Wednesday, 26 August 2009

My Country Childhood by Susy Smith (ed.)

This is a collection of articles from Country Living magazine (which, I should add, I don’t read, since I generally avoid magazines and newspapers of all kinds), reminiscences, mainly by writers and actors, about growing up in the country. My interest was mainly in its guise as social history, since many of the contributors are my age or older, and I was amused to find some similar memories to my own:
I grew up in post-war London. We had a terraced house in Chelsea with no garden. Ten houses along, there was a bomb site. The walk to school, past the bomb site, took twenty minutes. On ‘smog’ days, my sister and I were told to tie handkies around our mouths, and by the time we got to school, the handkies would be grey. London then – even Chelsea, which has always had pretensions to smartness – was a poor, dirty city. (Rose Tremain)
I spent my first few years in Bromley, which was a little less grey than the city, but the effects of the polluted air nearly killed me, and I was fortunate to move to the Highlands, where I became disgustingly healthy. I remember the bomb sites from trips into London, where my grandfather had a pharmacy – walls which suddenly stopped, exposing a fireplace or doorway and, in summer, blown fluff from the plant I then called fireweed, and only later learnt its prettier country name of rosebay willowherb.

Here are memories of hard winters, of milk collected in churns. Of cottages by the sea and huge, cold rambling houses. Richard Adams recalls a childhood learning the wildflowers and birds of the nearby Watership Down that made him famous, while Laurie Lee anatomises the country year through seasonal games. Tom Paulin admits to boredom in a coastal cottage, but horses provided entertainment for many. There is the exotic, too:
In Bengal our town Narayanganj’s river was the Lakya, part of the vast network of the Brahmaputra and the only direct way into town, There was plenty of life in and on the river: a life of crocodiles and fish, of porpoises that somersaulted in and out of the water, of herons and egrets wading in the shallows and kingfishers perched on marker posts. (Rumer Godden)
Fifty contributors offer little snapshots, mainly of the British Isles - though I found Scotland and Wales under-represented – in the sort of book that might make a good Christmas present. The line drawings throughout add a nice touch.


Table Talk said...

This looks fascinating. I am definitely going to have to get hold of a copy. And I remember the bomb sites in Birmingham as well. We used to go and play on one at the bottom of the road. We must have been in danger of getting buried every time we scrambled over it, but somehow, in the 1950s that wasn't seen as a problem and we had a wonderful time. We were most indignant when it was eventually cleared and built on.

Tara said...

This sounds like a fascinating book.

GeraniumCat said...

TT, it was very satisfying, nearly as good as looking at other people's bookshelves. And didn't we have more fun in those days of freedom!

Tara, I think you would enjoy it - nothing profound, but good comfort reading - it would be excellent for Christmas holidays!

Nan said...

I don't know if you get a notice when there are comments on older postings, but... this book sounds really good and I'm going to see if Book Depository offers it. Thank you!

GeraniumCat said...

I do, Nan, and I think this book is lovely. I'm sure that, even though it was exclusively British, you will find echoes of childhood too. If you read it, I'd love to know what you think.