Monday, 8 December 2014

A Confession

‘I’m living in a tent mum. I’m sorry. I’m living in a frigging tent.’ I snapped in confession.  She carried on, stepping cautiously down The Band seemingly unhearing, head down as her mind tried to control her flatland Suffolk earth feet on uneven steep and Lake District rock. This complication of her daughter apparently homeless and - god forbid -‘a tent dweller’ was seemingly not, at that moment, welcome or important.

I love it when my mother is concentrating. “How was your day dear?” she’d ask. My sister and I used to take great delight as adolescents informing her we were pregnant or had been expelled as she was carefully measuring the ingredients for a recipe while wondering how she would pay the gas bill let alone afford Christmas presents. “Oh that’s nice dear” she’d reply as she reached for the sieve.
‘What are you doing in the sunroom, dinner’s ready soon?’ as she lovingly doused the potatoes with rosemary, olive oil and black cracked pepper while filling in a tax return form. “oh just dealing in drugs’ we’d retort and she’d smile and say distractedly “That sounds like fun. Can you lay the table? Dinner’s ready in 10 minutes”.

I’ve inherited my mum’s lack of listening and absorbing while multi tasking so I thought it had worked out well as we continued out through Stool End Farm.. that was until she stopped at the cattle grid and burst into tears.

Oh shit.

Let’s go up to Stickle Tarn I suggested. She nodded, bottom lip wobbling as I embraced her awkwardly and shed a few tears too. My problem had turned into a reassurance “I’m ok mum honestly, I’m fine. I like living in a tent, really I do.” By the time we’d climbed up the ghyll to Stickle Tarn and I looked on proudly at my mum as she rested wearily her 69 years of neverending care and responsibility for others on her walking pole and gazed down over the verdant Langdale Valley with a slight smile on her face: her hazel eyes bright under a furrowed brow, I felt she would understand.

Thank god.

To be honest I blame her: endless camping trips as a kid, that comforting sound of a tent zip still excites me even now living in a tent.

Her waking me, my sister and cousins up at 4am: we slumped like cast aside marionettes propped up against steel tent poles and camp beds under a stage of damp canvas, inert and lifeless, willing for some type of Child helpline to be invented as she forced cagoules over our heads and tucked our pyjama bottoms into wellington boots.

Bleary eyed and wondering why we couldn’t just have a mum who watched daytime television, took us to Sainsburys on a Saturday and did her nails and had facials on her holiday we followed her out into the trembling of dawn in quiet, sleep-numbed compliance.

Yet when there is only the gentle murmurings and creaking of nature you don’t wish to speak to question what you are doing, even as a child, you don’t dare interrupt and your ears strain to simply listen and understand. The refreshing smell of crushed forest pine needles with each step mingled with the pungent odour of dank, foot disturbed roots and leaves of forest floor, the choral song of blackbirds, the warbling of chaffinches and bullfinches, the rising call and swooping of swallows, the rhythmic tapping of woodpeckers replacing the fading screams of nightmares and owls; the wisps of mist that you wish to grab as candyfloss, uplit clouds you yearn to trampoline upon and wonder if you will ever afford to go up in an aeroplane to see them, just those sounds, calming smells and mystical sights as you feel the morning uncurl from its nighttime slumber.

We stopped and gazed in a cluster of trees, around a patch of impossibly green grass, at a vibrant ring of toadstools of all shapes and sizes; “fairy toadstools’ my mother whispered with finger to mouth as we, now wide-eyed, shook our cloaks of tiredness from our shoulders and marched on through the forest, taking care not to step on a twig should the bears, tigers or natives with bows and poisonous arrows find us, our eyes searching through the dawn for leprechauns peeping out from gnarly tree trunks, tree stumps became the hiding place of treasure chests and we knew the vampires would leave us alone in daylight. As for dinosaurs.. well they were simply the stuff of fairytales. Then we came to a clearing and there before us stretched an ocean of golden corn.

“I gazed - and gazed  - but little thought 
what wealth to me the show had brought:” 

A Pastoral delight, embracing everything childhood memories can offer. I recall it so vividly. I just need to close my eyes to return to that day - those golden, dreamlike and abundant neverending heydays of childhood.

 “For oft, when on my couch I lie 
 In vacant or in pensive mood, 
 They flash upon that inward eye..” 

The milkiness of the sky, that bright yellow globe peeping over the horizon setting the whole crop on fire and igniting every cliched turn of phrase; the morning dew converted into mist wafting up in curls of genie smoke, the glare mesmorising and poetry inducing.

..“Which is the bliss of solitude;..”

And then we saw him. wading through the corn. “It’s a man with a gun!’ as I hurriedly crouched down. An arm yanked me up, finger to lips again and a nod of the head forwards: we stood there - in our orange cagoules, our M&S pyjama hand me downs, our green wellingtons that made our socks undress themselves and curl into a ball under our toes - with wide eyes as we watched the man with the gun stop and turn it towards us. As my 6 years of age flashed before me my eyes finally adjusted to that bright mid summer sunrise and he became a magnificent stag with antlers ablaze and a chest of fur I wished to embrace and bury my life into. We gasped, he paused and gazed at us for eternity.

“And then my heart with pleasure fills..”

Is there a greater gift you can receive from your mother?

So as we walked silently back down to the valley floor and into the Old Dungeon Ghyll pub for a pint of ale I knew she understood.

She always does.


  1. Damn but you described those golden moments so perfectly that I was crying before I knew it - just remebering all those magic moments from my own childhood too. Brilliant thanks :)

    oh and that comforting sound of a tent zip! yes yes yes!

  2. Ahh, if but the world was inhabited by an entire race of Jilly Sherlocks, what a better world it would be at that...

  3. Flipping well love your blog posts.

  4. Reminds me that I've been in the city too long. I'll invent an excuse to use my tent in the next few weeks. Even if its just for a weekend.

  5. Hah, I have caught up with your blog, having missed it for the last year or so.
    Great to see you have still got the art of arranging words in such a poetic sequence!
    Hope you have had a great Christmas!

  6. THAT - that was heart renderingly beautiful. I'm so sorry I'm chock full of cliches.