There is a doorway, arched at the top, not too high, brown and wooden, plain, solid, simple, unadorned, set into a whitewashed wall, thick and old. The key is of heavy iron, beautifully fashioned with a rounded wrought pattern to fit in my hand as I turn it and enter through. The door creaks slightly.
Cut grass lawns, undulating hills, a lake. A small wooden boat sits tied to the bank, waiting for me to get in. I row, the oars are heavy, the water still. I have time. The boat glides out surprisingly quickly as I dip and lift, feeling strong and leisurely.
We come to an island. Trees of all kinds. A wood. Friendly. Bluebells dotted around, and other wild flowers, yellow, white. I don’t know their names but they are modest, not with big blousy blooms that thrive in more tropical climates.
I tie the boat to a tree, wade through a few strides of cool water, pushing aside bulrushes, my shoes and socks deliciously cool and wet. On dry land, I follow the path.
I reach my Grandma’s house. It has three stories. Nearly a palace, but more cosy. I sleep with my sister on the top storey. The room has a round window, like a ship’s porthole, too small to fall out of. The two single beds have lumpy mattresses, but the lumps fit our bodies and we have no trouble sleeping. Next door is Mummy and Daddy’s room, with its double bed and special silvery silky eiderdown. We don’t go in there much, not because we shouldn’t, but because it holds no interest. Across the small landing is Jim’s room. Jim is my mother’s younger brother. He lives somewhere abroad and exotic now, grown up. But his room has been kept as he had it as a boy, a generation since. It is the most exciting room I have ever seen. There is a collection of birds’ eggs all with a tiny hole in them, through which their contents have been “blown”. That’s what Grandad says, as if that explains the magic of them being whole, but empty. All different colours, white, brown, blue, grey, and sizes, and some are speckled! There is a stuffed owl, with real feathers and glass eyes. I stroke it tentatively, a little frightened of its dead stare. There are stacks of boys’ books and comics, and fishing paraphernalia - hooks, rods, things I cannot name or imagine their purpose. From the skylight of the small box room you can look down through the long garden, to the river. I will take you down there later.
Meanwhile, let’s open the cupboard at the top of the winding stairs which leads to this third storey paradise of adventure. In it are Mummy’s old clothes, from when she was growing up in this wonderful house. I put on her ballgown, fur stole, high heels and giggle with my sister as we prance around, princesses going to the ball.
Eventually hunger drives us downstairs to see what is for tea. It is usually the same, but we don’t mind a bit. Salad from the garden in a bowl which has a slice of boiled egg painted on the bottom. It looks so real we always try to pick it up with the salad servers, and laugh about it afterwards. There’s ham and cheese and lots of bread, butter and jam, homemade cake for pudding and tea to wash it down. Grandad always compliments Grandma on her cooking and she blushes and smiles like a young girl. She always laughs at his corny jokes which we have heard so many times before. Remembering how much I loved them, how much they loved me, makes me want to weep.
After tea we go into the garden. The part nearest the back door is Grandma’s garden, with a small cut lawn, flowers around it and the washhouse. The washhouse! Another treasure trove of interest. In it there is an old mangle, a tub, and a three-pronged washing doily. Mummy has bought Grandma a washing machine now, which is kept in the kitchen in the house, but we have such fun washing and mangling our dolls’ clothes in the old way Grandma shows us.
Through a gate to Grandad’s vegetable garden. It’s a bit spooky here because beside the greenhouse is a big wooden barrel of water. Grandad drowns the rats he catches in traps round the garden in the barrel. I’ve never seen him do it, but the thought makes me shudder. Grandad grows vegetables in neat weedless rows and spends most of his dry weather hours here. But we only venture into his domain in order to reach the river below. It’s a bit of a scramble to reach it, but there may be some small adventure to be had here. The water is cold, and all sorts of sharp or spiky rubbish has been dumped in it, but we nevertheless take a forbidden swim.
On the riverbank my boat is tied to a tree. I get in and wistfully row away from the rosy past, to journey back through that lovely old door, guardian of precious memories.