Thursday, 10 February 2011

The shed

A few nights ago I dreamed of our garden shed. It wasn't the timber-slatted, flower-pot-and-cobweb filled refuge of an aged pipe-smoker. Neither was it an eau-de-nil painted summerhouse, with gingham curtains and a wide verandah. This shed was brick-built and square with a flat roof; a utilitarian council-house issue of the early 1960s. It stood in the garden of our house in Croxted Road, just a few yards away from the kitchen, and for nearly twenty years it was the first thing I saw whenever I opened the back door.

For hour after hour when I was a girl, I'd play two-balls against the closed shed door, the pounding of the tennis balls on the wood, marking out time to one of the rhythmic songs I'd learned at school; each line accompanied by the appropriate actions as I practised throwing and catching, throwing and catching.

"PK penny a packet, 
first you lick it, then you smack it,
then you stick it to your jacket
PK, penny a packet"

In my dream the door was open and I was peering into the gloom of the shed's interior. It was a bit like looking at any memory, clear at the centre, but dark and fuzzy the further you go into it.

In my mind, there was a coal bunker just inside. Though the house was newly built when we moved in and I don't remember there ever being a coal fire, I could swear there were a few shiny black nuggets in its corners. Did I imagine the square of old faded carpet laid out on the hard concrete floor under our feet, where we played 'shop' on rainy days when it was too wet to stay in the garden; where we'd pile up toys for sale and take it in turns to press down the keys of the brown and cream plastic till to ring up the prices.

I pictured a folded up wigwam leaning against the wall and the old Silver Cross pram, which we used mostly for pushing our dolls, but sometimes for carrying the docile ginger cat from two doors down, who didn't mind being dressed up. Behind it was a heavy black tricycle and somewhere in a corner there must have been the abandoned pogo stick that I tried so hard to master yet never managed to cling on to for more than two springs.

In the shed of my dream there was no sign of my sister's chopper bike and no images of us huddled on the doorstep each night after school, polishing our shoes before we could go indoors. Nothing had yet been cleared to make way for the stacked cages of the guinea pig stud farm, those small substitutes for the ponies my sister really wanted. And my selective memory edits out the times I took friends home to ridicule her as she spent hour after hour training guinea pigs to jump over tiny makeshift fences in her garden gymkhanas. My older sister tells me she locked me in the shed once until I wet my knickers, but that event is firmly erased from my consciousness.

Memory is a tricky thing; even more so when it's shaped by a dream, so it's hard to be sure how much of what I recalled is true. The shed always seemed dark, I don't think there was a light or any electricity and there was only one small window high up, but in my mind's eye hanging on the far wall, was a framed print of Van Gogh's Sunflowers, shining out like a gold tooth in a gaping mouth.

25 comments:

legend in his own lunchtime said...

Everything you write about is exquisite, even an old garden shed

Hillary said...

This is lovely, the images in this piece of children playing - the pogo sticks (my own daughter is trying to master hers) and the dolls in the pram and the guinea pigs, too. I rarely, too rarely, have a dream about that beautiful place in Tennessee where I grew up, and I really wish I could visit my childhood more often in my sleep. Well, I'm a lover of dreams anyway, so thanks for sharing yours with us.

Jennifer said...

This was lovely. (:

And, as an ode to Van Gogh himself, we have copies of his paintings hanging all over our living room. It's quite nice.

DPR said...

Reading this was like reading an account of my childhood shed experiences. We even had the guinea pigs! I used to run away a lot as a small child and would always end up hiding in the shed. I knew Mum and Dad would find me when they were ready. We must compare shed notes over an organic pear cider.

Happy Gardener said...

What a beautifully written description of a dream. Reminds me of time spent in my garden in Forest Hill, thank you/

Pat said...

'Memory is a tricky thing; even more so when it's shaped by a dream, so it's hard to be sure how much of what I recalled is true.'

How right you are and it's quite a gift to be right without be smug or know-allish. But then you have quite a gift:)

dys·func·tion said...

