Life is pretty simple as a child, eat, sleep and play. That’s all you ever need to think about really. The troubles of the world don’t seem to reach you. My child-hood, as far as I can remember, was pretty much straight-forward. Food, water, loving parents and a beautiful Bath town-house and garden to play in.
Set over four storeys, the house was very typical of the Georgian architecture that comprises much of Bath, behind a honey coloured, classical façade, sat large rooms with high ceilings, decorated in creams and greys. Lavish furnishings, hardwood parquet floors covered by deep, soft rugs and antiques my father had accrued on his various secondments all indicated a level of sophistication far beyond my comprehension. It was not the sort of place a child was meant to live, but I revelled in the stories that went along with my parent’s belongings. Each artefact seemed to have a mystery of its own derived long before my parents had owned them and each begged me to ask questions about the wonders of the world. I was encouraged to look closely at each relic, touch and feel them as if my parents had acquired them simply to help me become inquisitive and subsequently learn. They seemed not to care about the welfare of each piece and I sensed that the value of objects wasn’t necessarily related to how much they had cost. Most of the house had a very grown-up feel but was the absolute essence of my parents’ lives together. The top floor was different, very much more the sort of place for a child, light spilled in through vast roof windows and illuminated a vibrant world all of my own. I had two rooms just for me, my bedroom, where I kept my most precious toys in a carved box by my bed and a large playroom, painted in various shades of blue, with a tropical island scene depicted master-fully across the whole of one wall. I spent many days in my playroom as the grey, wintery world outside was forgotten in day-dreams of swash buckling adventure across the high seas. My father was successful enough to provide me with all the toys I could wish for. I never wanted for anything, except perhaps a brother or sister to share it all with whilst my father was away.
In the summer my world went from blues to greens and the long hot days would be spent with my mother in the garden, it was a magical place for a small child, large enough to encompass all of my child-hood fantasies but small enough to know my mother was always close-by, if my imagination should get the better of me. It was laid out over three tiers, which formed a rough triangle with the house at the northernmost point. The lowest tier was mostly lawn with neat, ornamental borders, overlooked by my mother’s large conservatory, where she would sit and write, or pot plants ready for the next spring. As the tiers rose up and away from the house they got progressively larger and less ornate. The middle tier consisted of a large patio and an even larger pond so that more than half of it was water. There was a small fence around the edge for my protection and a bridge that spanned the pond in the middle, a small waterfall at one end spilled down to a smaller pond on the tier below. The larger pond was filled with aquatic plants and large, colourful Japanese fish. I would spend hours sat by the fence peering through at the koi but it was the top tier where most of my time was spent. Nearly 3 times as large as the bottom tier; it was split into various sections. The vegetable patch nestled in one corner was protected by a large and neatly trimmed hedge with an archway all the way through for access; the rest was a series of separate spaces with different plants and flowers in each, influenced by my parent’s travels and their love of the outdoors. They were all inter-connected by a rough sweeping path of railway sleepers and chips of soft bark. I would wander through its various sections, imagining each as its own moment in time, an area with little scrub, oak trees and large leafed plants became an ancient land filled with dinosaurs, the next a jungle with vines to swing from, full of monkeys and tigers, the next a country garden, where ladies in large skirts would take tea on the small lawn amongst the roses. I had a modest tree house in the largest tree, it was not much more than two platforms connected by a crude bridge but in my mind it was a castle, vast and magnificent, impregnable and safe when knights on horse-back would come to lay siege.
It was a place that encouraged me to wonder, using my imagination in the way that only a child can. My preference for play time was cowboys, I loved the wild west, dusty, creaking towns, horse-drawn wagons laden with barrels, driven by grizzled men with bushy beards and dirty breeches. Sheriffs, stout & upstanding, sun-shine glinting off their golden badges as the bad guys showed up to duel it out in quick-draw pistol fights. I loved it all. My father must have shared my fascination as he was always around for a very exaggerated turn as one outlaw or another. He would play Pistol Pete with the wooden leg, fat Barbeque Eddie who would laugh and spit and roll around in the dust or the fearsome Gun-slinging George G Junker. My favourite games usually ended with my father playing dead, after a make-believe saloon shoot-out on the lower tier lawn. I would tip my imaginary Stetson to my mother and assure her that the town was safe once again. My father would of course re-animate, out of character naturally, so I didn’t have to shoot him down all over again, he would walk over and share in my delight that we were all safe and well.
It was impossible to realise the pressure he was under at work, but it must have been immense as he strived to provide his young family with all that they desired. Long hours and dark secrets balanced finely against his desire for quality family time. The choices he was forced to make in the future were worse still, but he never once showed the strain at home and he always had the time to spend in pretend shoot outs with his only son. Day after day he would arrive home from work to find my mother and I in the garden, a broad smile would lighten his face as the cares of his day melted away in the warmth of his young families embrace. I knew from a very early age that I wanted the same thing for myself. School, exams, career, none of that really mattered to me growing up, so long as I knew that one day I would meet someone and extend my wonderful family.
It was on a warm day in early June that my earliest memory was formed, I couldn’t have been much more than 4, I remember my father coming home, sidling through the side gate as he always did and stepping into the conservatory where my mother was busy potting. He took the time to listen to her thoughts and comfort her before coming to me. He would always burst out of the French doors all guns blazing as if to catch me un-aware, on this occasion, I must have been. As I came back from a day-dream, I turned and ran only half aware, in the direction of his voice, straight toward the few small steps which separated the middle tier of the garden from the lower. I remember tripping in my eagerness to reach him and the beginning of the fall, the fear as the ground rushed up to meet me and then the memory fades.
In the weeks afterwards, as my broken arm healed, my true belief in the sanctity of family life must truly have formed, my mother very rarely left my side, she would be there when I woke with a soft kiss on the fore-head and be there at night to sing me sweetly to sleep, her soft Italian accent adding a mildly exotic twist to the usual lullabies. My father too would sit with me when he returned each night from work. He would read me stories about famous sheriffs and outlaws, Wyatt Earp, Billy the kid and Jesse James. I truly felt as though I was the only thing that mattered to them and that they would always be there to help me through anything. I couldn’t have been more wrong.