Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Whitening the Stones.

I’ve had enough seriousness for one day, and I’m concerned that my post about the Russian Question might have me invited to Moscow to receive honorary citizenship of the Soviet Union (well, Russian Federation to be precise) and then the folks around here will definitely never invite me to tea. (Although I wonder whether they might make the venue St Petersburg. I’ve long had a yen to see St Petersburg. I’ll forego the tea.)

So have another picture of me as a wee one instead:

This is my dad and me before the elder Godwin (my surname at birth) decamped to the arms of a woman half his age (a feat I emulated quite a few years later.)

What’s interesting, however isn’t me and my dad; it’s the rockery stones. They’re white; my mother painted them white, every last one of them. Nobody would dream of having white rockery stones these days, would they? They’re more concerned with luxuriating in the sight of their gardens adorned with the shattered detritus of granite and limestone hillsides (commonly known as quarries.) Natural is the trend now, not whitewashed.

In fact, it wasn’t common to see white-painted rockery stones in those days either. I suspect it had more to do with my mother’s nature and upbringing. She liked things clean and tidy, you see; she was a bit of a slave to cleanliness and tidiness. But I think there was something else as well.

She would have been around 33 when this picture was taken, and had spent all her life living in grimy Victorian terraces buried in the deeper social strata of a northern industrial city. And so her native environment had always been adorned with a ubiquitous and permanent layer of soot. Even the grander sandstone and limestone buildings in the city centre were uniformly black when I was a kid, as befitted their central location in a forest of pit heads, steelworks and belching bottle ovens.

I think that gives the major clue as to why she liked painting stones white; I suspect they were a symbol of a new beginning. She had to keep them white, too. She cleaned them, and when that wasn’t enough, she painted them again.

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