick. My brother pushed a garden fork through his foot.
Doing dark things to beasties was a casual habit back then I guess. It was much later that I remember a sense of guilt creeping into my mistreatment of the luckless local fauna. An older boy showed me what happened if you poured salt on a slug. And then a worm. Another lad enjoyed trapping bees in a jar. These things died slowly, leaving time for you to imagine the agony.