There’s a red postbox in the mossy wall of Cornish granite that’s embossed with letters: VR. What does VR mean I ask Mum, but I forget her answer. In London, the postboxes didn’t have VR on them, but we did have red buses.
Around the corner from the VR postbox we step over cow poo splattered up the dairy lane, oozing green the colour of frogs’ backs and buzzing with flies. We’re collecting our breakfast milk in a little can with a lid that fits so tightly I can’t open it so my sister does.
I hate the taste of milk and the smell in the dairy makes me feel sick. Outside, there’s no traffic just a grey tractor and Ted’s motorbike and the lorry that collects the milk from battered churns stacked on a wooden stand outside the dairy. Ted is Pearl’s boyfriend and Pearl lives in the dairy cottage with her brothers. One of them is Brian and he fell off the sofa which they say made him go soft in the head. They should call him Brain says Dad. That’s very unkind says Mum.
It takes ages to get to the village in Mum’s tiny black car that flies out of gear going down the steep lane to the river, so we go far too fast and it’s so frightening that I can see my sister’s face go white. On the quayside we see the flash of silver salmon as they thrash their beautiful bodies in the fishermen’s nets and then the car rattles and groans as we inch up the hill on the other side of the valley where we can look
down at the wide brown ribbon of river and Dad’s right because he calls this view Different Every Day.
The steep slopes are striped with bright rows of daffodils, narcissus and anemones for picking and boxing for the lorries to take to market in London. Dad says the men pick the rows at the bottom so they only have to lift their heads to see up the skirts of the women picking above them.
We’ve found a dapple grey rocking horse in the garage and I have to be helped up on to his back. You’re so short – you can’t be like that for ever says my sister who has long legs and uses long words and she collects broken birds’ eggs and labels them in boxes with neat handwriting which people say is brilliant and she could be a naturalist when she grows up. Even if I find an egg I can’t write a label.
When Dad lifts me on to his shoulders I can see fields and a huge blue sky stretching for ever and we listen to the birds and I hear the skylarks for the first time and I know I’ll never forget their song because it goes right into my heart.
The steps up to the orchard are the steepest I’ve ever climbed and I hate the second-from-top one because it has a broken edge and so I miss it out and clamber up to the grassy summit to land in a heap while I catch my breath and look around at the gnarled old trees and the clothes flapping on the washing line. I sit and eat rough brown apples with skins that feel like wood and I fill my pockets with them to take home. Mum says they’re Russets and they’re her favourites too and she piles them up in the cold dark larder with the door that makes a popping sound when you open it. She gives me a kiss to say thank you and it makes me feel as if I’ve grown tall.