When I was a little girl, living with mum and dad in the town by the creek, my uncle Geoff and his wife Alida lived in a little village, some six miles out in the countryside. I haven’t been there in many years. It was always damp but never raining, lush greenery, dripping beech and ash branches, rolling hills in the distance, set apart and rural in a way I know can only be the fantasy of my metropolitan life.
Geoff was mum’s younger brother. They’d both grown up in the exhaust filled air of the North Circular. Mum and dad wanted something different and eventually left the grimy pebble-dashed buildings, heading south east to what became the family home. Geoff and Alida (strangely, I never knew how they’d met) decided to follow. She was Dutch, from somewhere near the border with Germany. Her father, people hinted, had been some sort of resister to the occupation. They swapped outer London living to a set up home in a place it would now be fashionable to describe as ‘tumbledown’.
We’d visit at weekends; mum and Alida were, to all intents and purposes, best friends. In their cottage were two giant wooden pieces of cutlery, hanging on the wall near the stove. A spoon, a foot long, and a fork to match.
A wooden knife would be no good, I realise now, but back then I wondered about its absence.
‘Those are the giant’s fork and the giant’s spoon,’ Alida would say, deadly serious.
Wide-eyed, I would ask where he (I assumed the giant was a he) lived.
‘He lives up there in the woods on the hills and eats naughty children.’
‘With that fork and that spoon?’
Alida would nod.
I remember that village and the cottage, my uncle and aunt sat with mum and dad around a splintery wooden table, drinking tea or maybe coffee, smoking Drum tobacco brought in duty free on the ferries from Holland. I would watch and listen to the adults and try to make sense of what they said, place names that I had no memory of like Horsenden Hill and Wembley Stadium.
Alida had a series of books, kids’ books, though back then they had no children, my cousins somewhere still in the future. The books were all in Dutch, except one that I remember was in German.
The illustrations had that kind of Old World European quality, an illustrative style that I can only describe as melancholic and faded, even back then set in some unrecoverable past. Gnomes and woodland beings, doing whatever they do – I could read by then, but, of course, could not read the Dutch. I imagined they were discussing the giants, beings who stalked the weald and the low hills of the Kentish countryside if only I could see them. The books and the wooden cutlery fascinated me, gave me fretful dreams, thrills and anxieties as I walked the woods and marshes of my childhood.
Now I am older, having wrung out of my London life all that I can and moving back to the county where I grew up, I still hope one day to stumble across a giant footprint, perhaps flooded with water and home to pond skaters and water boatmen. I wonder what happened to that wooden spoon and fork, and wonder still why Alida had them.
I still see Geoff and Alida from time to time – they are family after all – even though they’ve been divorced going on seven years now. I always want to ask about that hanging carved cutlery and the giants, but I never find the right moment.
Copyright © Gary Budden, 2015.
Gary Budden is the co-founder of Influx Press and fiction editor at Ambit magazine. His work has appeared in many journals such as Structo, Under the Radar, Brittle Star, Bare Fiction and PUSH. His pamphlet ‘Tonttukirkko’ was published by Annexe in 2014. He lives in London.