We used to get quite excited when we were going there. We would get out our nice coats and put them on so we felt good walking together. Mum had lace tights and a woolly dress which was specked with colours. She had a long violet coat or a beaver lamb she could hardly stand up in. I had a hideous rabbit fur coat sometimes or a persian lamb one from a jumble sale with a musquash collar.I had pink ostrich skin boots.
We would park outside the house with the pargeting that looked like carved ice-cream and enter through a small door.
It was a very good kind of a garden with winding gravel paths and topiary yews. One time we went and all the statuary had been vandalised and smashed up… that really upset us. It made us feel very angry and I imagined the vandals suffering horrible curses and diseases from their stupid behaviour. Hubris leads to nemesis, I thought.
It made us feel too close to the New Town, as if our family was only a toy castle with feeble portcullises and moats which were all too easily breached.
That violence visited me in truth a little later, and scarred my face forever.
Most times the garden was was empty apart from some hoppity blackbirds. It had a strong presence and you could feel the old ones walking nearby, swishing their invisible long clothes and barely disturbing the air with the small breaths which are left over when words have long since been uttered and lost.
Mum and I would hold arms and we would walk along near my brother. He would make us laugh occasionally.
We would sometimes go up in a wooden walkway above the trees, but its bones were a bit rotten and old so we didn’t always bother.
Mum would sing a song or two or we would hum the same tune rather listlessly. We were watching for robins, thrushes and wagtails. Squirrels popped up and down and we would make the ‘skitchee’ sound they like. Or don’t like. It depends on your point of view.
It was hidden, secret, no one was much bothered except some invisible gardener.
It was good on dark days, in twilight, in mist.
Yews loomed in small vistas, little paths led here and there. Stone was lichen covered and patchy with age and bird droppings. Putti raised cornucopia on fountains which had dried up, urns coruscated with interior light as though lit by glow worms. Everything was like flats on a stage; one of those ballet-operas where the trees are applied to gauzy layered screens which drop down and down creating moonlit wonder out of moth eaten shimmering, until the nymphs drift in pursued by shepherds.
At night, when I lie in bed I wander down the paths and along the parterres again, so comforted and alone, that feeling of oneliness which pervades the never-known.