The long hot summer (what?) is over, and the autumn is sneaking back with mist and rotting apples, and I’m cleaning out the house again. Like some feral creature that chucks everything out of the nest with its back legs, I throw our lives into the garden in the hope that some of it might grow wings and fly away. I’ve managed to fill three boxes with books for the Siobhan Dowd trust, another, for the school library. I’ve got boxes of very eccentric things for the Cats and Dogs home shop in Frome, and clothes and more books for Oxfam. All of this makes me feel lighter and freer and generally better.
We’ve also had no access to the internet for a fortnight, which has made me lighter, and freer and clearer – and it’s given me a better sense of what I actually need, which is not so very much.
But there are things I just can’t pass on. Some books, some toys, some objects that I don’t really love but I loved the people who gave them to me. Or perhaps I didn’t love them enough.
This Royal Doulton Shepherdess for example. I don’t like her – I wouldn’t look at her twice, but she belonged to my grandma, a woman with whom I was in conflict until the day she died. We got on so badly, that she once accused me of thinking of her as an ogre. She was right, I did. How a woman of such margarine solidity could have prized this mauve confection and what relationship they had I could not understand. She would often talk about her time in India, as a beautiful young woman covered in lace and parasols, but that trembling creature was well hidden by the time Grandma and I were doing regular bad tempered Friday night dates. By the time I knew her, Grandma was enormous, and wore strange undergarments of immense size and structure – of course as an adult, I know she wasn’t born that way. I see that she became like that through years of loveless marriage and living as a kind of accessory to other people’s lives.
But when I was 10, Grandma was my nemesis. Had George’s Marvellous Medicine arrived when I was young enough to read it, I could have sympathised.
I regret to say that I didn’t mourn her when she died, just heaved a sigh of relief. But now I rather wish I’d got to know her although if I had, she wouldn’t be such a key resource to me.
Recently she’s become a character of great complexity that I like to revisit . Because she died when I was 16 all my memories of her are from my childhood and my angry adolescence. Wherever I remember her being, has to come from before 1979. The way she spoke, her views (all utterly unPC) her attitudes to children. Her superstitions. But more importantly, as a children’s writer it’s my view of her that’s really precious. Uncoloured by maturity and an understanding of the many shades of grey that make up real life, it’s like a shot of pure child, that I can give myself over and over again. It’s a box of righteous indignation, fury, unreasonable ideology, raw emotion that has lurked deep in my memory for all these years.
I wouldn’t want to let it out, except on paper, but it’s damn handy to have it there, hidden away.
That, I suspect, is why I hang onto the blasted shepherdess.