Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A journey through my wardrobe

The vast wardrobe in my son's now vacant bedroom needed painting.  It is a job I have put of for, well, forever.  In fact the inside of the wardrobe had never been repainted since the house was built 37 years ago.  So, on a cold and wintry day last week I decided it was time.  First jobs first.... empty the wardrobe.  When I began I had no idea what a  a journey this would be and what a treasure trove of memories I would  discover. It was like a museum of my life and I could soon see that this job was going to take some time.  Down in the deepest darkest recesses of this cavernous wardrobe I found, firstly, a kewpie doll I remember being given when I was about 10 together with a toy sewing machine, still in its delapidated box, which was a much prized, much loved and much used, Christmas present around the same year.  I clearly must have thought them too precious to part with.



Childhood memories
My next discovery was the diary I kept of my 16 month long trip to England and Europe with my parents and three of my brothers when I was 14 and 15. This was an incredible adventure in the days when few people travelled far and most of those who did went to Europe by sea. Entries:  Pitcairn Island : " The sailors let a rope ladder down the side of the ship which the islanders climbed up and they then spread out their wares for sale"  The Panama Canal: " On either side of the canal were lovely green slopes of steaming jungle and all day we heard the monkeys jabbering and saw bright parrots flying to and fro"  My 15th birthday in Amsterdam: "It was my birthday and I had a wonderful day.  I received a dutch doll, a silver charm bracelet and other lovely things. In the morning we went to see the Anne Frank House.  The facilities they used for two years were pitiful. After dinner we took a boat ride on the canals. It was quite wonderful"  And then there was the Suez Canal where the crew from our ship bantered with the Bedouins camping in their tents along the banks of the canal and Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, where we saw snake charmers and peered through the window of a temple at the lively dancers performing a ritual. All so, so exotic. We saw art in Italy, castles in Germany, windmills in Holland, the Eiffel tower in France, attended school for several months in England and much, much more. Altogether visiting 16 countries and spending 8 weeks at sea.

 As you can imagine I didn't get much cleaning-out-of-the-wardrobe done once I found the diary but I had a brilliant morning remembering this amazing trip, the seed of my lifelong passion for travel, and thinking about that girl, was she really me?  And wasn't I lucky, and did we really travel round the world on that ship: Ships brochure: "gay informality is the keynote in the ship's dining saloons",  a mere 25,000 tons but considered large at the time.  Cunard lists their current ship, The Queen Mary 2, as weighing 151,000 tons.  As a footnote: My mother wrote a successful book about our family's travels called A Caravan Close Behind.  It is now out of print.

What's this here?  Oh my goodness, old school reports... interesting reading, indeed.  I had entirely forgotten that I topped the fifth form in Mathematics and came 3rd in English  I hadn't forgotten, but would have preferred to, that I came 26th out of 28 in History the same year.  Oh well, we all have talents, is all I can say.  Of course, there are the usual teachers' prescribed comments "she could do better if she tried" "she doesn't seem to be interested in this subject"...right on, teacher!  We had so little choice that I remember sitting through endless boring lessons on subjects I had absolutely no interest in, the teacher ensconced behind her desk droning on and on reading notes in a monotone voice while I fought to stay awake, especially difficult on hot summer afternoons.  Working at a high school, as I did for 22 years, I  often envied today's students their wide and varied choice of subjects, together with their access to computers, videos and other  exciting modern technologies. It wasn't until I went to University that I discovered the joy of selecting and studying subjects I was really interested in  and I loved every moment of it.

But not everything hidden in this wardrobe is about me.  I had kept my  mother's  diary of her last years as she battled with Parkinsons disease.  It was moving to read and brought tears to my eyes when I thought of her bravery, patience and stoicism.  Together with the diary was her lovingly preserved collection of postcards.  She had kept every postcard she ever received and since a couple of my brothers are well travelled and made a habit of sending her a card everywhere they went the collection is large. In fact we all made it a point to send our mother postcards and it is interesting to see how places change over the years. I hope the fine old tradition of postcard sending does not die out but I fear it may. I also enjoyed looking at the photo album of the second long trip she made to Europe with my father not long before he died suddenly and far too young.  They looked very happy on this trip, fortunately unaware of what was ahead.

Feeling peckish I looked at my watch, it was 5pm. I hadn't made a lot of progress in the job at hand  but I had had  a marvellous journey down memory lane.  Looks like it will take another day!