Memories of place, held on the tongue

Memories of place, held on the tongue September 6, 2013

I’ve just finished my bedtime drink. Yes, I know it’s late to be posting, where I am, but I’ve not known what to write about all day. After my drink, I do. The drink? It was hot, organic rice milk, with a dash of honey. I found the taste oddly reminiscent of Horlicks (without the flour residue). And Horlicks, for me, always makes me think of Cleobury Mortimer.

Cleobury Mortimer in the valley below Titterstone Clee on a sunny, clear day
Cleobury Mortimer in the valley below Titterstone Clee, one of the Clee Hills. Image by John Clift, used under Creative Commons license.

It’s one of those picturesque villages of the English Midlands, with an almost unbearably twee – but absolutely real, and ancient – name. When I was little – about 8 or 9 – we would go on caravan holidays near there. Every trip, we would stop at the Lion pub in Cleobury, and eat our tea sitting in a corner of the pub lounge, with a framed guide to cricket and another to wild haggises on the wall, to complement the horse brasses hanging from the dark wood beams.

I would eat chicken in a basket (it was the 70s). I don’t recall what my parents ate: they were vegetarian at the time, so probably something deeply unsatisfactory (as I said, it was the 70s). Then we would travel the final few miles to our destination at Ditton Mill, up a hill that was dangerously steep even in dry weather. That was where I learned that people driving uphill on a single track road should stop for those coming downhill, in case the latter can’t stop.

Some time in our visit, we would walk to the little village of Hopton Wafers. I was always very proud to have walked the whole way there and back – a round trip of nearly 3 miles! – without needing to be carried. I would ask what all the flowers and birds were along the hedges on our route, and my parents would tell me. My mother fielding the plant questions (cuckoo pint, bladder rack, ox-eye daisies, hogweed), and my step-father telling the birds (yellow wagtail, chiff chaff, kestrel, yellow hammer).

My parents weren’t Pagan, per se, but they were lovers of nature. They were also hippy, right-on and Green. There were books on ley lines, a tree calendar, and an enormous framed photograph of Stonehenge at the winter solstice at home. The first story books I remember were Anansi the Spider, and The Hippo Who Couldn’t Laugh. My parents rotovated the garden, worked in a nearby wholefoods co-operative, and insisted on buying me carob bars instead of actual chocolate.

When we were on holiday, healthy food rules were relaxed a little. First point of evidence: chicken in a basket. Second point of evidence: when we got to Hopton Wafer (or was it on the way back through Cleobury?) we would go to a little café where they served Horlicks in a special mug, with a small handle high up against the rim, filled with concentric circles of clay.

Vintage Horlicks mug

 All of these memories of place, held on my tongue, found in a mug.

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