In summer we had a table outside on the back ‘tennis’ lawn, presumably so called because it had at one time been used for that game, although croquet would have been safer with all those windows dangerously close. But the grass was perfect for handstands and cartwheels and daisy chains. Many days I sat on the soft turf searching for four-leafed clovers, but as it turned out, I didn’t need talismans to bring me luck in life.
We ate outside as often as the weather permitted, enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables from the extensive gardens, tiny new potatoes with mint, dripping wickedly with butter; salads in which all the constituents had been growing an hour earlier, even the occasional caterpillar that survived the three washes, hidden from view inside a curly piece of crisp lettuce.
At the end of August the annual Melplash Agricultural Show was held in one of the fields just off the main road to West Bay, our closest seaside town. For several days before, we watched the marquees being erected and the paddocks being fenced off for the animals. We weren’t horsey people, but enjoyed watching the dressage events in the main field. The largest tent was the Women’s Institute tent. When we were children there was fierce competition for the lightest Victoria sandwich and the most original toilet roll cover. I used to enter the odd painting or arrangement of wild flowers in a tea-cup, but don’t remember any outstanding successes. If the weather was good, the day went very quickly as we raised our eyebrows at the largest turnip or the fattest pig. There were always the smooth-talking salesmen trying to flog a knife that would never blunt or a magic grater-juicer-slicer that would solve all your culinary dilemmas. Possibly not much has changed since then.
Immediately after the Melplash Show we generally had a two-week camping holiday. Although the evenings often started to cool down, it was the best time for Dad to get away from the business. During my primary school years we went to Bognor Regis, to Exmoor, to South Wales, and one year we went as far as the Norfolk Broads, where apparently I kept half the campsite awake with my barking cough. All was recorded for posterity on jerky Super-eight cine film, which caused many evenings of entertainment as the projector broke down or the film ran off the spool. Countless evenings I cringed as I watched my skinny white legs running down the beach. Worse was the bathing costume, shirred vertically and horizontally so little one inch squares ballooned out looking like large bubble-wrap. And the crowning glory was the white rubber swimming cap complete with band under the chin and flower over one ear. Sadly I don’t seem to have a photo of the complete outfit.