I don’t actually. I was only six months old when we moved away from York to Alne, near Easingwold in North Yorkshire. And today I visited Alne again.
I lived there till I was 4, and my earliest memories come from there. I remember our house having a long garden, with an espalier apricot tree growing against an ancient brick wall. I remember my father gardening and growing vegetables towards the bottom of the garden, spending hours doing this hated task because he couldn’t find paid work. My mother had no choice but to be the only breadwinner, and as a female teacher, earned less than her male counterparts. Every weekday, she would cycle the 12 mile journey to York, where she taught, with me strapped firmly behind her.
My very earliest memory of all dates from the time when, aged about 2, I wanted to pick my mother a bunch of flowers from the garden. I chose the best tulips, and carefully snapped them off with about an inch of stem attached. I couldn’t understand my mother’s fury and the hiding that followed from my father. I must eventually have been forgiven though. When I came downstairs on my 4th birthday, there was a home-made swing hanging from the branches of the apple tree. I used to spend hours playing on it, but then, as now, I never learnt to propel myself up and down in a satisfying rhythmic swinging motion.
We weren’t at all well off, but this house, like so many others in the village is now only affordable by someone with means. When we found it today, the owners were out, but a painter was tackling the garden gate and invited us to look round the garden. He assured us the owners wouldn’t mind. The old stone-flagged kitchen, where my mother had to skin the rabbits my father used to catch must have been re-vamped, and there’s a modern extension at the back of the house. The fields at the bottom of the garden have been built over.
Some things remain. The Village Hall is still there. I can just remember that about twice a year, a mobile cinema came to the village. I was too young to see the films, but I remember everybody turning to to arrange hard wooden benches in the hall so the villagers could gather round the screen. I remember too the very occasional visit of an ice-cream van. Cornets or ‘sandwiches’, 2 flavours, vanilla or ‘pink’ (Yes, I do mean ‘pink’. ‘Strawberry’ doesn’t cover it at all). There was a wood at the edge of the village, and it’s this wood that to this day illustrates the tales of Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood in my imagination. I used to half long for, half be scared witless by the prospect of being irrevocably lost in this forest, which I now realise was little more than a glade of trees.
Alne’s become quite ‘twee’ commuter country I think. Back then it was a fairly isolated community offering housing to farm labourers and other country workers. I’ve just found our old home on Rightmove, because it changed hands some 5 years ago, and there’s not a chance we, or anyone else in our family could afford to think of living there now.
* Thomas Hood