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South cheshire - childhood

By Hannah Green

The scent of damsons is sharp and sun-warmed in the lane. My grandmother drinks warm white wine in the garden and asks me the same questions again and again. She closes her eyes against the summer's light and I try to align her face now, creased and tan, with the smiling girl in the black and white photos pasted with such care in their albums. She could tell you where every photo was taken - the past flooding back, surging through the corners of her mind until a steady rush of memories is all there is. Maybe there is nothing remarkable about this part of the country - after all, it is only farmland, stretching for miles, cut through by the canal and pockets of woodland. But she loves it all so dearly - the villages that stalwartly maintain their flower displays as if arming for battle, curved metal whitewashed fences, oak trees bending over the road that winds through evening fields. All is so unremarkable and yet so familiar to me that it has become part of myself, as it is part of my mother, and my grandmother, back, back, back into the sepia past.

We drive through the countryside, my grandmother remembering and misremembering, my mother pointing out all that's changed since she was a girl, riding out in her memory that has become my own. My grandmother talks of people long gone, though to her they are as real as daylight, a dazzling catalogue of people and gossip painted with splashes myth and a smattering of fact. There are echoes of a past here, a village through a veil which I feel I can almost touch, can almost feel. These memories are my own: playing out in the paddock with my cousins in the summer - we are young and the memory is bleached by sunlight and time. We sit in the steadily rotting caravan, pretending we are going somewhere. We dam up the brook which runs into the canal. It takes us all day. We make dens from old wooden crates in the apple tree, strip naked and douse each other with cold water and scream. We get a lift on a canal boat down to the village, balancing on the lock gates and getting in the way.

These memories are my mother's: the cold bedroom in the attic, working in her parents'; shop, that had been her grandparents'; shop, that had been her great-grandparents';. The red tile floor, the worn wooden counter-top, the piles of newspapers stacked much the same as they are now. Drinking cider in the fields, running from farmers and riding her pony through the lanes, stopping at the sweet shop for sherbet lemons. My grandmother's memories seem to run together now - I am her granddaughter, I am a friend, a village girl, a customer, someone she used to know so well. But the countryside is constant - the light hits the paddock in the same way on a soft September evening, the blackberries grow in the same spots along the canal, the foxes birth by the brook and the snow covers the fields in a cold blessing as it did when she was young. And there really is nothing remarkable about this countryside - there's no myth here, no wilderness, nothing other than the ins and outs of the farmer's year, the cattle standing calm on sloping pastures and the pheasant's alarm at the breaking day. I am overwhelmed by the layers and levels of memories, my own, my mother's, my grandmothers, told to me so many times that they seem part of the present. And this in itself is so unremarkable and yet so beautiful that it feels like a gift.

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