I’ve been thinking about the human condition recently. About our journey through life from childhood to maturity. About real events and imagined ones, memories and emotions.
I often think about the games I played as a child with Sarah, my sister. Games filled with imagination and creativity. My sister and I would play at the bottom of the garden, as far away from the house as we could get. We’d invent a land of pixies and fairies, secret trap doors and faraway places.
My sister’s favourite was the ‘Green Door’ game. The green door was a secret trap door, concealed in the roots of an old, old tree. If you looked really carefully you could find the door, almost hidden from view by the leaves and acorns that covered the ground in a thick, ungainly mulch. Usually the door opened quite easily and once our eyes had adjusted to the dim light a small staircase revealed itself, spiralling gently into the sandy, brown soil below.
We’d follow the steps down, down, down, until finally we reached a small cavern, roughly square in shape, with a door on each side. The doors were solid and wooden, with an arched shape, like a stained glass window in a church. At the apex of each arch was a letter, N, S, W and E. We decided each door corresponded to the points of a compass, there was North, South, East and West. Generally a small argument followed about which door we should take. In this strange and alien world the decision to stick together had already been taken, there was no disputing that point. My choice was usually ‘South’ I liked the idea of moving towards the centre of things, even though I had no clear idea what the centre of things would reveal. My sister usually wanted to head ‘West’. On this particular day ‘West’ won us over with it’s friendly brown wooden door and polished brass handle almost begging to be turned. Sarah approached the door and gingerly turned the knob to the left, she pushed the door and it swung open, slowly, creaking on its hinges. The sound of music drifted through the open door, bells and voices tinkled. A friendly smell of sand, damp earth and animal fur coated us in warmth. We felt welcome, as if we were the special guests at a party. We moved forwards through the door towards the sound of life.
We were in a low passageway lit at regular intervals by small oil lamps. The lamps were tiny, about the size of a small cherry, each one contained a tiny flame, flickering and dancing as we disturbed the air around us. We could touch the ceiling if we stood up straight. If we extended our arms, then our hands brushed along the sandy walls. Even as children we were aware that we were giants in this land of small things, a world in miniature. We edged forward cautiously. The noise was getting louder and clearer, there was a party going on. Ahead of us a beam of light poured through a circular hole in the wall. We approached carefully, silently, holding our breath. We peeped through the opening and found ourselves looking down into a large room, like a medieval hall, with a long table and numerous chairs. The room was filled with all types of woodland creatures; squirrels and mice, voles and weasels, rabbits and hedgehogs, newts, frogs and toads. At the top of the table was a raised platform with four seats, one was occupied by a rabbit and one by a very regal-looking hedgehog. Next to them there were two empty seats.
As we stared down at this underground party totally mesmerised by the scene we were observing, a small mole at the side of the room suddenly looked up and announced, ‘They have arrived, they are here, watching us now, we should invite them to join us’…
The hedgehog and rabbit exchanged glances and whispered earnestly to one another. Then the hedgehog got up, gave himself a shake and cleared his throat. His voice was very squeaky. He pulled himself up to his full height, which was still very short and speaking into the middle distance he began,
‘On behalf of the Annual Woodland Convention’ I would like to cordially invite Janet and Sarah to join us for our Autumn Feast, there will be eating and drinking and dancing, you are both most welcome to attend’
As soon as the hedgehog had started to speak, two field mice had scampered up to us, taken us gently by the hand and were leading us further along the corridor and down a staircase that led into the hall. We were invited to sit at the head of the table next to the rabbit and the hedgehog.
We each sat down very carefully, we didn’t want to accidentally sit on a fellow guest, and those field mice were certainly very tiny. The table was piled high with berries and fruits, nuts and seeds, mushrooms, nectar from summer flowers and honey in delicate little pots. There were wheat sheafs and blackberries, strawberries and tomatoes. Our hosts insisted that we ate from every plate. There was a jam jar filled with tiny slugs and snails, at first we thought we’d have to eat these insects but then we realised that they were guests too. In fact there was a tray of lettuce just for them. We couldn’t hear what they were saying but they were definitely communicating with each other in a series of barely audible clicks and squeaks.
There was rustling and rummaging at the head of the table and the rabbit raised himself up on his hind legs and requested quiet. The room fell silent immediately. The assembled group waited respectfully for the rabbit to begin. Mr Rabbit welcomed everyone to the party and especially welcomed Sarah and I, we blushed and exchanged glances. We felt like intruders, foreigners, in a distant land. Mr Rabbit explained that every year, at the end of the summer, the woodland animals would get together for a little party. The party marked the end of the harvest and was a time to celebrate the bounty of summer before the long, cold, dark months of winter. It was, Mr Rabbit explained, a time for celebration and friendship, when the woodland animals would come together to store and share their food. The guests around the table nodded their approval. Then the hedgehog scampered around the table delivering an acorn basket to each individual, filled with herbs – parsley, thyme, rosemary, dill, chamomile and sage. Mr Rabbit saw our puzzled faces and told us that the herbs would keep the community fit and healthy over the winter. He also insisted that, as we were much bigger than the woodland creatures we would need two acorn baskets each. The hedgehog, slightly reluctantly handed over two for me and two for Sarah. We thanked him but he wasn’t interested in our thanks and wandered off huffing and puffing to himself.
Mr Rabbit then announced that the party was over and it was time for everyone’s afternoon sleep. He brusquely requested that we follow him to the entrance, where he personally would escort us back to the land above ground. Slightly reluctantly we trundled along behind him clutching our acorn baskets. Back in the entrance hall we nervously asked him the significance of the doors marked N, S, W and E. Well E is the Exit of course he said, slightly waspishly. And the others, we asked nervously, what do they mean? They mean whatever you want them to mean he declared. In a tone that implied the conversation was over. He bundled us through the ‘Exit’ door and up the stairs to our familiar trap door, which rather strangely opened, as if by magic, as we approached. We emerged into the woodland, rubbing our eyes, dazzled by the brilliant sunshine and the vibrant colours of sky, trees and leaves. We turned to thank Mr Rabbit for his kindness but he’d disappeared. The trap door wasn’t visible either. We looked at one another, confused and surprised. What had just happened? Was it a dream? Then Sarah looked down and there in her hand was a tiny acorn basket filled with herbs. There was another basket in the leaves, under the tree, and when I reached into my pocket I found two more…
- When I started writing this article I had the wonderful illustrations of Molly Brett in my mind’s eye. Molly Brett (1902–1990) was an English illustrator and children’s author, best known for the charming animals with human characteristics that she painted. She illustrated some books for Enid Blyton. She also wrote and illustrated more than twenty of her own books. She worked in close association with The Medici Society, her publishers for more than sixty years. They have published more than 500 of her paintings as postcards, greeting cards and prints.
- Here is a selection of Molly Brett’s whimsical and delightful work:
- Pictures by the talented Molly Brett, courtesy of the Medici Society.
- To explore various and diverse articles on life, travel, human experience and what it’s all about might I suggest:
- Liverpool – where land meets sea
- Lily Bollinger – Inspirational Woman
- Happy reading, happy dreaming, happy imagination…