‘One is quite alone when the last one who remembers is gone.’ Miss Marple.
Last weekend we decided to clear away the last of the bay tree branches left stacked against the back garden wall after roof repairers needed access to the roof to fix a leak and to do so they culled the tree.
My daughter used loppers to get the branches down to an accessible size while I gathered the off cuts in my arms and plunged them into the green garden waste bin. It was satisfying work watching the pile of ugly, now well dried and dead branches, disappear.
Not till later in the afternoon did I realise one of the rings had disappeared from my left hand. A Russian wedding ring my husband made for me, he a jewellery maker in his spare time, among his many side interests.
I love this ring, for what it represents, an eternity ring in yellow, white and rose gold, one band each.
I traced my steps from the kitchen, bathroom, then bedrooms, back outside to the rubbish bins. I even checked the soiled nappies I had changed from my grandchildren who stayed over that day in case in the process of cleaning them the ring had slipped inside. But no luck.
Then the final frontier, the branches crushed and stuffed into the green wheelie bin.
I had stood on top of this bin many times to flatten the load and make room for more. It’s amazing how many twigs, leaves and branches you can compress into one bin under your own weight.
‘The only way to do this,’ my husband said once we were certain of the loss. ‘Go through the branches layer by layer, sifting the pieces into piles.’
‘The proverbial needle in the haystack,’ I joked not wanting to believe I had lost my ring for good.
Slowly and carefully, I watched as we deprived my once neatly filled green bin of its contents and the back garden was awash, not only with autumn leaves from the pin oak that are piling high at this time of year, but now the delicious scent of bay leaves added to the general mess. You could not see the ground.
‘You should always wear gloves when you’re gardening,’ my three-year-old grandson announced from the side lines. Wise words his mother must have said to him whenever they embarked on a spell of gardening. But here was omnipotent me imagining I did not need gloves for my asbestos fingers. I never bother with them unless I’m dealing with toxic substances.
And then – you guessed it – there among the leaves and branches, my husband found the ring, glinting at him in all its golden glory.
What joy. A simple joy, the joy of finding the thing that was lost.
Before we found it, as we were clearing away leaves, I had wished we owned a metal detector as do the wonderful characters Andy and Lance played by McKenzie Crook and Toby Jones in The Detectorists.
Johnny Flynn’s theme song from the series ran through my head:
Will you search through the lonely earth for me
Climb through the briar and brambles
I will be your treasure…
I felt the touch of the kings and the breath of the wind
And the call of all the songbirds,
They sang all the wrong words…
I’m waiting for you.
I’m waiting for you…
But we had eyes and fingers only, no metal detector.
Who’d have believed, we found my ring.
The smell of bay leaves recalls the memory of a time I walked along the bare wood frame of a house under construction in the Farm Road Estate when I was fourteen years old. My sister, two years younger, and I trawled these houses before lock-up stage in search of empty lemonade bottles abandoned by builders. We cashed them in at a nearby milk bar in exchange for chocolate.
You needed to take care scaling these splintery beams. They were raised a couple of feet above ground and a slip could leave you with a gash down the side of your leg.
It was a balancing act and needed concentration, so much so that our conversation was jerky and piecemeal. On one such day, I told my younger sister what our older sister had told me. The facts of life.
A quaint phrase and one I carry around with me. The birds and bees. How babies were made. In my young mind, these were essential elements to describe a process whereby procreation happened: a man put his penis into a woman’s vagina and spurted his seed, which then broke the skin of her egg inside. In this way they made babies.
My body still trembled with horror and disgust, even when I was now with my younger sister, and I was in charge. A shift in position, conveyor of information to the ignorant one instead of being on the receiving end. Still, I held both positions in my mind. The one who knows and the innocent, uninformed one.
My younger sister took it in her stride and far more graciously than I had managed with my older sister.
‘It’s disgusting, I had said to her.
‘I thought you were more mature,’ she said, so I held my tongue. My big sister had told me in a state of sensibility, as sober as a nun, and she said it was to protect me from any need for our father to convey these facts to me, as he had done to her.
Coming from a sister was less unfathomable than coming from a father. We people born with vaginas who knew our fate was to be penetrated, whether we wanted it or not.
How, and if, these events connect I leave to your imagination.
There’s something about memories, like lost treasure, they’re endlessly compelling.