A memory

I have been tagged by red haired runner and writer Preseli Mags for a meme on memory.
 Memories are a blur and a swirl.  I try to pick something out, make something emerge from the mist.

My brother's trainset, a Hornby train, the track secured to a big board.  Paul had two trains with their sets of carriages, painted in brown and cream.  We used to play a lot together, my brother and I.  We lived up on the edge of the moor and went to school across town so we didn't really know the few local children who lived further down the common.  We spent hours up on the moors and out on the common whenever the days were fine, but sometimes, it being the Pennines, rain streamed down the window and we hung around moaning that we didn't know what to do.  My mother wouldn't let us say we were bored but she was good at coming up with projects which would take us a while.  I only understood when I had children of my own that there was an element of self interest in this creativity.

One long wet school holidays we had the trainset down from the loft, the board taking up most of floor in the dining room.  After a few times of changing the points and circling the board we were running out of steam when my mum came in: "Why don't you make some scenery?  You could make some hills and trees and maybe a tunnel."

And this is what I remember, not the trains so much but the paint, the paper, the glue, the painstaking construction of a landscape.  I made papier mache hills while my brother pencilled the outlines of river and sea and roads onto the board.  My hills took a couple of days to be shaped and to dry and to be painted.  In the meantime we trekked out to the shops for pipe cleaners and cotton wool with which we made trees, the cotton wool soaked in green paint to make the leaves and then tied onto the twisted pipe cleaners with green thread.  The pipe cleaners themselves were carefully coloured brown with felt tip pens.  It was all very Blue Peter and I found it utterly thrilling to see the new world we were creating take place on the board in front of us.  I hated to be dragged away for meals and lay in bed at night dreaming of wooded valleys.

The tunnel was a shoe box covered in green paper, with the ends cut out and the sides taped down.  It looked too square and box-like when it first went down so I made another of my papier mache hills to fit on top and run down the sides.  Of everything we did this was what I most proud of.  It looked like the real tunnel where the Leeds to Manchester train emerged from the hills a few miles away.

My brother made a beach and some sea at one end of the board, sticking down some pale sandpaper donated by my dad for the shore and painting the blue water with white rippling waves.  We imported a toy farm for the middle of the track and cows and horses grazed in our fields while hens scratched next to a lego created farmhouse.   Every now and then the train did run, stopping at the station and disappearing into the tunnel, but it was the world on the board which gripped us for the whole holiday.  Looking back now I suppose that was days, but at the time it seemed like weeks during which villages and houses dotted the board, were moved and moved again until we found a place we both agreed was the right one, where they should stay.

I don't remember it being taken apart or put away.  I do vaguely remember the green painted board coming out again some months later but it was faintly disappointing.  It was all a bit battered.  It had lost its magic.  It was the creation of a new world which had gripped us.

I wonder if my carving a world out of my hillside here had its roots there?


  1. What a wonderful memory & it brought to mind the train set my brother had. Being eight years younger than him I was only allowed to look! But I remember my brother & father playing for hours with it. Thank you for reminding me!


  2. Elizabeth thank you for your blog. I can almost visualise you and your brother as children being so engrossed in making the scenery. I think a happy memory for me is when my daughter was little and we used to watch Blue Peter together and have a go at making all those wonderful creations. She would be so thrilled with what she made and it would take pride of place for long enough

  3. I suspect you are right in that you are doing now, but on a grown up scale, what you and your brother practiced many years ago. (Sorry very garbled sentence!)

    I bet it is still hard to tear you away from shaping a border or planting up a new corner.

  4. Yes, I agree that is a wonderful memory and I want to thank you for sharing the story. I love being caught up in making something. The creative process is fulfilling.

  5. what a lovely picture of an English family and happy children playing and making up a whole world. It is exactly the image I got from reading children's books by English writers and I never thought it could be very realistic.

  6. I enjoyed that story. Fun to just ramble and let the memory come without having to dig it out. That is what I like about creative writing.

  7. A lovely memory, and one that illustrates perfectly how, if you let children have idling time, and a tinge of boredom, instead of rushing them from one organised activity or play date to another, they can draw on their immense depths of creativity and imagination.

    And like your mother, adults need only give a little encouraging nudge and access to a few simple materials.

    Scraps of fabric, pipe cleaners, plasticine, paper, paste and decent scissors - all of these things were the stuff of many productive and happy holiday hours. (But we didn't have a tv in those days!)

  8. Oh, what an enchanting picture you conjure up for us...thank you so much for sharing that most delightful of memories.

  9. A lovely memory to have shared Elizabeth. and a good reminder not to provide endless entertainment for the little ones too xx

  10. Memories are one thing we keep. You write so beautifully. I feel
    like I am with you. I can see you loved your brother.

    Thanks for Sharing

    Have a good Day Elizabeth.


  11. The Ungardener had a toy train as a child, but his mother gave it away when he grew up. Now, that he is old and grey, he has a Mamod steam train bought in London. And the rails have been built into a garden landscape - somewhere between ruined castles and city high rises. The landscape was the fun bit! The train still needs a little help. (I miss a glimpse of your Welsh Hills, or coming garden)

  12. Your post could have been a chapter of a book from childhood. Lovely.
    Perhaps your landscaping gifts really do have their roots in that train set.

  13. What a lovely memory! Perhaps you have been reincarnated and were, long ago, some great Victorian engineer, or, come to that, a landscaper, a Capability Brown (don't you just love that name - why aren't children called 'Capability' these days? Just think what it might do for someone's self-esteem without, really putting any pressure on them). Still, where were we - oh, yes, landscapers - that French chap who designed the gardens at Versailles - Le Notre I rather think it was, rather than Le Brun (The Brown One), who was the one we had and who therefore couldn't be a landscaper and became a painter instead. Yes, you might well have been him in a former life in which case you could find great riches for if you said it often enough people would believe you. Anyway, what has this to do with trains? Nothing! Though I remember papier maché constructions built around chicken wire and painted with poster paint and the whole thing sized and so given a most wonderful smell and a little engine that rocked and rolled and fell off the rails. Toot toot!

  14. One of the things my husband brought with him when we married (28 years ago) was about a hundred pictures of his train set in the loft of his mother's house. He's always wished he could start one up again but we've never had the room. One for retirement, perhaps ...

    My blog address has changed - not sure whether you've caught up on that. Just letting you know.

  15. Elizabeth, I'm a bit slow in catching up on my reading of blogs these days, but finally got here. And how lovely a visit it was! The utter absorption in a task is what some educational psychologist whose name I forget calls 'authentic happiness'. I used to see this in the efforts of (just some!) of my piano students who were completely taken over by the learning and practicing of a new piece.

    Your story also brought back a memory of a train set that my older brothers had, but which I was not allowed to play with. A terrible injustice, I thought. I loved it so much and would have been careful!

    All in all, a lovely post, and thank you.

  16. I think it did have something to do with your current carving of a life out of the hillside. Definitely.

    For me, it was the shoebox diorama project when I was in grade school. My mom helped me with ideas, and we created a winter scene inside that shoebox, complete with a mirror for an icy lake, and wonderful hills made of flour, water, and salt - which gave the "snow" an incredible sparkle.

    Now, I'm making art projects on my own but I always remember where imagination got its first encouragement - my Mom!


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