Chickens roam the aisle, having burst from their basket, but it’s only a problem when we stop to let more people on. The driver pulls us rounds tight curves blasts his horn at slower traffic squeezes between them and a sheer drop onto smoking fields.
It’s 1983 and we are climbing Etna the hard way in a local bus. Someone is praying in a low voice and there’s nothing to hold onto except each other and perhaps God. Certainly not the chickens who squawk at every bump and swerve. Three villages later we get to the hotel. It is empty, embraced by a tall curve of still glowing lava. Hailing a battered Landrover, we pay its owner to take us further see the bus turn to descend to Catania once more.
Up once more, at a steadier pace, until the driver stops. We walk over hot ground, to a raised snake of rock which we climb, until I realise it is a lava tunnel and dangerous. As we climb down you pause to take a photo and the mouth of the volcano explodes. Our terrified driver flings his vehicle around we chase after him, get in, race down past the deserted hotel down further to find the bus in a village.
We sigh with relief at the safety of the bus, Enter, find seats together. A chicken pops onto my lap You stroke her gently and a goat puts her head in yours.
Heinz Cream of Tomato, served piping hot with grated Cheddar cheese on top and dry toast to tear up and float in it. My Grampee would not eat it any other way, and neither would I. The delightful bright green soup we were served in a hotel in Germany’s Black Forest, which my broccoli hating young sons scoffed up quickly. Yes, it was Broccoli, we had bribed the waiter not to tell them. My homemade chicken soup, made to a recipe originally from Malta (Grampee’s homeland). One of our now adult sons, realising he was not recovering well from a bad bout of Covid drove for 2 hours to get home and have some. Apparently it’s a magical cure for all ills. On a cold day I love Miso Soup with seaweed – so warming! A find in recent years has been Jamaican Chickpea and Squash soup which is very tasty and filling. Soup is not a huge part of our family diet, but it is important to us and to me .
Over twenty years after the end gardens still had hollow mounds or curved corrugated tin domes half buried some doing duty as tool sheds many simply as they were when the bombing stopped full of the detritus of nights spent sheltering while death flew overhead
Mounds and tunnels riddled our playing fields dry brick-lined hiding places against bombers seeking factories and factory workers to blast and wreck we used them for massive games of hide and seek
London streets had many gaps festooned with stately spires of purple flowers, amid mossy rubble the occasional crumpled saucepan so much broken crockery
As a child, my father collected bullets and bomb shards watched fighters fall crashing out of the sky and ran to collect souvenirs while the metal was still hot
I and my brothers knew wars last remnants and played amongst ghosts
Was a whole different universe,
of course the road was the A40
or the Western Avenue as we called it then.
One side urban west London
the other a seemingly limitless sprawl of brambles
riddled with paths sized for squeezing small children
as if the local mothers had arranged it so
that adults could not blackberry but only
give instructions from the edges.
Everyone brambled in summer
red stained children limping home
at days end with huge leaking bags of berries
and a future full of pies and jam.
The real magic of that place was a stream
clear and sparkling, running over pebbles
in places deep and wide, where
baby brothers could be washed
and drinking cups filled.
The shallows were my solitary joy in spring when
armed with a net and an empty jam jar I searched for
blushed red male Sticklebacks, to bring them home
and watch them, marvelling at
their writhing sinuous shapes,
those outsized blue-green eyes
the sharp stickles on each back.
Taking part in Sarah Connor’s challenge over at Earthweal.
Here’s Sarah’s prompt:
“So, for this prompt, I’d like you to think about how you first felt connected to nature – maybe as a child, or as an adult. Some of those lost words may inspire you, or you may have your own lost word (or world?) that gave you a sense of wonder at the natural world around you. Maybe you collected caterpillars, or watched birds on a bird-table, or squatted down to watch beetles, or looked up to see squirrels in the treetops.”
We are all three children
ready for school at last.
But who can go this morning?
Mum sits on the stairs crying
railing against our tardy ways.
She complains of our constant
losing of gloves and hats
not to mention sports kit
and of how hard it is to get us all ready.
My little brothers stand open-mouthed
frightened by this collapse of motherhood.
Older, I am far more worried about not
getting to school on time.
I’m still not allowed to walk there on my own
although the neighbour’s girl my age can,
and I’m wary of shepherding two
wayward little boys across the road to the school.
But, as Mum raises her voice in yet another wailing moan
I decide this must be done.
I pat her on the hand, and tell her
that I’ll do it today, then
I open the door.
Suddenly, I’m slapped, shouted at
called a little madam.
Suddenly, it’s fine for Mum to take us.
Crying, I hop from foot to foot
impatiently as she gets ready,
her ‘face’ needs to be put on which
always takes forever.
Is it the blackboard where I learnt my ABCs?
The way I tripped over my own feet, scarring my knees?
Waking up from sleeping next to my Nan in her great bed?
How it hurt when plaits were pulled tight to my head?
My gnarled, grumpy, loving Grampee
Telling me stories as I sat on his knee
Of Susan the Officer-kicking Mule
Or perhaps my first day at school
One seat left, next to John Searle
Happy to be friends with a lonely girl
The teacher who was angry that I could already read
My joy at being there, suddenly free
To learn everything and to love books
In which no one cared about a girl’s looks
My heroes were always boys and men
Not many strong women in stories then
My friends the boys were rough and poor
Never cared what dress I wore or tore
Quiet, pretty and sweet seemed to be the rule
But I learnt another way at my first school