Paradise found down by the still waters
Joined in the race to the rainbow’s end
No fears no worries just a golden country
Woke at sunrise, went home at sunset……
Innocence. The loss of simpler times; of a golden age and those carefree days spent running wild. These are memories that I have spent time pondering in recent days; and more importantly, trying to pin-point that moment in time when that simple, child-like innocence departed and set me upon the path towards the man I have now become.
There comes a time when the harsh realities of life begin to become all too plain to us; when the magic and wonder depart and the truth becomes clear. I look back and wonder if anything remains of the happy child I once was; is he still there within me somewhere, or like time, has he gone forever, left in the past, never to return.
As is the case with many of us, the first blow to my magical world came when I first realised life’s most harsh reality. Death. I remember all too clearly the moment when I first realised that sooner or later all of us must die. I remember the shock, the emptiness and, most of all the fear. Even at such a young age, nothing is really ever the same again once this has been revealed to you. However, adulthood, or your concept of it, seem a lifetime away; it gets pushed to the back of ones mind, and you carry on. Before I had discovered this though, I had unknowingly had my first experience with death. One of my earliest memories is of myself and my parents rushing at some haste to my maternal Grandmothers house one summer afternoon in 1977. I can still recall seeing my Grandmother there, sitting in the chair, seemingly asleep; and of course, this is what I was told. This moment has always stayed with me; and sitting here, thirty-three years later, it is still as clear as a perfect blue sky in my mind.
This protection, of certain truths being kept from you, is the main thing that sustains ones innocence. My memories of my early childhood are in the main, happy, fun-filled ones. Days of sun, bicycles, games and running down lanes and through woods and fields. Days that seemed to go on and on, and where holidays seemed to last forever. Days that were filled with imagination and adventure, where anything seemed possible. Days where I felt totally fearless. Days that I thought would never end.
After moving around over the years, I now live a few short miles from where I grew up. Every once in a while I go back there; not just to the small town, but back to the lanes and forest tracks that I once knew so well. I’m not sure what I hope to find there; many years have passed, but the landscape remains the same and I can still hear the ghosts of my childhood calling me; the birds singing, the chime of the ice cream van on a Sunday afternoon, the rumble of the steam trains from across the river,the smell of hay, the lambs calling to their mothers in the fields beyond our garden. I go there in the hope that I can find myself again, that I can reconnect, that I can rediscover the lost magic…..
Bring you a tale from the pastel fields
Where we ran when we were young
This is a tale from the water meadows
Trying to spread some hope into your heart
It’s mixed with happiness – it’s mixed with tears
Both life and death are carried in this stream
That open space you could run for miles
Now you don’t get so many to the pound…..
Whilst I’m not in any way one to live in the past; the time I spend revisiting the lanes, streams and fields of my childhood is never misspent. Life, as we all find out, is a serious matter; time is short and there are moments when I long for a simpler, more carefree existence. Walking along the river, on a summer’s evening, I find it.
I don’t envy children growing up today. Too many distractions, and what would seem to be a unnessesary pressure to grow up far too quickly. The media play a huge part in this; whipping up hysteria and fear, causing parents to become ‘over protective’ of their children. This wasn’t the case during my childhood; my parents where strict, but I was allowed the freedom the be able to play and enjoy being a child. Of course, I was fortunate, and I do realise this; I grew up in a very small Worcestershire town on the edge of farmland and a forest. Life in a city would have been very different.
Childhood,is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows….. (John Betjeman)
The ‘dark hour of reason’. The loss of innocence. A feeling that time has passed; that the moment has gone. In many ways, that feeling never really leaves you; there are moments in life where you feel that something that you want so much might just happen. Sometimes you can even pin-point a time when the thing you wanted so much, should have happened. These moments last for but a second, and afterwards, when the moment has passed, you know in your heart that this was the chance you’d been waiting for. Of course, all too often we let these chances in life pass without acting upon them, but by then it’s far too late, and one is forced to move on. Like a fly trapped in amber however, these moments stay with you.
It’s hard to pin-point when innocence finally goes. It’s a gradual process. As you get older, you become more exposed to life around you and the truth surrounding your own life becomes all too clear. In my case, I began to realise that perhaps everything at home wasn’t as perfect as I’d once thought; as I started to grow, I became more aware of the money problems, of the fighting between my parents, and finally the day when they separated. When faced with these ‘grown up’ problems I really didn’t know where to turn; my poor Mother was forced to work two jobs in order to put food on the table and pay the bills. On top of this, I began to struggle at school, I became a victim of a few stupid bullies and soon learned to stick up for myself. However, it was a very painful period of time, and during those few short years the last traces of childhood wonder and magic vanished from within me……
The sunny sand we ran along
Everyday began upon
The summer’s kiss of love and adventure
And every June that we fell into
Left a mark upon us too
Etched forever as a moment we’d remember
And we’d remember
The empty woods where we played
Every hour of every day
The holidays went on forever
And in the woods was a soldier’s tomb
The ghost of which looked over you
And God was there amongst the trees
We felt his whisper as the summer’s breeze
And every night and every day
I learnt to love it in a special way
As I remember
What it’s like to walk amongst butterflies……
(Lyrics to ‘Tales from the Riverbank’ and ‘Amongst Butterflies’ by Paul Weller)