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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Flowers and memories

The postman brought this new catalogue yesterday - it is so beautifully presented I feel like a kid in a sweetie shop just reading it!

I want it all! It did however remind me that it is a while since I posted about my childhood and how it is that flowers seem to trigger memories for me.

So the following is another of my occasional ramblings on childhood memories - if you are not interested in that just skip the rest of the post!

Geraniums – I love them love the bright cheery colours and the smell too I like. I just have to rub my fingers across the leaves and then sniff – Mmmm!. As with many other flowers they are very evocative to me of times past.

When I was about 7 we moved to Suffolk where my mother had taken a job as cook at Reydon Hall We had a little apartment on the ground floor just behind the kitchen where we had a bedroom with windows opening onto the garden, a tiny kitchenette and a small rather dark sitting room with a red brick fireplace. There was a toilet and washbasin off the bedroom and a bathroom for our use on the second floor. The sitting room was dark partly because the window looked out onto the roof of the boiler house and this flat roof had a sort of raised bed built on top which was at certain times of the year filled with red geraniums. So although the room was shaded by plants the colour was often bright and cheerful. I loved my life there and although we had our own sitting room I was more often to be found either outside in the grounds or in the kitchen with my mother.

The kitchen was a large cosy room with windows on two sides, a big table in the middle and a huge Aga at one end in front of which were usually to be found several cats sleeping! One of the cats went missing one day and we could hear her calling but couldn’t find her anywhere and some time later when my mother opened the bottom warming oven to put the plates in to warm in readiness for lunch there was Spikey! We thought she was dead but she revived and went on to be the mother of several more batches of kittens!

One of Spikey’s kittens was a little ginger tom and she adored him and continued to cart him round in her mouth long after he was too big for such indignities. She eventually managed to tear through the skin on the scruff of his neck - he was far too heavy to be dragged round and her teeth were sharp! Poor Bassie (Sebastian) had to have his neck stitched and bandaged by the vet after that and I think Spikey realised that the bandage wasn’t very nice in her mouth and gave up carrying him. He didn’t seem to be in any way affected by his rather odd beginning in life though he must have been a little slow on the uptake or he wouldn’t have put up with it would he?

Another cat was Sooty – a black cat as you’d expect - who was a wonderful mother and usually seemed to be either pregnant or to have a litter of kittens to care for. When she was pregnant she loved the taste of chocolate and especially liked KitKat fingers! She would allow me and the family’s children to dress her up and wheel her about in the dolls’ pram and one time she chose this pram for her confinement!

I was forever rescuing the mice and occasional rabbits which the cats brought into the kitchen and sometimes got bitten by the victim for my efforts – no thoughts then of disease or whatnot and nothing dire ever happened to me luckily.

There were extensive grounds and I used to spend hours wandering through the kitchen garden (never the main garden of course!) and sometimes chatting with the gardener who let me go with him into the greenhouses and help him to pick the tomatoes – another scent which always takes me back! Or I would go down the lane to visit my friend whose mother was a domestic servant at the Hall and lived in one of the tied cottages nearby - the hedgerows seemed then to be always full of dog roses and honeysuckle and the verges filled with white cow parsley and other wild flowers. Of course it couldn't have been like this all the time and in winter it was bleak with the wind sweeping in from the east coast but it is the sunny summer days I remember most luckily

Another flower I always associate with this time and place is the gladiolus for there were many in the garden and in season a big arrangement in the entrance hall (not that I got to see that very often as I was not allowed to venture through to that part of the house)

Me on the beach!

On Saturday afternoons my mother and I would go to Southwold as it was her time off. We would sometimes go down to the beach if it was summer and I would have a paddle and my mother would sit on the sand and rest then we’d have tea in a little cafĂ© I seem to remember was called Mrs Minnever’s or perhaps have an ice cream from one of the little shops – I particularly remember the pineapple flavoured ones which were my favourite. My mother would do any shopping she needed and we’d get the bus home and spend the evening in our sitting room having our supper and maybe listening to the radio.

We were living here when the King died and I well remember the sombre music interspersed with news reports all spoken in solemn tones that day on the radio – I didn’t understand why children’s hour was cancelled and why everyone seemed so miserable. See here for more on this day

Sadly my mother suffered a slipped disc and eventually required surgery. She was in hospital for 8 weeks and her sister gave up her own job and came to take over from my mother and to take care of me. Aunty Win and I used to cycle to Southwold to see her in the cottage hospital there but when she was transferred to the bigger hospital at Great Yarmouth for the operation we obviously couldn’t cycle and had to take the bus. I wasn’t allowed into the ward to see her – it was normal at the time that children were not allowed into the wards - and very distressing it was for me and I am sure for her too. My aunt was much stricter than my mother and I had to go to bed at 6.00 instead of being allowed to wait until 8.00 after dinner had been served as I had been used to doing with my mother – I hated those summer evenings when it was still light and I was incarcerated in the bedroom alone!

