Thursday, 20 September 2007

How our park unlocks memories

Laura, aged 5, 1994, in the park.

Natalie, aged 2, 1994, in the park.

Pictures from the family archive of my two eldest grand-daughters in Lenton Recreation Ground. On Tuesday, Laura, my eldest grand-daughter, went off to the Royal Veterinary College in London to study to be a vet. Her mum (my daugher Alicia) was a little tearful and it is easy to understand why. As for Laura, well when I spoke to her on Tuesday evening she was her bubbly self. Next week is 'Freshers' Week', so she will be making new friends and no doubt getting involved in things. I hope she keeps her connections going with the Brownies, as she is a qualified leader. I am sure that some Brownie group near the College will welcome her with open arms. She wants to start a Frisby group, which seems whacky and fun. In the midst of all the studying, which is going to take over her life for next six years, there needs to be time for frivolousness and time in the real world.

She estimates that by the time she qualifies and gets her degree she will about £50,000 in debt. It's frightening. I am writing this on a day when a report shows that kids who go to the better 'public schools' are much more likely to go to Oxford or Cambridge than children from comprehensives and other state schools.
What other country likes to call its private schools 'public schools'? It's reveals just how sensitive the rich and the priviledged are to all the advantages they give themselves. The RVC is probably on a par with Oxford and Cambridge, so Laura has done extremely well. She has wanted to be a vet since she was about six or seven years old. If she continues to show such determination then she will almost end up being the kind of vet she wants to be, working with 'exotic' animals. We're all very proud of her.

As the prospect of parting has drawn closer, Laura and her younger sister Natalie have become closer and that is as it should be. They spent their childhoods fighting like cats and dogs. Laura was the tease and Natalie the bruiser. Trying to keep the peace has occupied many an hour in the past, but one place always ended the squabbling and that was Lenton Recreation Ground. We have been taking them to the park, just like their mum and Uncle Owen before them, since they were babes. It was the first place they ever went on their own. Watched by me from our front room window to make sure that they were alright. When they disappeared from view, I would nip out and look over the park railings to see where they were. The desire for such freedom was usually short-lived, for they would soon be back crashing in through the front door demanding that I go back with them, so that I could push them on the swings or wizz them round on the roundabout.

Later, as teenagers, their first taste of going into town on their own was in Nottingham. I didn't tell Alicia until days afterwards and, amazingly, the girls stayed mum as well, perhaps all too well aware on just how big a deal it was at the time. Natalie grew up thinking she was three years older than she really was expecting to be treated just like her older sister in every respect. In this she was no different to any other younger sibling. With age, and now parting, Natalie has become her own person, with her own friends and ambitions. I suspect that she still wants to be older than she is, which brings its own challenges, but I am in no doubt that we are in the process of watching her bloom into a caring, thoughtful, person whose life will reflect these qualities. She has followed Laura into being a volunteer with the Brownies and is gaining work experience in a nursery for young children.

The last time I saw my mother was in August 2004. I was with Laura and Natalie. We stayed for a week in my sister Ros's house in Hastings whilst she was on holiday. In a moment of exasperation, I told them 'The next time we go on holiday together, you will be taking me!'. I am sure it will happen, maybe ten years from now, but I look forward to it. The high point of the week was an idyllic day out when we spent the afternoon at Christopher Lloyd's garden in Great Dixter, East Sussex. My mother was in her element and the girls were continually bombarding her with questions about the flowers and plants we touched and smelled. Then there was the red-headed angel who served us ice-cream in the teashop and I felt my old legs begin to buckle, as I realised a very young woman could still turn my head. It hasn't happened since, but I am blessed to have Susan and some beautiful friends who remind that as well as beauty I can find much more in their company. So, when I think of my mother, I think of Laura and Natalie as well and that is how it will always be for the rest of my life. That week, the days out and Great Dixter especially.

We also had another day out together, back in 2001, when my mother was 80 and we went out together in search of her birthplace at Lydney, near Chepstow. We walked across the Clifton Suspension Bridge and tried to walk across the first Severn Bridge, but were driven back by the strong winds on the bridge walkway. We walked around the ramparts of Chepstow Castle and peered across the River Wye into England. Later, we saw the row of cottages where my mother was born and lived for the first years of her life. Susan and my sister Ros went to Bath for the day and had an equally memorable time, whilst James, my stepfather, stayed at the log cabins we were calling home for a week and took things easy. Another memorable week when, somehow, we packed two adults, two children and all our holiday luggage and bedding into a little Ford Ka.

I love them both, as I love my other three grandchildren. I also know that my relationship with them has been different. To have grandchildren in your forties and fifties is to be blessed. You have the energy to take all that they throw at you and you can give them more. Perhaps when we give up other things we will find the energy and time for Curtis, Lewis and Libby in similar ways and remember, as they step out into adulthood on their own, the good times, just like we can with Laura and Natalie.

In the meantime, I wanted to make this blog a tribute to them all. When they remember us they will think of the park and in this we will all be no different to countless others who have gone before and will come after us when it comes to our lovely little park. Lenton Recreation Ground is a key to the past in so many ways. I could go on, but I have to do tea and I must leave some other memories for another day.

Survey shows that public school pupils stand a far better chance of going to Oxford and Cambridge universities than pupils from state schools.


Laura said...

Grandad, i dont believe that i remember giving you permission to use that photo? did Natalie? hmmmm... so that comment to the right about always having permission is a lie!!! Lie!!!

anyway, Grandad Thanks. Thatb was a very nice little blog, and your soooooo right about Nat.. the little bruiser hehe...

i remember that holiday and the trips to the park, and nat brought me a photo frame as a leaving pressie and it includes a pic of us on the roundabout!! the best park ride of all!! woooo

Love you lots Grandad, and if I can afford to (as ill be in so much debt) Me and Nat shall def take you on holiday :P

Love Always Laura xxxxxxxxx

Rosie said...

What a lovely post, Robert. Your pride in your children and grandchildren always shines through when you speak of them. You have some wonderful memories and more to come, too.

Good luck to Laura at the start of what will be a great career for her.

p.s. with irritating pedant's hat on - it was the late Christopher Lloyd that owned and gardened at Great Dixter :) - hope you don't mind me saying :) - I'll get my coat.......

Robert said...

Thank you Rosie and Laura

I forgot to double-check the first name, as I knew Jeremy wasn't right. I confuse him with the actor and comedy writer.

I am sorry about not getting permission to use the pic, but there should be a footnote about granddaughters.

Love you both.