CHARLOTTE BINGHAM -           Novelist and Playwright

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        Living and working in the English countryside brings new insight into life..  So many people claim to live in the country, when really, what they do is own a house in the country, which is truly a different thing.  The difference is noticed when anyone passes by, even in the rain..  Pass by the grandest houses that are visited but not lived in by their owners, and the downstairs shutters are closed, and there are only small 'staff' cars parked. Pass by the weekend cottage, and the blinds are half down, the refuse bins packed away, no Friday collection of bottles waiting, no child's bike carelessly parked - no umbrellas left dripping in the porch.
        If you are a proper country person, you must live in it all day and every day, rain or shine. More than that you must view leaving it, if only for the shortest possible period, as a form of exile, even if it is pouring rain every day.  You must know that the rhythms of the countryside are in reality an orchestra playing to you, that the countryside is beloved in all weathers.  You must enjoy and not be aggravated by such things as the crossing of cows in front of your car.  You must enjoy their colour even in the rain, the fact that they stop and stare in your car window with expressions of gravitas, and the fact that they have, like the sound of rain, brings you a sense of peace, and the unhurried fitness of life.. 
        As the rain now continues unabaited, for want of something else to do, the kaleidoscope of the past can be put to the eye, and given a shake.  Cows feature heavily in early memory.. 'The cows are sitting down it must be going to rain.' But sometimes it didn't, so cows were cheating, but cows could be turned into  horses once they stood up.. Let just one cow stray near a gate and someone would leap aboard its back and kick its sides, hoping against hope that it would trot, or even canter.  But cows are cannier than that, and they would not trot or canter, but plug themselves, and stare round at you in mild surmise, as if a six year old on its back was just some large horse fly to be swatted away with a casual flick of its tail.
      Another shake of the kaleidoscops, and another time, rain still, but this time there are ponies to ride. Small ponies who ambled along country verges snatching at hedgerows, or bucked you off into a recent puddle before looking round with veiled contempt as if to say 'well I did that to Pamela last week and she stayed on!'  Ponies could be ridden through a field of cows, ponies could be jumped over park benches when no one was looking, they could be tied up outside a village shop while sweets were bought, they could share an ice cream.  Lying in the straw beside them when the rain thundered on the stable roof was a sort of heaven.  The smell of the straw, the pony eating a whisp of hay, knowing that no one knew where you were;  a prerequisite of all childhood happiness was to be unreachable, to be nowhere and somewhere in your head, no one calling, just you and the pony, and the sound of the rain. 
      Another shake of the kaleidoscope and it is raining and it is Coronation Day, and all the grownups downstairs are getting Coronation Chicken ready, and friends are expected to watch the hired tv.  The children are left upstairs lying under thick eiderdowns, waiting to see Princess Elizabeth crowned Queen.  They know what crowns look like, they know what princesses look like, but they have no idea what to expect on the small black and white screen.  Some of them have a replica toy Coronation carriage and horses, but it is too small to fit a queen inside.  When they do see the Queen she is a black and white queen, and all the lords and ladies are black and white, and the Archbishop, and Westminster Abbey, but that is only as it should be, because life in 1953 is black and white, wrong and right, war and peace, and cameras and photographs and films and the news, they are all black and white. It is either sunny or it is at that moment - raining.  As the newly crowned Queen rides back to the Palace the rain is soaking the cheerful crowds and the carriages, and the horses that pull the carriages, and everyone eats Constance Spry's Coronation Chicken and says 'what a pity that it rained but didn't she look lovely?' and the children soon peel away to dress up in clothes from the attics and make up a play called 'Rain' which features a queen under an umbrella blessing the crowds and lots of people cheering.  The grown ups pretend to enjoy it, but really they are enjoying their gins and tonics more, and wondering if it will be over soon, and whether there is enough Coronation Chicken left to go round a second time?
      Rain meant coloured pencils and paints, and fresh drawing pads, and lengthy silences during which drawings were made and then coloured or painted.  Rain meant driving to shops to buy macintoshes and new wellingtons, always called 'gumboots', they are black and shiny, and seem to come with a jump in them.  Jumping in puddles may be a waste of time to a grown up, but a child knows that jumping in a puddle has an engineering purpose.  A jump can quickly tell a person how deep is the puddle, and how big the splash, and once the splash has been calculated it becomes either a potential splashing weapon, a joint venture, or a part of a grand scheme to find deeper more impressive puddles.
       The sun has come out again, the kaleidoscope put away, but welcome though the sun may be,  it seems that rain has more memories.
Copyright Charlotte Bingham


Comments RSS
Xiaomi MI 1S on 20 September 2012 02:51
This actually answered my downside, thanks!
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