Mia & I are currently reading “Danny the Champion of the World” by Roald Dahl.
I am really enjoying this book, having read it as a child and all but forgotten the story since, it has been wonderful to become familiar with the story once more and to share in Mia’s excitement as she looks forward to the next chapter. We read together every evening, usually a chapter at a time, and I like to introduce Mia to the classics that I enjoyed as a child by authors such as Roald Dahl, C. S. Lewis, Enid Blyton, the list goes on.
"Danny the Champion of the World" though, above all, has really captured Mia’s interest and imagination, she has begged every evening for more than the usual one chapter, and most nights we have ended up reading three at a time! Right from the start she was captivated by the thought of Danny and his father living in an old Gypsy caravan, just one little room, with bunk-beds and a little stove and oil lamp. She thinks that would be absolutely wonderful and has been day-dreaming as to what it might be like to sleep in one herself.
This thought, has brought back a lovely memory for me, from when I was in my early teens. It was the summer of 1994, (eighteen years ago, goodness me!) and sticks in my memory as I have always considered it as being the very best summer of my teenage years.
It was the year that I got back in touch with an old friend, Poppy, with whom I’d played with when I was very little, but she had gone to a different primary school from me, and we’d lost touch after the age of 5 or 6. Her family lived not too far away however, and I’d never forgotten her, so that summer I decided to write to her (no e-mail or text messages back then!) and see if she remembered me. I got a reply within a few days, and much to my excitement she had invited me to visit her that coming weekend. I remember I used to walk to go and see her, which used to take me about half an hour, mainly through fields and country lanes.
The things which stick in my mind the most, and what really sum up Poppy and her family to me are; their huge, ramshackle old farmhouse, the renovation of which always “in progress” but never completed, piles upon piles of old books covered in thick layers of dust, faded black and white framed photographs of family members during the 20’s & 30’s (very glamorous!) sat on the piano (again covered in dust!), wind-chimes tinkling in the early evening summer breeze, Poppy’s mother, an actress, very "bohemian", slightly well-known for a short time back in the 70’s for her role in a popular soap-opera, and Poppy's father; an author of some sorts, an old typewriter & mounds of manuscripts piled on his desk which buckled under the weight of them. “Friends from London” would arrive on a weekend, with whom they had parties lasting until the very early hours, and an “ancient” great-grandma, long white hair in a bun, lived in one part of the vast house, who always sat in her rocking chair, staring out over the meadow, lost in her own thoughts of the past. And absolutely BEST of all... the old Gyspy bow-top wagon in the meadow behind the house!
Just as Mia has been, with that in "Danny The Champion of the World", I was immediately taken with the beautiful wagon, and was jealous beyond words!
(This isn't the actual wagon belonging to Poppy & her family, but a photograph I took of one extremely similar!)
One week during that Summer, it would have been in the August because I distinctly remember that Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” had been released a few weeks earlier, and Poppy loved it! She played it all the time, and whenever I hear that song, it too, brings back these lovely memories.
One weekend Poppy’s parents went away, I forget where, but Poppy was left behind to “keep an eye on Grandma”, and to feed the dogs. I was permitted to stay and keep her company - and the best part - we were to camp out in the Gypsy wagon!! I remember being so, so excited! It was one of those summer evenings which we just don’t seem to have these days, dry, hot and muggy, when it stays light until gone 10pm. We took Poppy’s two dogs (for company) who slept on the floor of the caravan, and Poppy & I slept in the bunks – I was on the top. The interior of the wagon was much as it had originally been, and I remember the little tassels on the curtains around the bunk. We lit candle lamps and had a camp fire in the field where we tried to cook our dinner, although I do recall that it didn’t quite turn out as planned and Poppy had had to go back to the house to finish it off in the oven! We were joined by a little girl called Jenny. She would only have been around 8 or 9 at that time, had the most beautiful blue eyes and long, dark curly hair, and lived in a caravan a few fields away. I don’t remember much about Jenny, though I do recall that she followed Poppy everywhere, never said much, but loved the dogs. She was from a travelling family I think, and her parents never seemed to mind where she went, I remember we were a little annoyed at the time that she had invited herself along, probably because she was so much younger than us, but she was never any trouble. I remember she slept on the floor with the two dogs and became very frightened when we began telling ghost stories during the early hours of the morning – looking back I think we were being a bit cruel to be doing so! I’d brought with me a book of supposedly true ghost stories that I’d recently bought at a bootsale, (I still have it now!), and at the time it was the most scariest thing I’d ever read – I remember little Jenny’s face going pale with fright at the mention of the “Black Hell-Dog Shuck” roaming the countryside looking for it’s next victim! Though even Poppy and I scared ourselves silly after reading that – we screamed and hid under the covers at every rustle in the hedge!
I don’t remember much about "keeping an eye" on Grandma, though we did go to check up on her one morning – she was in her rocking chair as usual, and little Jenny hid behind it so she could hear, but not see her. Old Grandma went mad and I remember her saying in a very posh voice, “who are you!? Come out! Who’s that behind there?! Elizabeth is that you??!!” I never asked who “Elizabeth” was, perhaps Poppy’s grandma, (who would have been her daughter), she was very confused by then, and well in to her 90’s. Jenny thought it was hilarious and ran off home then across the fields, to return later that evening for a second night in the wagon – obviously not perturbed too much by the thought of the Black Shuck!
Reading that back now it really does sound like something from a novel! My only regret is that I didn’t take any photographs, of course we didn’t have digital cameras or mobile phones, but I always usually had a camera with me – unfortunately though just not at that time, which is such a shame now.
I don’t remember seeing Jenny again after that Summer, and as we grew older Poppy and I lost touch once more. Her family emigrated in the end, and goodness knows what ever happened to the Gypsy wagon. The farmhouse has now been modernised, and the meadow where the wagon once stood has been built upon. I will never forget those lovely surreal few nights we spent in it though – it really was one of the best summers of my childhood – memories which were brought back recently after reading the book with Mia. She has LOVED hearing about them, and I hope you have enjoyed me sharing them too,