There are blobs of water on the glass roof. They are wobbling - I can just about see them from my desk. That must be because of the wind (it isn’t raining anymore). It’s only possible for the water to sit there like this because of surface tension. I’m scooting a runny puddle of oil and turps around on my palette, with a windscreen scraper I bought 8 years ago in a pound shop on Sauchiehall Street, and I wonder if the paint has more or less surface tension than water.
Whenever summer starts or ends I get really powerful memories of being at primary school. I remember wearing my blue gingham dress, a little bit stiff, the skirt which billowed out pleasingly when I sat down on those small plastic chairs. I remember when it was hot and my bare legs stuck to the plastic, I’d pull the cotton under my knees to stay comfortable. I remember little plastic mugs with animals on - a zebra, a giraffe, lion, snake etc. - whose trunks or tails or necks would make the handle. In the afternoon we would get a mugful of orange squash and a malted milk biscuit. I liked to dunk the biscuit in the orange squash.
In the year 2000 the new Music & Drama room was finished. We had assembly in there every day, 99 children squeezed, cross-legged on the scratchy carpet, in strict rows. You weren’t supposed to turn around to talk to the children behind you. The Big Oaks (those in year 6) were allowed to operate the CD player at the start of assembly, and in the stack of instrumental music there was a CD of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. It also had Moonlight Shadow on it (maybe it was a greatest hits?), and that was the song that would be picked by the Big Oaks every day. The absurdity of 99 children walking into assembly to Moonlight Shadow makes me laugh, now.
I recently learned that the village I spent my childhood in was one of the oldest settlements in England. What might be the oldest building in England was found there - an 8500 year old Mesolithic hut at Broom Hill. And in the 1200s, when the name Braishfield was first recorded, there were farmsteads, one of which was Pitt Farm. And Pitt Farm is where, 800 years later (give or take a few) I started my life. Fairbourne Farm, where Mum and Dad lived before I was born, has been there since the 10th century - the 900s. But when I was a little girl, knowing that the Oak Tree (and therefore the school) was 120 years old was enough. There was an old, heavy bell hanging on the wall outside the school. The older children took turns to ring the bell to signal the end of lunchtime. I couldn’t reach it, but sometimes a friend would help me.
Dad told me a story about how someone once tried to buy the farm gate. He didn’t have a clue why this man wanted our gate so badly, until he explained that he was a fan of Worzel Gummidge (a late 1970s TV programme about a scarecrow), which was filmed in Braishfield. Apparently the opening credits contained a shot of the farm gate - anyway, Dad couldn’t sell it to him because it belonged to the owners of the farm, not us, and we needed a gate to stop animals getting out.
We used to go in the car down the road to the egg farm, and get a big tray of 36 eggs, with tiny feathers stuck to them. The tiny shop, full top to bottom with eggs - I remember I didn’t like the smell. And to park the car Mum had to drive next to (under?) a big metal silo, which I was scared of.
We used to drive to the Early Learning Centre in Southampton. Mum bought me a cardboard box with a set of twelve (or was it ten?) poster paints inside, in different colours. They were in cylindrical pots. I used to sit at the end of the big wooden dining table and paint pictures of sea creatures, smiling jellyfish.
We also had sugar paper - it had beautiful colours. Dusky pink, forest green, blue, dark yellow, purple, warm brown, orange. Sugar paper still has those colours.
Tom did a big painting of Matt Le Tissier in poster paints on sugar paper and it hung on the back of the kitchen door for years - and I really mean years, it must have been ten at least.
We all got chicken pox at the same time. It was so itchy all over - Mum told me not to scratch, but I did, and I still have a little white scar on my chest. I remember all of us having a bath one Sunday and we were so ill and itchy afterwards that we couldn’t bear to put our pyjamas on. Mum let us sit wrapped in our towels in the living room.
The blue cloth - there was always a blue cloth. Mum used to wipe our faces with it after dinner. It was used for the washing up, and to clean the table off and the kitchen surfaces. Really everything could be done with this blue cloth. It folded out to quite a large size, but was usually folded up, the size of a napkin, and draped over the kitchen tap to dry between being used.
We used to go to Sainsbury’s every week - maybe it was on a Wednesday. I remember picking out the Bramley apples, bigger than I thought apples could really be, bulbous and weighty and thick skinned. Usually we only needed two or three. Then you also need flour, sugar and hard margarine.
Mum showed me how to rub the flour and margarine together between my thumbs and forefingers, lifted above the bowl, but for very many years this job - one of the rare messy jobs - was just for grown ups to do, not little girls. When I was finally allowed to make the crumble myself I was good at it from the start, since I’d watched her do it so many times.
Usually my task was to spread out the apple slices on the bottom of the glass dish. Mum sliced the Bramleys very finely, after peeling them - we didn’t stew the apple, and I remember Mum’s dismissiveness of the sweet mush of a crumble that method would result in. Instead, when half the apple was in the dish we’d add a scattering of caster sugar, then the rest of the apple. Bramleys are tart, almost citrus in their sharpness. A little bit of sugar helps, but dessert apples are too sweet and soft to use in their place.
When the flour and margarine were rubbed together to a breadcrumb-like texture we’d carefully stir in the sugar (I think it was 2 oz. sugar, to 2 oz. margarine, to 4 oz. flour, but I could be wrong there. Then the crumble mixture could be spread across the top of the apples. Mum had the knack of pressing it down just enough to make sure the crumble could hold its shape when cut into, but not so much that it would form a hard baked layer. She would make fork lines all around the top of the crumble - the same fork lines as she made in the mashed potato on top of shepherd’s pie (which was technically cottage pie, but we always called it shepherd’s). Only looking back now can I see these fork lines for what they were - furrows in a field, a diagram of the day.