by Steph Boulton
What I wasn’t aware of in those early halcyon days, when my circle of life was just beginning, was that almost all my favourite things then included circles in some form.
My favourite place was No 2 Castle Circle, home to my two favourite people, Aunty Cyn and Uncle Tom. No 2 was a semi-detached house of grey stone, with 29 identical neighbours. Each had a tapered, lovingly tended garden, most bordered with the type of uniformly coloured flowers you’d find in a park. Each garden met the others at its tip, the whole fanning out to form yet another circle. Squat, neatly-clipped box hedges formed precisely cut sections, like huge slices of a colossal, green-iced cake.
To the left of the house, standing proudly atop a round hill, was a ruined ancient circular castle, once home to the last of “Bluff Hal’s” wives. The ruins were the same grey stone as No 2, peculiar to that particular “Auld Grey” Lakeland town. In those pre-health and safety days, gap-toothed “Brian-from-next-door” and I spent hours playing amongst the ruins with the older children. We climbed up shattered battlements, fantasising that we were knights of old, shrieking as we leapt from the sun-warmed stones to claim our prisoner. We shared our playground with the black and white cows who lived on the hill, tails flicking at flies in the heat, soft brown eyes regarding us languidly as they ambled through the ruins.
My favourite object in the house was a beautiful, circular, crystal dish, cracked gold covering the outside and fat, shiny jewels covering the inside.
“Now be very careful,” Aunty Cyn warned. “Remember, that’s a precious treasure from a faraway, exotic land.”
“What does it say on the back Aunty Cyn?” I asked, eager for the answer to what I couldn’t yet read.
“I don’t know, pet,” she said. “It’s a foreign language, and I can’t read foreign.”
So I sat at the kitchen table, Aunty Cyn humming along to the tinny transistor, the smell of roast beef stirring my appetite, and ran my fingers gently over the exquisite jewels. The light reflected off vivid emeralds, rubies and sapphires, and I wondered who had made this beautiful thing; where was the faraway land; and what did exotic mean?
Decades later, my own circle nearer its end than its beginning, I despondently began to clear the now empty house of its once loved contents in readiness for their removal by an indifferent stranger, and re-discovered my long-forgotten “precious treasure.”
The gold on the outside had worn away, the crystal merely scratched glass. Tears pricked my eyes as I once more ran my fingers over the still smooth jewels, a pale imitation of their once brilliant selves, which I now recognised as nothing more than paste. I was again that wondering child, yearning to discover the answer to my old question. I turned the dish over, impatient to read the now barely legible words.
“A souvenir from Morecambe. Never leave cigarettes unattended.”