Amersham meandering

Walking over pitted concrete, between red brick houses in the bare winter air. Along the trellised walls, winter jasmine in flower. I stumble over a time warp. What was that? Just a scent, or a birdsong sound, or the chill? Remembering – even transported – into some childhood world. It’s like a brief Narnia moment.

These are books, childhood books, aren’t they? I can’t imagine such a uniquely felt world arising from TV or film. It’s a Secret Garden I once inhabited, unlocked through some barely perceived, unpindownable stimulus.

Somehow then the phone in my pocket – looking-glass into globalised culture-on-demand – seems irrelevant, even toxic.

On Amersham main street, I dodge Costa bitterness, heading for Nero smooth. However, I’m intercepted by the locals. Harris+Hoole? Never heard of them. On a hen-speckled brown saucer, I’m served toffee-tinged latte.

Stacking cups clink like cowbells. Blondie sings Heart of Glass. Saucers stack. Handsome English women sit chatting by the window on mini wing chairs with spindly wooden legs. Milk steamer hisses. Businessmen with confident accents exchange technical vows centre-stage. When one leaves, a laptop-wielding blonde emerges from the shadows to take his place. Girlfriend? Next client? Unsure.

“You busy this week, then?” he begins, as she settles into the easy chair opposite. Client, then, I think. Some kind of coffee house micro-dealing.

The initially solitary couple by the window seem to be acquiring more children by the minute.  I guess school’s out, then. As son number one begins to expound on some Important Fact, Dad’s eyes are introvertedly unfocused, and Mum’s the sole audience. Dad engages briefly then begins thumbing his phone, head down-turned. The dog stands bored under the table as Mum pulls out her phone too, bidding the boys farewell and arranging a rendezvous in the park. Thumbs tapping, they half-attentively converse over the empty cups and crumpled napkins. By the till, the barista briefly shoulder-massages his colleague.

At the window, the chatty women stand, tapping a next meet into electronic diaries. Except cable-knit cardigan woman. She seems to have a brain.

Wine glass

Edwardian. Such delicate glass and perfect shape, on a slender stem. Subtle engraved patterns, like translucent petals or leaves. Honesty?

They belonged to Mum’s great-grandfather, and yet we use them daily – what point in having beautiful things if they’re just locked away?

The stem is smooth, and almost too delicate to grip. The glass lip also – will it cut mine? Is it actually sharp? I overcome hesitation, led on by the melon and ginseng exoticness of Aqua Libra. The fizz gathers in a central column up from the bottom of the glass – breath bubbles from some invisible diver.

“Is there another bottle?” asks Mum – still good-naturedly, yet somewhat slurred.

Dad gets up and retrieves it from its warming-place at the back of the hob. Slitting off the maroon foil seal, gripping the brass corkscrew in place while twisting the tap-like handle. No levers to help. The bottle held between thighs, and elbow grease to heave the cork out. No spillage.

More wine, more wine. Discussion turns to argument turns to sourness. The tension builds.

Later, Alice and Mum wash the dishes, swilling the perfect glasses clean with scalding water, and placing them, up-ended, on a tea towel to dry. Ineffective – a steamy mist condenses inside each delicate bowl.

Crash.

The roasting tin slides down from the drying rack, reducing four glasses to crushed shards. A moment’s silent denial, and then both Alice and Mum turn away, in shuddering, silent tears.

Something is broken that can never be mended, and never replaced.

Hamilton Hill

Unremarkable behind the house. In summer, beyond the beech hedge, one field of barley and another of sheep. The lambs run speed trials back and forth beneath the horizontal dyke half way up – tiny specks of white, careering, bouncing, like cartoon characters or jumping beans.

I clamber over the wire fence. The first foot bends the rusty wire, pulling it through the staples in a gentle, creaking sag. Swing the second leg over, tight thighs and clenched posture making sure the barbed wire doesn’t snag my crotch. Over safely, and landing on the un-ploughed field margin. If I pick my way along this edge, I can reach the broader pathway steeply up under the ascending rank of beech trees.

Here’s the steep sledging field where Lena broke her leg, tobogganing over ice-crusted snow, straight into the lower fence. Was it fear that numbed or froze their minds, that prevented them from bailing, or dragging feet to slow the descent?

I gently pull a grass stem, easing the upper part out of the grip of the first joint. The tender fleshy end tastes vaguely asparagus-like, and then the remainder settles into a satisfyingly tough chew and cowboy-casual look.

I’m breaking sweat now, as the gradient increases. Over another fence, and clambering along the low-key rocks and muddy margins of the burn. Well, it’s barely that – more a field drain, really.

Sand

The seabed is so pale – wave-rippled sand – just a few feet below us. Dad directs a course across the bay, paddling far out from the beach. The waves are getting quite large, and with each, the aluminium of the canoe shunks as we land, spray spraying from the bow.

Mum shifts nervously. “Is it really safe?”

“Oh, it’s OK.” says Dad, looking serious but calm. He eyes the shore, the headland and the horizon, grips the paddle a little more tightly, and smiles. This is a moment to savour.

Shunk… Shunk… 

Yet bigger waves. From my cross-leggedness on the red cushion, I grip the gunwales and just love. Alice and Lena are there too. We’re like peas in an open pod, the five of us – and a cool box.

It’s shallowing now, and the water’s paler, losing the deeper turquoise and fading to clear. Sunlight refracts and dances on the sinuously rippled sand. We can hear and see the waves hissing onto the beach.

“When we beach, can you just jump out and start to drag us up?” says Dad.

Lena and I ready ourselves.

The metal hull slides and scrapes over the shell sand, and we jump out on either side.