What flavour of pop would you like?
That’s a question I’ve not really thought about for getting on fifty years, but it was a part of any visit to my Welsh grandparents in Bristol. Sometimes it would be the question on the day, or it might be in preparation for the next visit, but it’s a part of three intertwined memories in a magical land of choice and adventure.
Going to see them was not a major expedition in itself – about three minutes walk – but once there it was a step into a huge and marvellous house. Actually, it was a pretty normal-size house, but I was small so it looked big, and it had more rooms than my parents’ house – a lounge, a dining room, a kitchen, and in the middle the games room. Somehow that made it special, something beyond the normal defined by my parents’ place.
With the benefit of hindsight, it was an ordinary family home from a time when there might be a single live-in servant, probably living in the attic room reached by a cramped little staircase. I wasn’t allowed up there very often, and only under supervision, probably because there were no locks on the hatches through into the rest of the roofspace. I do recall that access to those spaces was important – Grandpa had to get in there to empty the buckets and bowls under the leaks in the roof.
I’m not even sure that my grandparents’ house had any bigger footprint than my parents’ house which was built in the thirties, before the modern trend of creating estates of cramped shoe-boxes. That “games room” was probably meant to be the “parlour” whilst the dining room at the back was probably a “rear parlour”, or something like that. But, when I was four, the games room was a huge empty space, with old-fashioned lino and French doors out into the yard, past the rear dining room and kitchen, thence to the tiny garden where Grandpa would mow “roads” into the lawn and make “traffic lights” with a stick, three tin cans and some candles.
In spite of its tiny size, my grandparent’s garden was as huge as the house. At the far end, hiding under a shrub, was a fern, just like the myriad that grow all over our farm in Cornwall, but my grandmother assured me that her fern was where the fairies lived. It’s amazing what you believe when you’re four, but then I also had a wheat field, so these things were obviously true. I know that only a dozen or so wheat plants graced my field, all germinated from the seeds on a single ear my parents found in a layby on a drive back from somewhere. It doesn’t matter – a wheat field two feet by one and fairies under a fern formed a self-perpetuating belief. I must have been at least five before I started having doubts about those fairies, even though the ongoing wheat crop was still real.
Another important feature of my grandparent’s house was the all-weather facilities. When it was wet, I could run around the games room, or even pedal my tricycle, trying not to trip over the skittles board (circa 1940) in the corner, and brought down from that mysterious attic because it fascinated me. The games room was a malleable space, vast and flexible, waiting on the whims of my imagination. My grandfather added extra magic in the form of boxes. Really big boxes. OK, calibrate really big with four years old. Even so, they were genuinely on the large size because next door to the family business was a television hire, and these were the boxes that held new TVs. Not only were there boxes, but inside lurked an intricate array of cardboard packing that could be stacked into a shanty town from the edge of tomorrow. Or a spaceship. Or a boat. Or… Like I said: magic.
In one corner of the games room, tucked up by the chimney breast, was a metal meat-safe hanging on the wall, complete with a perforated zinc door. Inside would be a leg of lamb for roasting, and on the floor, underneath, a crate. I think it was grey, but that’s uncertain, because all that really mattered were the bottles of pop.
Does anyone still call it pop? Back then it came in glass bottles and maybe you could buy it in the shops, but my grandmother bought it from the van that delivered around the area. The Corona brand is gone now, but when my grandmother asked what flavour of pop? I knew exactly what I was getting. There was lemonade, and lime, orange and I think something in red, but like the Corona brand, that memory is gone. What I remember clearly is that my Grandmother always had a selection available, and my only challenge was to choose.
Whatever the flavour, those are the three enduring memories: the vast house, the wonder of the games room and the crate of Corona.
And roast lamb, of course. You can’t be much more Welsh than roast lamb. Even if it was from New Zealand.
This was written in response to the June #BlogBattle prompt of Corona.