Chapter 9 Crocuses
One day Peter's trousers were so dirty I had to wash them and they were not dry by the next morning. He had to wear his jeans. At lunchtime his school rang me to say that he was to go to Maidstone Grammar that day for an interview. Nearly two months had passed since our arrival, and he had settled down at Clare Park school. The proposed assessment had not eventuated.
After a short talk to Peter, it was decided that he could choose between the Maidstone Grammar, where he could continue German, or the Tech where he could do Technical Drawing. He chose the former. He could start on Monday. So simple.
On the Friday his friends gave him a little farewell. They presented him with a pen and pencil set, a German phrase book, a pair of nail snippers, and a little toy donkey. The headmaster said he was very sorry to lose him. Obviously his marked Australian accent and manners had not marked him as an oddity. He had been very happy and had even found his first girl friend (or she had found him) but the friendship had not amounted to more than an exchange of Valentine cards. I must admit I was rather relieved to find he was not on the brink of a premature engagement.
It was March and the days were longer. After school the children could play for a while outside before tea. Peter had improvised a cricket bat and wicket, and tried to beg bully or bribe the other two to play with him. The evenings were still long and so we were delighted when the man from the shop in Aylesford arrived with a television. However he could not get it to work, so he took it away. Gloom. Utter gloom.
There were signs of Spring although the weather was still very cold. David was enthusiastic about the crocuses, which grew on the footpaths near the school. The green shoots pushed their way through the grass, and a few weeks later there was a mass of colour under the leafless trees.
"How did they get there all along the paths?"
"I expect they were planted, but they would soon spread. I think they grow wild, that is why there are so many. Do you notice the tiny blossoms coming on the trees?"
We were terribly eager for the Spring with its promise of warmer and sunnier days. In mid February Ruth Pipe had pointed out the white catkins in the hedges.
"We like to think of them as the first sign of Spring," she had said.
But a few days later it had snowed quite heavily, and we were disinclined to believe the catkin myth. The crocuses however were a different matter. Anything so colourful must mean something. Our friends told us that the equinox was the official beginning of Spring.
'Summer Time' began about the same time and caught us unawares.
Fortunately I had met an Australian teacher in Maidstone and she happened to mention about midnight, "By the way do you realize it is really one o'clock?"
I looked at her vacantly.
"You know 'Daylight Saving'. They call it summer time even when it feels like winter."
We had been in the town, making arrangements for our Easter holidays. Maisie was also in the AA office collecting maps and information. I invited her to our place for the weekend. She was teaching in Tunbridge Wells, not far away, but had to rely on public transport. She was glad to see some of the features of our district.
We showed her first Peter's new school, parts of which were three hundred years old, then to Kit's Coty about four thousand years old (a miniature Stonehenge) and the Friars, a monastery in the picturesque village of Aylesford.
"I've read that Aylesford comes from Angles' Ford, because it was the place at which Pilgrims forded the Medway en route to Canterbury. The bridge was built about the thirteenth century. The Friars was an overnight halting place."
"Doesn't the Pilgrim's Way begin at Winchester?"
"Yes it is supposed to date back to prehistoric times, long before any pilgrims went to Canterbury. Kit's Coty is the same as another monument at the other end. Tin was brought along the track from Cornwall. The track was not good enough for the Romans so they built Watling St, which ran almost past the school where I'm teaching."
Maisie and I talked until her comment about summer time made us realize how late it was. She had come alone for her year in England, but her husband was taking four months leave and was joining her for Easter when they planned to hire a car and see something of the Continent. We spent hours comparing plans. At one o'clock she got into Jacqueline's bed, my daughter having improvised a bed on the floor for herself.
The next day, friends from London also exchange teachers, and a cousin, all arrived to visit. My china and cutlery were adequate for the four of us: providing tea for the flood of visitors was difficult. Without a fridge I kept only enough milk for each day, and as there were no shops open on Sundays, I borrowed some from a neighbour. Bruce and Jennifer had three children, all red-heads like their mother. The children went for a walk together while we adults chatted and compared notes. Bruce and Jenny also has a camping van, a size bigger than mine, as there were two adults, two high school girls and their eight year old son. They were not very happy with life in London. They had some misgivings about the whole venture.
After the inundation subsided we drove Maisie back to Royal Tunbridge Wells and had a pot luck tea with her.
"It's a shame Bruce and Jennifer are not enjoying their year as much as they could. Their children won't get as much out of it as they might. They are already looking forward to going home." I commented over the dishes.
"Maybe they'll feel differently when the weather warms up a bit," said Maisie.
"Perhaps," I agreed.
"Jennifer is enjoying a spending spree. She goes to Petticoat Lane every chance, and has bought a lot of things."
"I limit myself very severely with souvenirs."
"So do I. I'd rather see another place than buy a lot of things which are going to make a problem with excess luggage."
My bushwalking days had taught me the advantage of travelling light. I had learned to manage quite well for up to ten days with what I could carry on my back. Enough food, a change of clothing and a toothbrush. Well there were a few other items... especially for an extended period with children. I had begun to make a list, and to calculate how much detergent etc I would need for the three weeks at Easter, and to find suitable plastic containers. The measured quantity of detergent fitted into an empty shampoo container. Twenty one days at three cups of coffee a day equals.....
The crocuses were in full bloom. We took our classes to the main road where the best display could be seen.
"Put on your outdoor clothes, coats, gloves, hats and shoes, it's pretty cold out. We're going for a walk."
This always took a time. I found it a tedious routine three times a day at each break.
"Everybody ready? Make two lines and we'll walk to the gate. Come on. Who's the chatterbox?"
"Me," said Frank. "I'm chatterboxing."
I hid my smile and we walked to the main road. This road, following almost exactly the route of the Roman Watling Street, was now lined with blossom trees coming into bloom. Beneath the trees were the bright purple, yellow and white crocuses, masses together.
We returned through the park where a variety of trees could be seen. I chatted to Anne, one of the other teachers.
"I like the chestnuts," I said. "They are so different to me. I would take home some seeds if they would grow and if it were not against quarantine laws. The cherries are more colourful, and brighten up the streets."
"Yes, chestnuts are unusual, the way the leaves hang down and the blossoms stand up. Like white candles in a candlestick. Some of the trees are magnificent at any time of the year. The children love the conkers to play with."
"They're the nuts? Chestnuts?"
"The nuts of the horse chestnut are conkers. The one you eat is the sweet chestnut, which is no relation."
"Our street is lined with cherry trees, but I hardly noticed them until they began to bloom. It is Brookfield Avenue, Larkfield. When Margaret wrote the address I pictured a very rural setting. It was terribly disappointing. In the winter it was so drab, and not a brook, a field or a lark in sight."
"It's a shame the way places change. When I was a girl there were ever so many more wild flowers. I don't think people should pick them the way they do."
"It amazed me to read that some are in real danger, and they're not protected."
"All round here used to be fields and woods. The woods were full of bluebells and we picked them by the bucket full. Some is taken for housing, the rest for the motorway and the main roads. Roundabouts are a great improvement on ordinary intersections, but they take up such a lot of space."
"People are beginning to wonder whether the price we pay for progress is worth it. I think we should reach a point where we say 'This is enough', and stop wanting bigger and better cars and bigger and better roads to drive them on. And of course we have to stop the population growth."
"How do you convince people of that?"
"Education. I think it's part of our job to get the children thinking in terms of conservation."