Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Valley of Imaginings: the tale of Ma Baggs

Every tale is a fusion of fact with fiction and this one is no different.
Where the seams are....I leave you to decide.
How to start the story of Ma Baggs......what to leave in.... and what to leave out.....that's the conundrum.
 To begin at the beginning would be to start with a tragic tale of three sisters.
All of them beautiful.
One a musician.
One an artist.
And one a quiet rebel.
 Tragic because only  one of them lived passed the age of 18. 
So, let's not start there.
Instead we could try and start with Ma's first days in The Valley of Imaginings but, nobody, least of all Ma, remembers exactly when that was.
Was it before she was fired at by machine guns on a beach in the war? 
Or after?
Nobody is even sure of Ma's age.
How many birthdays? 
No one remembers?
That they were all celebrated  with trifle rather than cake....that is remembered by all. 
Ma is fond of telling folk that she is as old as her heart and a little older than her teeth.
She's helpful like that.
 The comforts of Ma Baggs' home and her warm hospitality are legendary in the valley so let's start there, with her house.
Real or imagined it comforts me still.
Among all the red roof tops and the red doors, Ma's house stands apart with its soft yellow, paintwork.
It is no less crooked  than all the others but inside all is in fragrant order, tended to, as it is, every weekday morning, with a set routine by which others might set their clocks.
On Modays a warm wind obligingly blows the washing dry and wafts the scent of soap suds and boiled linens the length of the valley.
Any Monday visitors might be gently coerced into winding sheets through the mangle or folding the laundry off the line ready for the iron.
Ma is very particular about laundry folding. She once told Violette that she was very good at folding things and the warmth of Ma's praise has never been forgotten.
Any helper on Mondays is always fuelled by spiced rock buns and a steaming mug of tea.
Tuesdays are always marked by the pleasing, fresh smell of lavender and beeswax when well-loved furniture is vigorously polished and rugs are hung over the washing line and spanked  with a tennis racket to relieve them of their dust. It's harder to catch Ma on these days as she dances from room to room singing lustily,if a little tunelessly,  at the top of her voice.
But if you time it right,at elevenses,  you will find her in the rocking chair by the aga, feet up on the dog. And she will share the contents of her teapot and her cake tin with anyone who drops in.
By Wednesday the house is looking spic and span and it is the smell of loosened earth and sweet cut grass or freshly cut flowers and herbs that filter into the air.
Ma tends her garden with nothing like tenderness but with infectious enthusiasm and skill. Her capable hands prune and plant and jab cuttings into compost and all things thrive.

Back in the kitchen on Thursday. Appetising smells .....often a rich and hearty stew....always sweet treats....tempt folk from far and wide.
Then on Friday, or happy cat day, as Ma calls it, some quiet mending followed by fish for lunch. Miraculously it is the aromatic tang of parsley and lemon that linger long after the cat has licked his bowl clean.
So, we could start with all these sacred rituals and routines. 
In fact we could end it there in all those cosy, comforting corners that were the foundations for  my sunlit childhood.
But.....really....the part of the story that wants to be told belongs to the afternoons.

After the lunchtime washing up is done, and dried, and put away, the apron is hung on the back of the kitchen door and Ma changes into a pretty floral dress, applies a dab of rouge and follows whichever intuition has been brewing that day.  Sometimes she sits in her parlour and waits for a visitor to arrive. She knows that someone, somewhere will be wending their weary way to her door in search of solace or wisdom or both.
Or she will know that somebody, somewhere needs to be comforted, cosseted or cheered but hasn't the sense to seek it out for themselves. Then she will don the appropriate outerwear......fur boots and wool coat in winter, headscarf if there is wind .....straw hat and lace gloves in summer..... and set off to dispense just the right amount of loving kindness in exactly the right place.
One afternoon just such as these, Ma was struggling with a feeling that had been rising all morning like sap in a spring tree.
As the feeling  pressed upon her she pressed back with conscious thoughts of all those in the valley who might need her help. All the reasons why she should not give in.
But as she sat back in her armchair in her afternoon dress and pearls she knew that she had to obey the calling.
Swiftly, she swapped her summer sandals with their sturdy criss- crossing straps for her leather gardening boots and tied her paisley headscarf closely to her curls .Next she retrieved a large brass key from the hook by the door . Out in her garden she followed the winding path 
between the jumble of all things beautiful, 
and edible to the shed at the bottom, 
by the pond where 
the talking frog sat upon his lily pad.
 A turn of the key and the shed door creaked open. 
Ma's eyes peering from her elderly, wrinkled face were the eyes of a child,  lit with mischief and delight. She gazed passed the disturbed dust mites dancing in the sun to the  black beauty inside.

Soon the drone of the garden insects and the twittering chatter of birds was drowned out by the rumbling sound of a powerful motorbike engine. Sitting astride the beast Ma looked every inch the free spirit that she was.
For just an hour she rode through the valley, passing every house with a wave of greeting to everyone that she saw.
 Oblivious to the raised eyebrows and open mouths.
Once or twice she pulled a wheely! 
Just for fun.
Remember it is for you to decide where the seams between fact and fiction lie!
Always she drove faster than was wise,  leaning over the handlebars squealing with glee.
 Then  finally back home for afternoon tea of sandwiches, filled with condensed milk and strawberry jam, followed by a nice slab of  fruit  cake.

Her cheeks  aglow and not a hair out of place, with the cat sat purring on her lap Ma would consider it a very good afternoon indeed.