Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fée clochette

Warning – schmaltz alert! Dangerously low sarcasm index in this post. If you’re here for the usual cynicism, you’re welcome to browse previous posts. Otherwise, normal service will be resumed tomorrow. See, it’s not always about you…

Looking over some old posts yesterday, I came across the phrase fée clochette (the sort of fairy who lives in bell-shaped flowers), which put me in mind of bluebells.

When I was very young, say three or four years old, I would often stay with my grandmother – Nan, as I always knew her – in Bushey, north of London. It was a fairly bog-standard dormitory town, but back then at least it was still rural enough to have some woods nearby. And thinking of bluebells I suddenly find myself transported back to a winding path through those woods with Nan, nearly forty years ago.

The bluebells grew on either side of the path, as far in every direction as I could see from my rug-rat elevation, an impressionistic smear of bright colour that seemed to hover above the ground like a lilac mist, brushing my hands and face as I ran through them, while the trees rustled overhead. We came back with an armful which we arranged in a vase - on the kitchen table or mantlepiece, I think. I don’t remember much about my visits or the house, but suddenly and for no particular reason I’m almost crippled by this one vivid recollection of being in the woods, chest high in bluebells, the sun streaming through the trees. If I closed my eyes now, could I return there, reach out a hand and find hers in answer?

I recall very little of my childhood, possibly due to the large percentage of it which I spent in wicker baskets. These memories are so rare, I suppose you have to seize them while you can. I doubt that I’ll ever get the chance to take my children to those woods (even assuming they still exist), nor can I introduce them to Nan. The best I can do is to press this image and this moment between electronic pages, and hope the colour doesn’t leach from them in the process.


Bluebells in the wood, yesterday. Meet you there, Nan.

12 comments:

Foot Eater said...

Very evocative, Ivan, but have you considered the possibility that those bluebell memories have been implanted in your cortex in order to conceal an altogether more sinister past?

Desargues said...

I have a quite similar recollection, but it involves chamomile. Before you guys sneer, let me tell you that it smells terrific when it's alive in the fields. Really great. My grandmother would go out towards the end of the summer to pick up some chamomile, which she would subsequently dry for the winter, as she thought chamomile tea is a virtually universal cure. On our way up to the fields, I'd hold on to her soft, warm hand, but once we got there I was allowed to run about freely, and to roll over in the sea of dainty chamomile plants that stoically resigned to being flattened by this noisy kid.

That is the innocence that I'm never gonna be granted agin. Years afterwards, in college, I once got so drunk I passed out in a thicket of really low bushes (about 2 feet tall or so). Imagine my near-terrified puzzlement when I woke up and started wondering how the hell I got into this forrest last night. From where I was lying on the ground, looking up blinded by the sun, the bush looked like a group of small trees.

I started working on recovering my childhood memories after I came across some of Nabokov's works (for those of you out there looking for cheap titillation no, it wasn't 'Lolita'; in fact, I havent read that one yet). He makes you realize that most of us are blind to the world that surrounds us, and to that even richer world that is our own personal past. If you read certain chapters from 'Speak, memory', you'll feel gently prodded to engage in the same kind of careful, painstaking reminiscing. Ivan, you'll be surprised to discover how much you can still remember. Or maybe it's an illusory effect caused by the magic of fiction. Who knows. In the end, it doesn't really matter.

Bystander said...
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Bystander said...

My Nanny (the one I knew, the other having died in 1918) lived in remoreselessly urban surroundings. Say bluebell to her and she would think polish.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi Footie. Yes, I did have that "What if we were all really robots?" thought once, when I was about six. I don't think solipsism has ever progressed much past that point - it's all variations on the same theme. But to the extent that our identities are the sum of our experiences, I'm happy to file the bluebell memory whatever its provenance. Much nicer than ones with the lab and the bright lights and the screaming... wait a minute - that was you!

Des, no laughs - smell is a powerful jog to the memory, I know. If only there'd been some camomile near those bushes you passed out in you might have achieved a really freaky breakthrough. Perhaps it's just as well there wasn't. And speaking as the father of three noisy little kids now, let me reassure you that the plants didn't mind.

And welcome Bystander - good to hear from you. After Granddad died at Singapore, my Nan spent the rest of her life cleaning other people's houses for them, so I'm pretty sure she would have made the same association :)

HA HA HA said...

I recall very little of my childhood, possibly due to the large percentage of it which I spent in wicker baskets.

raised by druids eh?

Rob said...

There are some wood near bath called Bluebell Woods. Friend of mine was murdered in them.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Hi 3H - well, you know how it was in the sixties, lots of hippies about. Thank God their reign of terror is over.

Sorry to hear about your friend, Rob. These aren't the same woods, tho', if that's any consolation. And I doubt it was the bluebells wot dun it. Daffodils, on the other hand - well, only a maniac would turn his back on a crowd of daffodils...

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Did anybody have that feeling as a child that if you turned round really quickly, the bluebells, chamomile, sideboard wouldn't be there? That God was playing big trick? I think that might be one we all have at some point, but, still, I enjoyed the memory jog your lovely bluebell post took me on.

Rob, sorry to hear about your friend.

And Terrible, what's to be done about these bloody daffodils? There ought to be a law.

Ivan the Terrible said...

Death was to good for them, Sam - so we parked the Welsh on their turf instead.

Aunty Marianne said...

Wow. Just reading that post, I'm remembering my Nana, and her wisdom, and her grace, and I'm sitting here crying my heart out.

She always supported my choices and encouraged me to seize the day, but with the passage of time that voice of hers had grown very faint.

You've brought her closer again. Thank you Ivan.

Ivan the Terrible said...

I know the feeling, Aunty M. I only hope I leave memories as fond behind me...