You know how it is – somebody mentions a particular subject on Facebook or Twitter, which sparks that domino effect of comments, which often stray off topic, interweaving with the original post but following trains of thought from a dozen, two dozen and more people.
You watch the thread build and add to the chatter but in your head the memories are sparked of things only related to the subject by tenuous fibres of thought. It is the catching those thoughts that can be essential to a writer.
Last night I danced on the edges of a thread that dealt with the subject of eating pet food. Specifically who had would own up to sampling dog or cat food, when and of what kind.
It is the kind of topic that at one time you would only ever have heard in the dying hours of a party. Who was going to own up to eating dog food after all?
Quite a number as it turned out. Dog biscuits seemed the most popular choice for the gourmet pet owner. Bonios and Spillers Shapes being the most mentioned.
I shared my reminiscence of the pie we kids were subjected to several times every term, (and by pie I am talking two layers of thick stodgy pastry enclosing a thin smear of pink threads). The school cooks insisted it was Corned Beef Slice but we kids knew better. We just ‘knew’ that what we were actually being served was, in fact, ‘Kitty-Kat’ pie.
But the memory I kept back, not wishing to hog the thread, was from my very distant childhood (late 1950s) and far closer to the topic in hand.
The farm on which my father worked in Sussex was of the old fashioned kind even then and in order to phone the Vet he had to walk down to the main farm yard (our cottage was a mile out, along a bridle path).
The estate manager whose phone Pop used in those cases (we did not have one at the cottage) was a ruddy-faced chap of the old school who went for the name of Bowles, with his wife who was of the same ilk. They might almost have stepped straight out of the Darling Buds of May. They worked hard and concerned themselves over the important things of life such as the care of stock and getting crops raised and harvested. Mrs Bowles especially had an ‘eat drink and be merry’ philosophy on life; and here is where we get to the point of this rambling tale.
Pop needed to call the vet and because on this occasion Mother was cleaning at the ‘Main House’ I happened to be trailing in his wake (I was aged perhaps four or five).
Mrs Bowles’s kitchen was typical of its time and type. Aga range at one end, huge dresser at the other that was crammed with plates, and mugs and other knick-knacks, sheaves of invoices, half burned candles in ancient tin holders, discarded hoof knives and farm detritus that had been brought in over years and abandoned where it lay; and all of it covered in a substantial and largely undisturbed pall of dust. The only ‘clean’ parts to be seen were the telephone handset and a pile of scrap paper left there for the taking of messages.
Even I at my tender years realised she was not remotely house proud, but then she didn’t really have the time when she had six kids and was in charge of raising any sickly animals as well as the chickens and other poultry in the yard. So it is with this in mind that you have to imagine this picture.
Mrs Bowles in her men’s shirt and trousers and a wrap-around pinny, standing at the table beating a large ball of bread dough into submission on the huge scrubbed oak table that dominated the room.
She greeted us cheerily and nodded to the phone and as Pop went to make his call I stood politely near the door trying not to let anything touch me.
At that point a chicken came scuttling and squawking from under the table, followed by a small dog. Looking underneath the table was a sight I shall recall always – and yes we have reached the punch line – there were several chickens, two dog, three piglets and the youngest two of Mrs B’s tribe (one dressed in vest and underpants and the other in vest only), all eating dog biscuits from the same vast metal dish.
That’s an image that will stay with you forever, and one I shall use in writing as some point. Never a memory wasted, provided I remember to write them down.