Eleven is a wonderful age. Young enough to knock around together as a ragtag gaggle of boys and girls, old enough for a party outside on a pitch black December evening in the week before Christmas.
Somehow, on the short journey between school and home, the children morphed from the responsible pupils who had led the carol concert into a band of experienced backwoods people. In no time at all they were gathering sticks with which to prepare their supper, building a fire and polishing off great slabs of sticky chocolate cake. And while they’re young enough to be happy spending time with Seb’s parents, grandparents and siblings, they’re old enough to follow instructions with a knife and sit safely around a campfire. After the cake they wound twists of dough around clean peeled sticks to bake over hot coals, then speared sausages on sharpened sticks to roast and nibble while hot and dripping fat. And all the time, between each bite it seemed, the game that they were playing developed just a little more into something uniquely theirs and of the moment.
Perhaps December isn’t the very nicest time to have a birthday: everyone is rushing around in the cold and the dark, getting ready for the bigger birthday to come. And yet, played to its strengths, it worked out beautifully this year. Dark by four, the evening seems endless to children who measure time in terms of sausages consumed. By six o’clock there had evolved a game involving hidden monsters at the end of the long garden, and a safe place by the shed, and more rules than I could follow. And, judging by the shining eyes and the number of times they ran up and down the garden, I think the party in the dark was a success. Nobody wanted to go home, even though the leaving was tempered by gooey marshmallows and other final treats. Bathed and pink and clad in his pyjamas, Seb declared it the best birthday that he’d ever had. Well, that’ll do, then. Happy birthday, my love.
The race is on, for spring is the season of so many things. It’s the most important time in the gardening year, of course: miss it and you’ll wait a whole twelve months for a second chance. The season of shaking off the old and the woolly, and reaching for cottons and silk. The season when so many of us feel the need to mimic Mother Nature and create. The season of waiting: for reliable sunshine, for warm evenings, for fresh vegetables from the field and garden. It’s the season of eggs – of both the double-yoked and chocolate varieties. Of Mother’s birthday, and Meg’s, and Victoria sponges piled high with jam and cream. For some, it is the season of revision while exams wait patiently at summer’s door, immutable and stern. For others it marks the winding down of the school year, as homework becomes more and more sporadic and spelling books linger unwanted in the bottom of satchels. There are better things to do, while the sun is shining – or so they tell me. And who can blame them, when on a bright day the whole world is in the pink and the children chatter and play like birds in the hedgerows?
The days are busy, and we fall into our beds with willing exhaustion. Sleep is swift and deep, pulling us down, down into its currents. We wake in the morning to plans which have formed overnight without our knowledge. Then the rush is on to finish all those many tasks before we get to the one thing we longed to do: to sew, to write, to wander round the garden in the fading sunlight. Each moment is as important as any other, whether we are eating or kissing or just walking idly along. If this were winter I would reach the evening hours and declare an end. I’d pick up my knitting and stitch steadily through the quiet dark until it was time for bed. But this is spring, and after supper there are more hours in which to do all those things you haven’t managed yet. A second bout of music practice. Sewing name tapes onto summer uniforms. Ticking another item off that merry list which never ends: the list of the living, the doing, the being.
We’ve had our fair share of springtime colds, of sore throats and headaches and general grottiness. Some of us are still under the weather, delightful and changeable though it is. Yet even then, even with sniffles and tired bones the spring has urged us onwards. And there’s nothing like a cold to remind you of how wonderful it is to feel well. We’re better now, thank goodness, and in rude health once more. Ready to meet up with other people, to bake a cake and make hand drawn birthday cards which open back to front. Ready to sing, in chorus if not in harmony, of happy birthdays. To make the best of this, my favourite of all the seasons now that we, like the flowers the house is filled with, are in the pink once more.