It’s funny the things that you look back on from childhood and remember with a fuzzy heart and dramatic sighs of rituals, traditions and habits that once were. It’s never the family holidays, or birthday parties, or without sounding like a cheesy episode conclusion of Full House, the money spent on gifts. Yeah it is corny, but it really wasn't about money or extravagance.
Every Saturday morning my Mum would take my brother and I up to the local shops of our neighbourhood. The place now seems very quaint and antiquated, but we had a Main Street with a little supermarket, butchers, bakers, grocers, hardware store, pet shop, florist and fishmongers. Actually, now I say that, I realise that my own suburb I love in now has a very similar set up – it’s old fashioned and rare and actually I’ve probably just cracked exactly why I love living where I do so much: Childhood nostalgia.
Anyway. I digress.
We’d always pop in and see my Grandparents who lived just at the start of the main road. Then after a cup of tea and a biscuit we’d start our wander up Kinson Road to run the errands and pick up supplies.
My Mum was kind and patient and always granted us two things 1) A detour into the pet shop to look at whatever furry life forms where in stock. The chinchillas were my favourite. So fat and clumsy. 2) A cake of choice from the bakery.
We’d arrive at the bakery, and my brother and I would stand outside the window and peer in and the shelves of cakes lining the window, on display – gingerbread men, Battenberg apple turnovers, cream doughnuts, fruit tea cakes, Eccles cakes. We’d take our time surveying the offerings, and then we’d tell my mum what we wanted and she’d go into the cramped show whilst we waited outside with the shopping. It was a tiny shop, always buzzing with an electric blue fly zapper above the counter, and the same four ladies who had worked there as long as I could recall, and probably as long as my Mum could too.
My Mum would always get caught up talking and we’d get bored and impatient. But eventually she’d emerge with a carrier bag full of white appear parcels – four sweet treats for the family, and a large, flour dusted, white loaf of bread, unsliced.
The bread is the nostalgic part of the memory. And where your mind plays tricks on you. See, suddenly, as soon as we get home, my Mother vanishes and it becomes my Dad’s.
Every Saturday afternoon, my Dad would put on the Rugby. Usually there were Saturday afternoon games of the five nations. I can never remember my Mum being there. But my brother and I always were. Usually quietly sitting in the lounge, building Lego or drawing.
Then at half time. My Dad would get up, vanish to the kitchen, make himself a cup of coffee. And also come back with plates of thickly sliced fresh bread, sourced from the bakers that morning, buttered and with slathering of strawberry jam on top. Always strawberry, it had to be strawberry.
Our Saturday afternoon tea.
Every week, my Dad would proclaim that there was nothing greater than strawberry jam on fresh bread. And he was right.
Such a simple combination, but taught us that simple could be the best.
I can still smell the bread, feel the smoothness of the butter on the roof of my mouth, taste the sweet tang of the jam, the messy dusting of flour on my fingers, and hear the whistle of the rugby referee in the background and men in matching bright jerseys stomped around muddy English fields.
Every now and then, if I’m passing a bakery on a Sunday, I will pick up a fresh loaf of flour topped, unsliced, bread and take it home.
And at around 3pm I’ll make a cup of coffee. Cut myself a couple of slices. And spread them with butter and jam. I seldom have strawberry jam in the house – my tastebuds have evolved to tarter options – raspberry or blackcurrant. But it’s jam, all the same.
I did that today. And instead of rugby in the background. I enjoy the silence. And whilst I eat, I think of my family. And those weekend afternoons in that house that I loved so much, so many thousands of miles away now, a lifetime ago. And I’m thankful that I got taught the simple pleasures and to be grateful, so early on.