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.