The Blue Flower
It was close by my talking place that I later found an exquisite little blue flower which the teacher said was a speedwell, and whose name I remembered always, but didn’t see the flower again for many years. The other wall was the one at the front of the whole land, were I watched for Dad coming up the hill. There was a well-built, high wall round the big house along the lane, which had ivy in places, and a few little spider-holes and tiny bits of vegetation – walls were always interesting to loiter beside.
Until that time I contented myself playing my own games largely, I had several walls that were nice places to pretend. The front garden wall had a flat sandstone top, and if I rubbed my fingers or palms about on this, a slight powdery patch developed and my skin became wondrously soft and smooth – I never quite wore it away. If I wanted to produce a heap of sand instead of a thin skinned finger, I rubbed another piece of stone to and fro on the wall, and soon had al little pile to scoop up. Along the back lane there was an angle of the wall round a little field which had started to fall apart, and there was a sort of little cavern about my head height and a shelf like stone below the gap: there I used to go to try talking like the older people did. I ‘did things’ on the shelf, perhaps baking , writing, washing up, all the things so important to adult like, making talking noises to myself.
Stony Lane was one of my favourite places; it seemed to have lovely flowers and blackberries late. I didn’t go there on my own as far as I remember, but seemed to often be there with Dad, Maurice or the gang. One day I was out with Dad, and for once picked some magnificent buttercups along the lane and lagged behind. When we turned into Scholes Lane, I ran very fast to catch him and show my flowers, but unfortunately fell and really hurt my knees as the road had recently had big chippings spread. I always had a blackish mark on my right knee as a result, and I howled and howled. The thing that caused my heartbreak however was the sight of the smashed golden petals, smeared over the sharp granite chips.
The Dead Dog
The two boys from the big house on Shutts Lane took the gang one day to the mill they owned near Stain Bridge, (called Stain Mill) As usual, the ‘getting there’ was the important part and took a long time. When we came to the canal near the bridge, the boys saw a drowned brown dog in the water. I was very saddened by this and puzzled by what ‘dead’ was. At least it prevented the dog from barking at me, or knocking me over. Someone who lived near us had a large, floppy spotty dog, which certainly knocked me over once, up Stony Lane where we were picking blackberries – I was very frightened and took some calming down. That was the start of my fear of dogs, and I went to some trouble to avoid them for about forty years, until we had Bramble, and I began to understand dogs.
I have always enjoyed rain and wind; it seems a wonderful thing, to have clear cool water gurgling and tinkling and rushing down all the lanes and roadsides, – why couldn’t I play out in it, instead of being kept grizzling indoors until it had stopped raining! Water that just lies there not moving seemed somehow sinister to me.
The Norland stream must have had some waterfalls I think as it tumbled through North Dean Wood and emerged above Copley in the gentle slopes of green fields, and joined itself to the Calder. My Mother had grown up in Copley, which was one of the string of ‘valley bottom’ villages beside the Calder; it had been built as a model village, planned and built all at once which seemed a very unusual idea then. During the Great War there was a munitions works there, where picric was produced, which I think was something to do with gas. My Mother worked there for a time. Near Copley was Stern Bridge across the river, which was said to be the setting of Wordsworth’s poem ‘Lucy Gray’. I always felt worried down in the bottom of the valley there, it was too near the river which caused that strange smell, a mixture of woollen industry pollution and the jungle-like waterside weeds. The water in the river was dark and sluggish and menacing, added to which there was a canal very close by which was equally sinister. But before Norland stream finished its journey down to the Calder, while it was still beautiful, gurgling and sparkling, it provided another picnic place for us; a place of lush grassy banks and smaller boulders and waterfalls, perfect to play about in. I still preferred the moor above; even then, – the higher and more exposed the more I felt happy and content.
More about picric – The Low Moor Picric Explosion