When my mother came out of the hospital having been told she would never work again we all three left Suffolk and went to stay at my grandfather’s house in the Forest of Dean. I can’t begin to imagine what my grandfather thought of this arrangement since having lived peacefully alone for so many years he now had two of his daughters and one of his granddaughters living with him so his peace would have been shattered.
I hope you haven't been too bored and that you might even have enjoyed your trip down memory lane with me (especially you Louise!)


  1. That was not at all boring and actually quite brilliant - thanks! It is so interesting to see how people have grown up and what they have experienced, and to see what varied things in life have brought us to this stage of blogging together!

  2. Mmm, your new catalogues look like they'd be worth ordering for the read alone, never mind buying anything.
    I loved reading your reminisce. Isn't it funny how the summer sticks in our minds whilst winter fades away? (Except from Christmas of course). Lovely to share your memories.

  3. Soooooo interesting ! Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

  4. Loved reading about your childhood memories, thank you for sharing them. I can't see or especially smell geraniums - sort of peppery and catty (in the nicest possible way) - without being transported straight back to my 3 year old self. I went to an inner city nursery in the early 1950's. If we were considered bright enough, we were taken off to be taught to read by a formidable lady called Mrs Jerome. The lessons took place in a sort of conservatory filled with geranium plants and here with Mrs J (large in person, encased in a floral overall with hair like a brillo pad and a red face) I and two others were taught with flashcards and vowels, progressing to Janet and John. Our self-esteem was not considered and we were admonished in shrill tones and punished as necessary - and we could all read very proficiently by age 5! I remember hidng when I saw Mrs J on a bus some years later, and my brother telling me she'd been even worse when he was taught 10 years earlier. Love geraniums though inspite of that!

  5. Jane lovely to share your memories and you are so right flowers are triggers and bright red cheery geraniums are one of my favourites.
    What an interesting life you have had growing up.
    Linda x

  6. We must be on the same mailing list. Your memories were much more inspiring. Love the photo on the beach!

  7. What a lovely post :)

    I live not far from Southwold - its somewhere we visit lots all year round. I love that photo of you on the beach - how the Pier has changed :)

    PS - I love Geraniums too - they remind me of holidays in France :)

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this! I love it!
    One of the things I've been enjoying this summer is when my dad and I sit under a tree in his garden in the morning and he tells me stories from the past.

  9. Hi Jane, the catalogues are beautifully presented. I can see why you want everything in them.

    I loved reading the story of your childhood days. It was like reading the start of a romantic novel, quite lovely.
    It also took me back to times spent with my grandfather and grandmother.
    Your beautiful descriptions conjoured up wonderful images in my mind.

    Tku for sharing a little part of your childhood with us.....

  10. A brilliant post. Loved reading about the Big House and its kitchen...... You are lucky to have been surrounded by flowers in your childhood.


  12. Isn't it wonderful how certain things evoke strong memories from the past. My mother is crazy about geraniums, wherever we went on holiday she would be taking cuttings. I remember her taking them from a lovely bright red display outside a police station in France - and she didn't even ask beforehand!

    Thanks also for your lovely Birthday wishes.

    Kate x

  13. Thank you so much Jane for another lovely story of your childhood. Your words are so beautiful and they really provide such wonderful descriptions you almost feel like you are there! During the brief periods we lived in England when I was a child, we lived in Capel St. Mary not too far from Ipswich, so I was delighted to read you had once lived in Suffolk!
    Geraniums remind me of my Mum. She had huges bushes of them growing in her front garden and I love to keep them now myself as a memory.
    Hope you have a lovely weekend!

  14. Tremendous memories Jane, redolent of another time and place. A fascinating read . You have a gift with words. Lesley x

  15. Lovely memories, thanks for sharing them. Southwold is one of my favourite places to spend a day and I hope to sit on the beach there at some point this summer.

  16. I enjoyed reading about your memories and how certain flowers are linked to those memories. I love the smell of lilies and sweetpeas.
    Lucy xxxxx

  17. The catalogues look enticing but your memories are magical. I was living there with you for a while! I hope you are keeping all your memory posts together they will make wonderful reading for your descendants. We never think our own memories are worth preserving at the time, but how lovely it would be to own a mother's or grandmother's journal.

  18. These are such precious memories - I loved reading this. I could curl up for hours with that Sarah Raven catalogue

  19. Fascinating! What a wonderful post with such great memories. I really enjoyed reading this and can't wait to read more!

  20. Jane, I have enjoyed your stories.

  21. I came here again, as I clicked on your 'cats' category and have now enjoyed reading your memories. Things were so different back then! Wow, 6 PM bedtime? That's nearly torture! I imagine you being a little girl living with your mother in such modest conditions. I felt sympathy for you, an innocent child, but I know you were happy. Thinking of you Jane, and the loss of your cat.


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