My mother’s coppery orange chrysanthemums with their incurved petals…
Dankly scented of vetiver and deep viridian juices, they glowed in one corner of the earth she had turned and sieved and nourished.
The house was modern and had cold slanting roofs and new build kitchen with a plasticky grey floor we couldn’t afford to cover with proper vinyl.
She painted the kitchen pink as she said it was the only thing which went with grey. I was never very sure if it did or not, but I painted a wooden spoon with fake Hungarian lovebirds and hung it up on a ribbon. I was always making fake Hungarian things. I hoped to become a gypsy and live in a caravan.
My mother wore a floppy purple hat and thigh boots and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to fit in, either.
The garden was on four sides of the house and each narrow strip had a different character. The land was old where the chrysanthemums grew, overhead were Scots pines with lush green spikes. Squirrels clattered in the branches and one swung in the three small young apple trees next to the flowers like a delinquent cartoon. He was fed peanuts by hand.
If I sat in my Mum’s bed and had tea in the morning we could watch the squirrels and birds as we faced the window. She had a huge scratchy Welsh wool blanket in cream, pink and pale blue honeycomb weave. The cat liked to rip at it from time to time. She was also cream and pink and her fur curled all over her funny skinny body.Sometimes we could see her being daredevil in the trees and my father would get a big ladder and rescue her. She would always claw his face and knock off his glasses.
There were potatoes grown from sprouted eyes kept under the sink. Their eyes were cut out, were planted and grew into massive plants which shaded a hundred thin skinned little spuds. I didn’t like the cutting out eyes bit. I worried they really were eyes.
One side was a lavender garden with a big currant bush which had pink flowers. I had to let myself in by that bush which smelled rank and catty. I used a key round my neck. I pretended I was neglected and hungry when my Mother got home.
Another side was just grass and few shrubs, but the other was a patio laid with pink and yellow slabs and overhung with jasmine, striped clematis, purple clematis and honeysuckle.
Everything my mother touched grew big and beautiful. All except the Virginia Creeper which never crept but lay sulking to one side of the house. When we left it shot up the side of the house so it must have always hated us.
All around an estate grew up and then another. We were surrounded. The garden was a moat, a defence against the world. I hid in it with a book or played with the fir cones and bubble flowers and snapdragons. I tried very hard to disappear and hoped to enter another world very soon.
The child in the house opposite was being beaten and neglected and she used to come and pee on our doorstep. I was terrified of her because she smelled dreadful and I didn’t understand. Opposite the au pair was badly treated by her employers. My Mum took her in and she lived in our spare room. I won’t tell you who she was but she became very famous one day. She really was a gypsy.
The neighbours ran over our pink and white cat on purpose. I was beaten up at school all the time. I grew fearful of the leering older boy Max with the black hair who called me ‘cunt’.
I almost knew what he was implying…
The place was hell, really. We lived in a fantasy world.
My Mum tried to turn the estate house into an Edwardian house but she never succeeded. We moved to a proper Edwardian house and she started all over again. It was almost real this time; she kept us real for 20 years.