Monday, 18 June 2007

Initiation

Memories are made up of days of endless sunshine or at least that is so for me but however much you want to remember it as all sunshine ands roses the reality of it was that there was rain.
My childhood in Yorkshire on the surface was idyllic but looking back there were tensions ones I was aware of but failed to understand.
Our village was made up of several farms, farm worker cottages, a village shop on the corner where the bus stop was as well as several big houses built in a variety of materials depending on the status of the original occupier. Hence the Judge’s house was made of good stout Yorkshire stone, the headmaster’s home of decorated brick and the farm worker cottages of pitted red brick burnt with over firing or pale and crumbling because someone forgot to fire them at all!
Up the hill were a host of 1970s bungalows with names like Casa Blanca, Belle View and The Martins each with perfect manicured lawns, crackled pathways snaking their way to the never to be used front doors and stone squirrels perched jauntily on gateposts.
To get to Anna’s house I had to cycle to the village shop turn down the lane to the Elliot’s farm – the ‘poshest’ in the Village – then hang a right along a track between two paddocks to an old cinder packed farmyard.
Despite being built of golden stone the house was past its former glory. It had black cement tiles on the sagging roof, long and narrow, with a breeze block half wall separating the yard from the front lawn made up of bare patched grass protected by regiments of multicoloured snap dragons, scraggy roses, marigolds and giant nodding daisies.
The track leading to the house was cindered like the yard itself and rough stalks of grass, daisies and dandelions grew in the middle while along the edge between the track and the fence were the singed remains of nettles, sporadic thistles and burdock clumps - a haven for caterpillars, bees and butterflies.
The yard sloped to a modern asbestos clad barn, which as I remember was full of corn in great heaps, behind it stood a half hearted attempt of a wood but it had a dyke running through it – there were rope swings and tyres, bits of old bicycle, car parts, lost toys, stones, bits of shed and everything you needed to make a playground paradise for children.
It was here that I was initiated into the tribe for what else could you call it? Here was where we all met - behind the barn away from the grown ups. Anna brought me. I was a rare prize, as well as being new to the village, I was a curiosity because of my accent - that transatlantic twang picked up from years living in Canada.
As in all tribes there was a pecking order. The older kids at the top and the younger at the bottom but as a pet you scaled those dizzying heights. I was a pet almost immediately though I did not know it and being somewhat exotic and having no knowledge of the social mores much was forgiven which only increased my standing yet again for it seemed like I had no fear. Now an older child faced by a younger with no fear can do either of two things in order not to lose face. Squash it as a threatening rival or adopt it and make it a pet. It is braver to adopt than thump it but there has to be a willingness by the younger child to be made a pet in the first place. It is a split second decision a silent negotiation between the various parties. A contract, which over the following days and weeks will be modified to suit. In some cases it is cancelled.
By bringing me to the attention of the tribal leaders Anna gained much kudos and in turn so did they for the strange thing about tribes is that whatever goes on within also goes on without.
The standing of a tribe in the wider world is based on the abilities of its members as judged by those outside the tribe especially the leaders of other tribes. And where does all this inter tribal assessment take place? On the school bus.
In those days we all caught the school bus at the Village shop at 8.30 in the morning and here I helped my tribe immeasurably. For I was only six. The youngest on the bus was 11 – where were all the others? Where was Anna? They were at the Village School but my parents in their wisdom had me go to the local private primary in Barrowdale.
In my bright blue uniform I was like a peacock in among the dowdy brown peahens of the local comprehensive. My tribal leaders made it quite clear to whom I belonged. And my tribe was held in awe.
But was it my accent, my schooling, my seeming fearlessness that earned me that place? No entirely - it was Anna. It was her fierceness. For all that I was made a pet of by the leaders there was no doubt in anyone's mind whose I was in reality. And for me it was bliss.
Behind the barn we meet; a great gang of us and I am introduced.
“What does yer Dad do?”
“He’s in the Army.”
“Does he kill people?”
“No...” – I get a swift jab in the ribs – “Err yes…I mean sometimes..umm…”
“Have you ever seen it?”
I, by this time, am feeling seriously uncomfortable and just long to be at home. I want my Mum.
“No um he, he err….”
Anna swiftly takes over and being truly unafraid storms: “Don’t be daft he wouldn’t do it in their house yer know!”
As quickly the leader turns on her and says disbelievingly: “Have you been there then?”
Knowing Anna has just saved me it’s my turn to save her. Of course she hasn’t been to my house; I’ve only arrived myself in the Village not a day previously.
“Course she has and she’s seen My Dad’s guns and his sword!”
Surprised the leaders turn to me – I am challenged: “They don’t use swords in the army!”
“Yes they do!” I shout. I am inspired and I know I am right, I’ve seen my Dad’s dress sword – “Officers do.” I say proudly, grinning at Anna. “My Dad’s an officer sucks to you!”
Suddenly there is a barrage of questions all about the sword and Dad’s guns and the next thing I know we are all marching towards my house in a gaggle of over excited and eager children. We arrive at the gate and then everyone goes quiet and shy so Anna boldly steps forward to join me and I grab her hand and smile at her in triumph and together we march up the short drive to where my parents are watching bemused among a heap of packing cases, crates, newspapers and general chaos.
Loudly I say: “Dad you promised to show Anna your sword,” and before he can answer that he’s never seen Anna in his life before I swiftly turn to Mum. “He DID! Didn’t he Mom!”
Mum sees the pleading in my eyes she glances over my shoulder to the silent troupe waiting at the end of the drive. In the pause as she assess what is going on my whole life hangs by a thread as does Anna’s. “Tim, you mustn’t promise something and then forget to do it – come on Anna, you know the way indoors.”
Mum gently turns Anna in the direction of the back door and as she does so, she winks at Dad. Before I know it everyone is crowding in the Kitchen and Dad has his dress sword on the Kitchen table and explaining what he does with it. He has the grenade and loads of guns – some live but the majority from Wars long ago some even from Wars long forgotten or even unknown such as the Boer War, the Borneo Confrontation as well as from the First and Second World wars. Under strict supervision everyone is allowed to hold the guns and pretend to aim them. As if by magic there is orange squash and Jaffa Cakes and Anna and I, well ... we are TRIUMPHANT!

7 comments:

snailbeachshepherdess said...

that was magical..welcome back...you've been missing for ages. i almost expected Black Beauty to come out of that barn! That tribal thing with kids...remember it so well!

bodran... said...

how astute of your parents,a lovely blog..and welcome back xxoo

Suffolkmum said...

Great blog Tattie. I was back there in trbal childhood reading that. I agree that your parents were very astute - hope I rise to the challenge as well as that if ever required!

Pondside said...

What a great story of childhood. I'm sure we've all had those moments, but not all have had such perceptive parents. It's lucky for you to have found your guardian angel in Anna.

countrymousie said...

Great blog - also good tohave you back. I bet you are having fun on that mower. The novelty never wore off with me!
Jaffa cakes and orange drink - those were the days.

annakarenin said...

Oh even more intrigued as to what happened between you when you got older. Assume you will be leading up to spilling the beans at some point if you can keep off you new toy!

elizabethm said...

The childhood tribes came flooding back reading this. thank you.

Go on you know you want to...

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