Saturday 19 June 2021

Notes from a semi bohemian suburban childhood #3

I MUST get blogging again.  I must!  I must!  At last I've given myself a whole week completely away from work and routine to allow myself a recharge, and d'you know what? I think the writing cogs are just about starting to whirr again.  It may take me a while to get back to more frequent posting but I could try by revisiting some of the many mini-series I've had on the go here at one time or another.  At least that way there are old themes I can work with,  e.g. this one....

So yes, it’s on days like this that a certain "semi bohemian suburban childhood" memory comes to the fore.  Summer rain is pouring down as I type, distant thunder reverberates, and I suddenly find myself thinking about tortoises…

We were a family with animals.  As well as two tortoises we had cats, goldfish in the bathroom, a pond full of frogs and newts, a bat (albeit a dead one, but pickled in a jar following an unfortunate window incident) and a tankful of African aquatic toads (alive and well on a diet of earthworms) in my sister’s bedroom.  Let's not forget the guinea pigs nor, in the dark recesses of the larder, a house spider called Fred.  Of course Fred was not so much a pet as a squatter, perhaps several different squatters, but welcome anyway.  Occasionally we looked after the odd stray cat, and once fostered ducklings in an old metal bathtub.

But the tortoises… well, Twinkle and Toby roamed free in our long, hillside garden during the Summer months.  They were natural weedkillers, munching their way through the dandelions, and making the most of the shade cast by my mum’s small stone sculptures when the sun beat down on a clover and daisy-studded lawn.  And this is where I recall the rain and the storms, on humid holiday afternoons, when I rushed out to rescue the tortoises from the downpours and…   well, it was never as easy as it sounds.

I’d search everywhere.  I’d call their names.  Toby knew his (honestly!) and would often come when he heard it, suddenly appearing from within a flower bed with more haste than you might think possible, knowing that his reward would be a lovely sticky banana… and who doesn’t like a lovely sticky banana?   But on rainy, stormy days they were nowhere to be seen. 

The bedraggled cats would come into the kitchen and get pampered with a towel dry.  The guinea pigs would be safe in their hutch and the frogs and newts no doubt enjoyed the jacuzzi-like qualities of their rain-splashed pool.  But where on earth had the tortoises gone?

I would go on a desperate mission to find them.  Sift through the compost heap, check behind the stones in the rockery, peer through the screen of bamboo shoots… Then came the lengthy process of inspecting every single plant and flower – and there were a lot -  until finally I would be relieved to glimpse the back-end of a hard, shiny shell concealed in the undergrowth.   The tortoises had always burrowed face-first into the earth beneath something with thick stems and tight leaves, beautifully camouflaged like pebbles in the bedding.  Safe, asleep, oblivious to the weather and, unlike me, completely dry - of course.

So, the rain pours down and what am I doing, thinking back to around 50 years ago?  The only things with shells in my much smaller, flatter garden are the snails, and I rather miss having tortoises - but it’s funny how vivid the memories can be, prompted merely by the weather.  Time for a banana.

The Vagrants: Sunny Summer Rain

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