My Life Through 33 Dwellings

First Real Memories: Ibstone 1951-54

My real memories begin when we moved house for the first time. I have a hazy image of the drive away from Bromley in a car packed with luggage, peeping through the gaps out of the back window at houses and countryside streaking past as the road behind us kept disappearing in a snaky curve. I have a vague memory of my hyperactive older brother thrashing around next to me. We were moving to our new home in Ibstone, Buckinghamshire. I was barely 4 years old. That’s really where my memories begin in earnest.

Ibstone C of E Primary School

Ibstone was a rural village in those days. My mother had been appointed head teacher to the primary school, and we lived in the flint-stone house attached to the building. These are flashes of memory that come randomly from ages 4 – 7. My room was tiny but then so was I. There was an apple tree outside my window and the branches tapped on the diamond-leaded panes in the wind. The bough and branches were gnarled and covered with ancient, mossy bark. The sort you could peel off.  I was terrified of witches flying through my small window, but I clearly survived this potential threat.  Being an English teacher by training, my mother read me tales by Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm and others from picture books filled with old fashioned full-page coloured illustrations that I loved to gaze at.  There were woods to play in and a large garden where I’d dig for worms and ants. I was nicknamed Jenny Wren as my little squatting figure reminded my mother of a bird pecking around for insects!  I was fascinated by ants marching along and jumping on one another’s backs and the ones that seemed daft, turning round in aimless circles.  I often refer to these as my first and most important lesson about the human condition. It is strange how the flotsam and jetsam of early memory drift up into consciousness. Certain memories, not very important ones as such, are vividly recalled – somewhat akin to the illustrations in the story-books I loved: there’s a lot of text in between but the images, or scenes, remain starkly imprinted on the part of the brain devoted to remembering in pictures. I recall some very small things that must have made an impression on me. I remember my mother telling me that Peter Twiss, the first man to break the sound barrier in England, lived in a cottage across the road. I used to see him and wonder what it meant to break the sound barrier. It was a deep mystery to me. There was a girl called Linda whose mother cleaned at one of the grand houses. She was, I think, a year older than me, but shared my love of digging and we would have mud-pie tea parties with her dolls-set of tea cups and tiny plates; all very normal for a little girl discovering the wonders of the world. We were sometimes allowed to watch children’s television on a big mahogany box with a tiny curved screen in the grand house where her mother cleaned.  I remember the picture being faint and muzzy; “snowing” it was called. The lady of the house would come and fiddle with the knobs and hit it to get the picture back. Andy Pandy was the first children’s programme I saw. Not many people had TV sets at that time; only the well-to-do folk. How all of that has changed now.

As I write I find myself feeling saddened at the evolution of material life, of the time-wasting elements of modern technology that screen many from engaging in the natural wonders outside and all around them. I suspect each generation, looking back feels wistful for a time when they were more connected to real people, to nature, to all the things that feed us on a heart and soul level. The advent of television was a wonder at the time, the radio being hitherto the only medium of entertainment – other than live performances that is – but now… I am showing my age, like the little girl looking back through the car window at the snaking road behind her, moving away, moving on.