Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Primrose Walks in Spring

Well, we didn’t find any primroses. Brown Owl had told me in conversation at the plant stall at the Brownies Easter Sale that there is a river valley beyond Buxton where she always goes to see the primroses. I have immense nostalgia for these unassumingly pretty little plants, first heralds of Spring. I’m instantly transported back to the country lanes of Sussex where I grew up. My paternal grandmother loved nothing more than going out with us for a primrose walk. She’d drive up from Brighton with Jack, her long-suffering husband in their dark green Morris. The seats were black leather – not a premium in those days, just the norm – and seat-beltless. The car had that smell that only old cars can have and wherever I am, however old I am, it will always remind me of my grandparents. Jack’s sight was past its best and conceivably his driving skills never were up to much, even in his younger days. I recall many a hair-raising drive washing around in the back seat of grandpa’s car. ‘Jack, Jack! Look out!’ warned Winnie as we were about to hare over a crossroads or bump up the kerb, tyres bursting, citizens scattering. It was great fun.

So up they would come, my brother and I full of excitement, just as I see in my own children now. It is a special bond the grandparent-grandchild one. Fewer reproaches than a parent - but if they come, better tolerated. Obedience follows more easily. There is a strange comfort in a grandparent, a sense of well-being. They bring sweets, colouring books, cuddles and love. There is a sense that nice things are going to happen. And so, after lunch, we would leave Jack to snooze and we would climb in the car and find our primroses. The high-banked lanes and birch woods of Sussex were full of them in those days. We’d amble along, Winnie wittering about the WI, her neighbours, or some such thing, occasionally stretching out a hand to pick a few of the delicate yellow flowers until we had a posy big enough to fill a small vase. We’d never walk too far, it was as much for the ‘nice little drive’ as for the exercise. Returning home, the posies were put in a vase on the kitchen table, or wrapped in damp kitchen paper and tin foil to be taken back to Brighton. The kettle would be put on, the biscuit tin got out and Jack woken for a cup of tea. Oh happy days.

I try to install memories like these into the small heads of my children. To me, they are the bedrock of the person I am today. Having grown up in a rural setting, I wanted so much for my children to do so too. The reason was for the simplicity of the memories, so many of them linked to nature and the natural calendar. White snowdrops preceding pale yellow primroses in early Spring, carpets of bluebells in the woods as Summer approaches, picnics embedded in fresh fronds of bright green bracken on the heaths in June, walking by the side of swaying fields of golden corn in August, filling punnets with juicy roadside blackberries in late September and crisp winter walks along the chalky clay paths of the South Downs in Winter, woodsmoke drifting on the air and filling our nostrils with anticipated warmth. This is why I wanted to take them on a primrose walk. We didn’t find any, but when I asked L what was the best bit of her day, her brown eyes danced and she said ‘The walk, Mummy, and paddling in the river and throwing stones.’ What more could I ask.
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