Rhubarb, Captain's Avenue
Nowadays you can search for an address online and see it in a number of ways: ‘street view’, ‘map view’, or – my favourite – ‘satellite view’. I’ll go to the housing estate where I grew up, or my grandparents’ houses or my old flat in Granada or Brussels, zooming in and trying to make out abstract blocks and shapes in back gardens. More often than not it’s a futile exercise: what you remember is long gone. Memories feel earthy – blurred and diluted by time but real somehow. And you realise that they now exist only as faint afterimages in one or two heads.
There was a long garden with high neatly trimmed (that smell) box hedges on either side. There was a gate leading to the neighbour’s garden where a French émigré lived who believed JR was a real person and often cursed him in a tirade of expletives and who I knew very little about apart from that she’d had a hard life and gave us sweets. My granddad kept a beautiful front garden, the back was simpler – the long lawn split down the middle with a concrete path and a washing line. At the end: a heaped bed of taller plants and grasses and behind that, the rhubarb patch, and some sort of low tough leafy plant (London Pride perhaps) that I used to sit on when I felt like sulking. His front garden was tiny (just room for one car now - thanks 'street view') but it won awards and I remember an award arriving at the door once but he’d already left us.
I tell myself now that there is nothing to be gained by nostalgia and sentimentality. I know that there is nothing special about my experience. But there are things that I re-visit every now and then because I want to hold on to them: for myself. And perhaps my parents, to show them that I remember, and I care. And my children – although one can’t control what anyone will remember. Maybe they’ll end up remembering this painting, a simulacrum of my memory!
I hope it reminds you of something too.