Words & Images Laura Lereveur-
‘THE MOMENT YOU DOUBT THAT YOU CAN FLY, YOU CEASE FOREVER TO BE ABLE TO DO IT- CLAP IF YOU BELIEVE!’
– Peter Pan
It’s quite the confession. Summer has always been my favourite, the time I was desperate to find, the collection of days that always passed painfully quickly and set the light for my life’s film. Perhaps it’s partly because I grew up in a village on the coast. Summer meant rock pools and picnics of food so nice it’d have us running from wasps. Sand encrusted toes and the pleasant misery of trying to put them back into shoes. Wild salt-shedding hair. White cotton on my small gold shoulders. And then as a teenager, by the same rock pools, this time camping and collecting firewood and cliffs by torchlight. Finding good dents in the grass of fields to hold whiskey bottles upright, and achingly walking home in the morning followed by cows. I was born on the day the books call the height of summer. It was in my very bones.
But now… Summer’s different. It’s too humid. It barely arrives and when it does it isn’t the same. The light is different, perhaps because it’s trying to shine across years. It’s waiting for storms to break the pressure of headaches and clay drying too fast to be useful. It makes bed less comfortable than a field of Roman piles and whiskey bottles. So I think I’ll choose to be the Autumn child I was meant to be. I came into the world early, you see – I was meant for October. The same day as my Mother and Great-Grandmother. Maybe the reckless impatience that saw me born in August and live for Summer has grown up. Now I want knits and teapots and spiced apples and lamplight and dark nights. I want kitchens and hearths and mist and drying seed heads. A huge scarf to wrap around my face and layers of linen and wet boots and warm toes.
There is a kitchen in my memory. It’s part of some I’ve known and some I’ve heard of. My Grandma’s with all the love, safety and respect that came from it, the door still open to the washing line and smell of rain. My Mama’s, and all the days of growing up (which includes today and tomorrow), my books at the table, my feet by the fire, my first taste of tea. The stories I’ve been told of her Grandma’s kitchen, the hearth of the family, and Auntie Jen’s imitation of it for the following generations. Stories of many-sectioned agas and stoves where dozens would be fed in the morning ending a party, an apron tied over jet beaded finery and the endless table stained with bacon grease and errant champagne. Then there are the ones I’ve only visited. Grand old kitchens in grand old houses, with copper pans, vast surfaces, and fireplaces the height of rooms. Benches and hanging herbs and the sounds of efficient mania still in their flagstones, just whispers now. They tell of the same tasks as the small, dark kitchens of the simple livers. Like Alf. He lived across the road from us with his field of a garden, ever worked; an orchard, a vegetable garden, a plain front path and low lintel over his weathered door. He was small. Always dressed in flannels, tweeds, thick boots and a cap. His kitchen was little more than a table, two wooden chairs that sat unevenly on the flags, and a dresser even older than him. On its top sat a pedantic scales. We’d call in after school for vegetables and Mum seemed at home there, I suppose because it had the ancient functionality of the farm’s kitchen. That peace and purpose is in the very word kitchen, for me. It unites them all. And it’s what I will gather to my own kitchen.
I think back on my twenty eight years and see my creatures in so many places. Now my mind notices them, they wave and flutter at me from windowsills and bookshelves. I’d make beds for Night Visitors from jewellery boxes, matchboxes, from carefully folded and tucked toilet paper. Some in dormitory lines for families not wanting to be separated and others suspended from curtain poles and tieback hooks, in case they were more solitary souls. I’d make caterpillars from tight daisy chains, take them on adventures, and inevitably hold funerals for them when their petals shrivelled. Lollipop sticks and shells marked their graves. I’d leave my sewing pins and threads undone at night so the fairies could steal them without trouble as fairies are wont to do. And I’d knit patches to leave in warm corner shadows for moths to nestle amongst and eat. I had a moth, too. I named him Cyril and he lived in my bedside lampshade. So did Cyril II, Cyril III, and more noble descendants. I’d write stories for the creatures my cats caught, if I couldn’t rehabilitate them from tall leafed jars or straw filled shoeboxes; in them, I’d write into being all the things they might have dreamed and not accomplished in their brief, dappled lives. Then I’d throw the papers to the wind in the field so their families could know everything heroic they’d done. I dressed my rabbit in navy velvet and took him for walks. I made books small enough for Small Things to read when I realised how heavy and cumbersome a single page of mine must be, and how terrible it must be to be denied the wonder of reading. I built an insect hotel. It was a grand place, something Poirot would be seen in were he a polished yet rotund beetle. I named the local rooks and devoured the Flower Fairy books my Grandma bought me – their costumes, their tales, their expressions! They were a set of conceptually beautiful things. A collection of curiosities. I collected buckets of snail shells and lined them up in rations for whatever purpose the Things might need – a bird satchel, perhaps, or lanterns for mice. I studied dead finds and cried for their pain and emptiness later. I let an owl guard me at night and found wolves in the shadows of the trees, there above my bed to chase nightmares and goblins away. In antique fairs I’d spend my pocket money on abandoned figurines. Set them on dusted flour or icing sugar in gatherings and imagine them coming alive when I was gone. Sure enough: they left trails.
‘Adventure’: Through my head ran a clicking show of adventures. Of following starlings and turning ankles, ignoring maps and jumping waves. It’s all changed. My legs don’t do the same things and maybe they never will, but I’ve been on another kind of adventure. It doesn’t need boots or first aid kits. It doesn’t leave woodsmoke in my hair or belong on rattling trains in other languages. It asks me to live and to do it alongside my ever present awareness of endings. It’s eased my fear of time when it should be exacerbated, when Auden’s clocks should ridicule me. It’s my worthiest challenge and happiest risk and scariest comfort. It’s made of everything an adventure really is, this business of being in love.
© all images with kind permission LAURA LEREVEUR
Take care! Melanie Kettner