Mondays writing course included an exercise where the group leader Jim Hinks collected together suggestions for our most memorable childhood feeling, texture, smell, sound and general word. Then he set us off writing about our childhood and frequently announced the provided words at random for us to incorporate.
Funny how writing exercises can take you somewhere different. I ended up describing horse riding escapades. I remember going horse riding, back when the town I lived in was mainly fields and a half finished housing estate - not the sprawl of suburbia it is now – I was maybe seven or eight. There was a farm, and for a few quid I used to join a convoy of sluggish ponies tramping around a waterlogged field. I don’t remember asking to go, the whole situation was very foreign and for as long as I did it I never became confident enough to enjoy it. The dusty smell like our airing cupboard, and the smell of urine remind me of the stables. A fear of the huge animals and anxiety at their fusty breath and grasping gums. The carpet-texture of their coats and word I didn’t understand which described either some kind of leather accessories or a travelling speed.
I was allergic to horses, as with most things, as a child – but my mother didn’t realise for months, not even when my eyes swelled to raspberry coloured donuts, or even when I’d sneezed myself into a hot, suffocating nosebleed.
Strangely I hadn’t thought about any of this until the writing exercise. It’s funny what you forget. Whatever happened to popping tarmac bubbles, falling over, and dirty fingernails from upturning rocks and discovering insect communities? And most of all – navigating the geography of the town slowly, step by step, paving stone by paving stone. I knew points on my journeys better than I know anywhere now, because I sat on the pavement or dug in the sand. I knew how things felt, smelt and sounded. Now everything is too quick, and I’m only ever outside because I’m between two places, or I’m running. I guess the paradox is the world is getting smaller – with globalization, world travel and the internet – but we might know our own corner of it less and less.