is scaled at one to five. Everything appears huge in the first ten years of life and one’s memories are stored in the proportions in which they were experienced. When you go back to a childhood haunt you find it sadly diminished: cats are no longer the size of Cheshire, and caterpillars do not sit on table-sized mushrooms smoking. Childhood is more psychotropic than being grown up and proximity to nature heightens experience: to play in a stream, as a child, is to swim the Orinoco. Many of us desire to keep contact with this exaggerated reality. These very early images remain a fixed part of the mental geography, they are lodestones, and they are part of who we are and why we do what we do. Ostensibly very middle Britain are the influences of Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard; The Wind in the Willows; The Secret Garden; The Midnight Folk; The Flower Fairies; The Borrowers. But wherever they come from there is no doubt in my mind that the journeys and the landscape, which often concern Mervyn Peake, Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, T.H. White, John Buchan, Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson, the travels on foot, sometimes hunted and sometimes at night, all help connect us to the thrill of the natural world. These, along with Johnnie Morris, Jacques Cousteau, and Eric Thompson’s Magic Roundabout, created my imaginative early perception of the natural world.
In childhood, magic, danger, wonder, threat, opportunity, all lurk outside. I, being at the end of the line, was a pale and almost silent introspective sort of changeling, who either sat at the piano for interminable hours or rootled around outside. Of course I ‘got away with murder’ according to my siblings. I certainly climbed out of my bedroom window on the second storey of the Old Rectory, East Hendred, a spring line village on the Berkshire Downs, to which we moved from London in 1967. Outside at night I continued my garden games in the twilight, a particularly important time of day altogether, and still so and especially in the garden. If the others were home for the holidays they would all be ‘up’, eating and drinking outside and I listened to them argue. Bored by that, I would make for my special haunts and, believing myself to be a witch, to the centre of my witchy operations, the place where two towering wych elms (it is hard to believe now just how giant elm trees were) glowered at the very far end of the garden, overlooking a well. The lid of the well was littered with tawny needles from the three inky yews that grew round it. It let out a cold breath as one struggled to lift it. Unfathomable and profoundly silent, the power of the well gods could be invoked by dropping a stone and holding breath for an intense eternity to receive the lost splash relayed back as it hit the water far below. An alternative shrine was the tree house, with commanding views over the village. This my sister Frances and I had assisted our brother Charlie in building. As apprentice assistant to Charlie, eight years older, I learnt not much about engines or mechanics sadly, but a lot about building in wood, brick, salvage, and going to ‘Challow Dump’ to find things for our creations. (Much later I discovered that Challow was also the favourite haunt of our friend Candida Lycett Green when looking for things for her houses and gardens, places which have been a powerful influence on us both and which she made with miraculous panache and practically no money.) Charlie made a blast furnace using a cast iron stove and an old hoover, melting glass, brass, lead and even silver and I assisted. Beyond the garden there were long walks
Above: Magic Lantern slides of John Tenniel’s 1870s illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.