Now, I want to take you back to a world without mobile phones, computers, televisions. No supermarkets. No automatic washing machines or tumble dryers. We’re back in the fifties in a working-class area of Bradford called Little India. Come, visit me in my world.
As you stroll along past rows of back-to-back terraced houses with smoking chimneys, you notice that the streets have names of places in India. There’s a Bengal Street, a Bombay Street. Turn left here into Calcutta Street. Peep into the corner shop, if you like. You’ll see shelves with jars of sweets: barley sugars, jelly babies, black-and-white-striped humbugs, sherbet lemons and liquorish allsorts. Mrs Parker tips twopence worth of the ones you point to onto the scales. She slides them into a small, white paper bag and she twists the top.
Carry on along Calcutta Street, past blackened-stone terraced houses where the smell of fried onions wafts from windows, past two little girls chalking numbers on the pavement for a game of Hopscotch, and there’s a girl tying one end of her skipping rope around a lamppost. A little boy swings, clutching the bit that juts out at the top of the post. That’s what lampposts are for, isn’t it? Skipping and swinging from. Oh, yes, and for tying a washing line to. Bob down under the sheets that are pegged onto a line stretched across the street. We kids use them for curtains in our plays, but Mrs Bailey gets cross if you mucky her washing.
You’re here at our house. Come inside.
You’ll find 5-year-old me sitting on the brown-patterned lino. I’m bawling my eyes out because Mum and Dad won’t let me wash mice. Let me explain. My Sunday school teacher says God made ‘all creatures great and small’. Well, mice are my friends. I can’t bear it when they’re caught in traps. Mum says that mice spread diseases because they’re dirty and, no, we can’t just wash them.
Let’s move forward a few years. I’m a big girl now. Old enough to know that of course we can’t wash mice. But still young enough to think there are simple solutions to everything. We’ve moved from Little India to a posh new house on a council estate. I’ve got five friends here. We argue a lot, but we’re closer than sisters.
I’ll take you now to a very special place. This is where I go with my five friends when we set off early in the morning on Saturdays or school holidays. We carry jam sandwiches wrapped in paper and wear plastic water containers round our necks. Off we go, miles down Wagon Lane, a pebbly, dirt track, leading to swampy pools, stretches of wasteland and a wood; an area we call Rainbow Land.
Unaware of the real dangers of such a lonely place, our imagination transforms this area into a perilous jungle, an enchanted forest or an island in paradise. From the ages of about nine to twelve, we spend long summer days here, just the six of us with no adult supervision.
We rarely see anyone else here. It’s our place where we’re free to live and grow. We climb trees, draw pictures, sing, dance, write stories, poems and plays, act out our plays. And we couldn’t be happier feasting on delicacies at some picturesque beauty spot than we are, sitting among weeds, eating jam sandwiches.
But life moves on. Things change. Innocence fades and mice can’t be washed. The houses of Little India have gone. The corner shop gone. Wagon Lane has been turned into a motorway. And Rainbow Land? It’s nowhere to be seen.
But it hasn’t gone. Not completely. A piece of Rainbow Land stayed with me, growing inside me into something big and so strong.