I still retain a few hazy memories of the house in Wimbledon where I was born my mother taking a swarm of bees in the garden while we, told to stay indoors out of harm’s way, watched from the french windows, our noses pressed against the panes, fogging them with our breath; a droopy-eared, floppy-legged, errant bloodhound, that strayed one day into our drive ; the spider-tree on the Common, its roots spreading out from the trunk, daylight showing beneath them, for the feet of countless children had scuffed away the earth in clambering around it and made it look like the legs of a spider.
One very vivid recollection : standing by the old horse-pond watching a red squirrel starting to cross the road. A heavy lorry came rumbling towards it, and I suppose that the noise and vibration frightened it, causing it to stop and hesitate for an instant. It ran, turning back to safety just too late.
Why this scene should remain so clear to me I don’t know. Possibly I shared its fear and was willing it to escape, in the same way that one rises from one’s seat to urge on the horse of one’s choice. Moments of fear tend to linger in the memory when lesser emotions are forgotten.
The house we lived in is pulled down now, the grey squirrel has taken the place of the red, and the spider-tree has gone too. Only the old horse-pond is still there, but now no horses splash their way into it, stop to drink, and heave their rumbling cart out at the far side to Continue their journey. The local Council with its over-tidy mind has eradicated the track leading to it and implanted a concrete kerb along the roadside so high that a horse would have difficulty in Pulling a Cart over such an obstacle. The trace-horse that stood by his post at the bottom of Putney Hill, in readiness to help his kind pull their heavy loads to the top, has gone too.
Shortly after my mother’s death, when I was about five, my father, with my sister and myself, moved from our house in Wimbledon to Kent. My father, though kind and generous in many ways, was a stern disciplinarian and a firm believer in children being seen and not heard ; not seen much either, for my sister, several years older than myself, and I were both made to keep severely to our allotted quarters at the back of the house. To use the front stairs was a terrible crime.
On Sundays, for the good of our souls, escorted by our governess, we would walk some three miles to church and back. It wasn’t so much the long, weary walk towards a boring, yawn-stifling, sit-still-and-keep-quiet, hour-long service that riled me so. It was the sight of my father, on those rare occasions when he attended church, as he passed us in the car, sitting in state, driven by my stepmother.
When this occurred I spent the whole of the service wondering whether we would be allowed to drive home in comfort or have to toil back on foot, to be passed once more by the car. It certainly kept us fit but I doubt if it did our souls much good.
Apart from playing golf and shooting occasionally, my father had few hobbies. He rarely used his hands ; to mend a fuse was quite beyond him and, although always held a current driving licence, I can recall his driving only once. My stepmother being unwell, he drove himself to Knole, where he was agent, and hit the main gate. I don’t think he ever drove again.
As his office was in London and his work took him around the country to see the various estates he managed, he was away a good deal of the time, On Sundays, as a treat, we would have lunch in the dining-room instead of in our schoolroom. It never seemed much of a treat to me but such an ordeal that i ‘was only too glad when it cape to an end and we were dismissed.
At Christmas-time he would relax discipline, the house would be filled with guests, and we would join in the gaiety. Large crates of Christmas fare would arrive from London and we were allowed to assist in unpacking them. The sideboard in the panelled dining room would be filled with little silver dishes of sweets and chocolates, boxes of Crystallized fruits, jars of ginger, bottles of Carlsbad plums, and various other delicacies, including a large pineapple.

By Isan Lu

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