I love that you were able to integrate a lot of smaller memories into this post about your dream.
This was very well presented and rather fast-paced for a garden shed.
I thoroughly enjoyed this.

otherworldlyone said...

Completely agree with what you say about memories. This was gorgeous - as always.

Penny Dreadful said...

Ah selective memory. I often dream I am back in my old house, finding books that I thought were lost forever tucked behind the shelves in one particular room. I wonder why that particular house, and that particular room? It didn't seem in any way important at the time.

ps: everything looks more glam when you put it in a cut glass bowl, I bought my set for a tenner and even though I am just as messy it doesn't look quite as disgusting any more!

Liz said...

What is it about kids locking their younger siblings in the shed? Ahem. I vaguely remember closing the lock, accidentally of course, while my brother was in the shed. Moments later, the metal post from an old hockey net smashed through the window. I've never unlocked a door so fast in my life!

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. ;-)

light208 said...

You have such a gift for describing even the most basic forms as resplendent. Your word craft is dizzying.

A great post. I envy you your dreams.

Jane said...

This is beautiful and I love the painting "shining out like a gold tooth in a gaping mouth".

Happy Frog and I said...

The imagery, the beautifully constructed sentences, the final sentence I would kill to be able to come up with. Another post that gets my imagination working.

caterpillar said...

wow...you've described something from your childhood in such a beautiful way that it makes me nostalgic...

Jeannie said...

Amazingly told. I loved the last bit where the Sunflowers print was "shining out like a gold tooth in a gaping mouth." A piece of art can really shape our aesthetics in our childhood. This piece reminded me of things I must write about one day. Thanks for that :).

Jayne said...

Van Gogh's Sunflowers is a good sign. There was a warmth in that shed. And your memories are beautiful whether accurate or not. ;)

Bth said...

What beautiful memories, and the way you described them - as always - are full of colour and feeling.

Sharon Longworth said...

Legend - that's such a nice thing to say - thank you.

Hilary - I hope your daughter is more successful than I was with my pogo stick - I still feel a but guilty at the waste of money it was for my parents.

Jennifer - when we went to Paris recently, I walked around Montmartre thinking 'oh Van Gogh was here, he must have looked at these streets' it was great.

DPR - always happy to chat over a pear cider! I'd be even happier if you'd write about your shed and your guinea pigs and the running away as well.

Sharon Longworth said...

Happy Gardener - it's been a long time since I visited Forest Hill. I must go back to Horniman's one day - a very fine museum as I recall.

Pat - thank you; that's quite a compliment and much appreciated.

Dys.func.tion - I rather like the idea of 'fast-paced for a garden shed' - you've almost given it a life of its own.

OWO - thank you:)

Sharon Longworth said...

Penny - that's a whole story there - I want you to describe the house and the room and tell me what the books were as well!
And then I'm off out to try and find a cut glass bowl!

Hello Liz - I've missed you! Yes indeed, siblings...

light 208 - you flatter me, but thank you!

Jane - thank you. I've never worked out why the painting was hanging in the shed - but it certainly shines out in my memory.

HappyFrogandI - that's very kind of you. I look forward to reading some more of those things your imagination comes up with!

Sharon Longworth said...

Caterpillar - childhood gives us so many things to think and write about doesn't it?

Jeannie - I'd love to know more about the pieces of art that influenced you as a child - I shall wait to read it!

Jayne - you're right, I wonder if anyone could fail to smile at the bright yellow sunflowers?

Bth - thank you :)

Baglady said...

Sharon this is so beautiful. And I can't explain it but it seems so utterly English - the Silver Cross pram, the ginger tom and the phrase "wet my knickers - though I am sure that is just me pressing my own memories into your wet clay.

Fantastic. Can't believe I've only just read it!

Madame DeFarge said...

What a marvellous collection of images and memories here. I used our shed to practice reading Shakespeare with my best friend Samantha. We fancied ourselves as great actresses in the making, fortified by digestives and milk. A lovely piece of writing.

Olga said...

It seems that you had such a happy childhood. Your writing is fascinating.

Maryx said...

I love how you draw your reader into the story... I feel like I've seen the garden shed myself, it's so real!