Around Eastertime years ago in the heart of the North Norfolk countryside, the spring sunshine would glimmer pleasant warmth upon that classic English perennial; the primrose. This was a time when wildflowers carpeted the rural landscape like a floral patchwork quilt. Families of primroses assembled round tree trunks in coppice woodland or freckled damp meadows.
On a somewhat overcast day in London, my fellow flatmates of 103C have dispersed like seeds in the wind, back to the Rhine, the Welsh valleys or similar. I, however, am alone in my room, surrounded by a legion of formidable library books. Paradise Lost and a yellowing copy of Beowulf from the fifties lie abandoned as I endeavour to decipher meaning in old English lyrics. Outside on the street a youth speeds past with ‘Soldier Boy’ thumping out of the speakers.
Before wishing us a Happy Easter my tutors casually bestowed five essays to complete in two weeks. I am frantically typing as well as worrying about sitting two exams on Early Modern and Classical and Biblical literature a week later-yes Biblical. Tears, tantrums and copious cups of tea have already been spent fighting through the Book of Psalms. Needless to say, with the demanding workload, I decided not to go home for Easter festivities as I know my work will lie neglected.
Halfway through note-taking on Ars Moriendi, The Art of Dying (cheerful I know) the phone rings. It’s Mum. I have to answer otherwise she’ll leave five voicemail messages before instructing the security guards of halls to conduct a personal search and rescue mission.
‘Hello darling!’, Mum twinkles down the line, ‘just calling to see how you’re doing’.
The secret is to never bemoan the workload, or actually, moan in general. Usually I measure the mood of the voice on the line; if it’s relentlessly chirpy, like today, I just say I’m fine. It’s so much easier. Mum was blessed with the amazing ability of not appearing as if she’s listening to a word you say, ruthlessly ploughing over you with anecdotes of Yorkshire pudding success stories and babysitting triumphs. In fact, she skilfully files every scrap of information she hears; any deviation from cheery optimism and she can craftily use it as ammunition the next time I fall ill and then declare 'well that’s because you didn’t take those multivitamins I sent you in the jiffy bag last Friday'.
‘Mum’, I warned, ‘I’m in the middle of writing an essay’, as I displace a pile of papers with my elbow that cascade off the top of my desk and mutinously drift about on the hideous nylon carpet.
Of course that was selectively filtered out.
‘Anyway darling, I was just remembering how you used to make a Garden of Gethsemane for the Chuch display every year when you were little! Do you remember?’
I pause, fountain pen hovering above the lyric “with the precious river that runneth from his womb”, caught on the one hand between impulsively decoding Mum’s possible motivations for this trip down memory lane, and mulling over the nostalgic memories flooding my mind on the other.
Every year, the children in our village would be asked produce their own interpretation of a Garden of Gethsemane. The garden is located by the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where it is said that Jesus and his disciples prayed the night before his crucifixion. In Greek, ‘Gethsemane’ means ‘olive press’, and the garden in Jerusalem today is filled with gnarled olive trees standing proudly like war veterans; adorned with silvery green foliage that glint like medals upon the lapel and clusters of white blossom.
Armed with little fruit baskets, my sister Annabelle and I would go questing into the woodland for mats of velvety emerald moss, fragments of lichen covered bark and ferns that nod their heads in the slight spring breeze. These forest riches would beautify the little paper maché cave I made with newspaper and that special concoction of flour and water. The cave would be positioned on an old cake board, decorated with greenery and perfected with a tiny gravel path winding through the garden up to the cave entrance. I can’t remember ever using plastercine, reels of sellotape or ready-made craft materials that children seem to require nowadays. We weren’t the obsessive ‘living off the land’ type or bohemian children of nature; our happiness was found in being instinctively artistic and making our own entertainment.
Those memories never leave you. Of course I hadn’t forgotten. I thought we were on track for a nice reflective conversation.
Cheerfully bludgeoning through my reverie , Mum swiftly progressed onto asking whether I was going to nip out and get myself a chicken, turkey or something equally as ridiculous to roast on Easter Sunday.
‘You’ll never be able to do any decent work if you don’t feed yourself properly, next thing you’ll be having fainting fits, remember all the trouble we had with you at school?’ she chastised. I rolled my eyed and looked over at my sixteen-pack of brioche rolls from Lidl that I’ve steadily been working my way through all afternoon.
The time for mother-daughter chit-chat had unsurprisingly expired. My woefully incomplete essay sat winking at me and I was losing the fight with my instinctive urge to run and glug caffeine. Mercifully, Mum announced that she couldn’t stay on the line (in standard subverted Mum-logic) and promised she would ring to check how I was tomorrow morning, probably at the unsavoury hour at 6am or similar.
There are times when we all wish everything were simpler. When we find ourselves wistfully reminiscing about those carefree childhood days. When we long to drop whatever we’re doing and bask in the spring sunshine just because we feel like it.
The photograph above is my two year old self doing just that. Staring intently into the face of a wild primrose hoping to unlock some worldly knowledge. I know I won’t be unearthing a woody glade stitched with these little effervescent beauties tomorrow. But I can always sit on the square of lawn at the back of our apartments to satisfy my countryside homesickness. There’s always ways and means if we look hard enough. It might make reading medieval literature a little easier.