My “Petite Madeleine”

A few days ago, as I was walking down the street, a little girl wearing a red and white checked summer school uniform walked past holding her mum’s hand and I was taken back, far far back. Suddenly I was a little girl again at Southwell school on Portland in Dorset in the late 80s and I was wearing that uniform and having lunch outside on a sunny day. I could hear the seagulls, feel the fresh air, taste the sandwiches from my lunchbox and hear children playing all around me. It was so strange and quite intense, the memories just hit me. I actually stopped pushing the buggy for a few seconds as it was such a strong feeling. All the memories came flooding back: assembly at school, playing with Tim, Anna, Daniel and Heidi, living in Osborne Hall (it’s now quite a nice Air BnB: where slow worms used to live in the back wall, my Grandparents’ beach hut, The Cove Pub, the sculpture park in the quarry, the Beach Road, being very mean to the girl up the road and pouring oil on her head (sorry!) – my childhood on Portland before I moved to France basically.

Nearly 30 years later I would move to Walthamstow (via quite a few other places) and meet H through NCT, she happens to be friends with a girl who was in my class at Southwell school on Portland, it really is a small world.

The only other time I can remember being thrown back in time was a few years ago when I stayed at someone’s house and had forgotten my toothpaste. The only toothpaste in the bathroom was children’s toothpaste, the second it hit my taste buds, that particular banana flavour took me back to the South of France and my first “colonies de vacances” when I was 9 or 10 years old. I can remember that holiday camp like it was yesterday: feeling different because I didn’t have a “carnet de sante” like all the other French children and because I had some Stefanel clothes my Granny had bought so I was seen as “posh”, wearing my pink jumper (I can’t remember the brand name but I loved that jumper) in the morning to breakfast, the only time it wasn’t hot; falling in love with “Sebastien” and asking my mum when we got back if we could move to Argenteuil so I could see him (if you know anything about France and “les banlieues”, you will understand why this was a very naïve request…); plucking up the courage to ask a girl if she wanted to be friends on the first day; listening to lots of Michael Jackson and I randomly remember a girl rubbing her soap against the shower wall to make it looked like it had been used a lot because she didn’t want her mum to know she didn’t wash much once she got back – how do I remember that ???!!! I can still see her banging that soap against the wall… It’s strange how tiny weird details stick in your memory. It’s also amazing how when you are a child you don’t understand social differences, I now know that “Sebastien” and his friends most likely didn’t pay for their time there and it was probably their only holiday.

What will A remember from her childhood, what will stick in her mind, which memories will last and which ones will fade…. I just hope she likes to wash with soap.

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