Paradise on Blue Bell Hill
Jon and Robert were brothers. Irish twins really, born just short of twelve months apart. From their earliest recollections they had always been together, two against the world. Kids then were free range, and this Easter vacation was more free range than ever.
Their often dysfunctional family had taken up camping, the year before spending a week in an old army tent in a British summer – wet, but wonderful. This spring it was Blue Bell Hill, twenty minutes from home. Jon could hardly appreciate it, but it was a world away from the drab everyday of their home on the outskirts of London, where the only sight of nature was the manicured lawns and flowerbeds of the local parks, or the weeds of the bomb sites still left over from the war.
The grown-ups negotiated for an isolated campsite at the end of the grounds, down a steep and curving hill with no traffic passing by. A paradise. They had a tent just large enough to fit both parents and three kids (younger sister as well), and a full complement of cooking gear. Assembling it all had been the strict province of their father, fiddling with unfamiliar aluminum poles, frustrated with this new fangled contraption.
Soon enough time for supper and bed. The wonders of night life in the wild; strange noises full of the promise of adventure. Storytelling and singing, then fun with torches and blankets. Rain drumming on the canvas late, but the new tent not leaking at all, unlike the army style tent of the year before. And surprisingly soon, sleep.
Morning starts early for young boys in the wilds. Up with the crack of dawn, raring to go. Impatiently waiting for grown-ups to give permission to start the day’s fun. Jon, the older, was always the careful one, testing the waters before confidently commanding his brother on their next exploit. Robert, the wild one, always had a glint in his eye ready for mayhem.
Almost bursting, they waited dutifully as their mother prepared breakfast. A perfect picture of domesticity, (step-)father about to take the family car in to work.
And taking the car in to work proved to be an adventure in itself. Rain had turned the tire tracks into bottomless pits of mud. The entire family engaged in the task of pushing until the car had enough of a start to climb the hill. A routine to become familiar, but a novel experience and victory for the boys, diminutive he-men now.
Then time to explore. This was Blue Bell Hill in April, and the name was apt. Blue bells abounded in the lush mulch of damp leaves. Masses in bloom beneath silver birch, their light canopy letting the occasional rays of sunlight through to illuminate a sea of purple blue blooms. Beautiful enough to give even a city hardened seven year old a permanent impression of wonder.
But enough of the beauty of nature, there was mischief to work. Running around, slipping in mud, playing soldiers. The world of boys.
Jon took a notion into his head to improve the steep and slippery trail that their mother had complained about as a problem for their father coming from work. Robert and he could use the plentiful sticks to make a rough and ready track, laying the sticks across in each tire track worn by previous cars. A major feat of engineering for six and seven years of age, but satisfying in its execution. Digging through the mulch for sticks just long enough to span a tire’s width, or satisfyingly breaking them into pieces until they were. Mushing them into the ground with their feet, jumping and breaking any that did not lay flat.
After a long day’s work, they were done just in time for tea. Their forgotten mother was all of a sudden of the greatest importance, and camping gear and food supplies were put to good use. Fresh air and hard work had led to healthy appetites, and they could show their mother and sister what the boys had wrought.
Mum was appreciative, and sister duly impressed. A successful day.
Eventually their father returned and came down the hill, gingerly creeping the car down through the mud. Clearly the boys had averted catastrophe, they stood proudly attentive for him at in front of the tent, waiting confidently for his approval to join their mother’s.
To have their confidence punctured as he emerged from the car, furious. Who had been there while he was gone? He could tell that someone had been there because the sticks they had so carefully laid and stepped on were broken, proving in his eyes that another car had preceded him. Accusing their mother of some crime beyond their young comprehension, unmollified by their protestations that they were indeed the ones who had broken the sticks so they laid better in the tracks.
In later years Jon understood the crime she was accused of. Or rather, knew of it, he could never empathize, never having been guilty of it himself. His father was a chronic cheater, and his mother, emotionally dependent on him, tolerated it and the money that he spent like water. For which he was dependent on her, and her rich father. Another tale, for another day.
Paradise lost, but soon regained by the boys. This was not the first or the last time for unforeseen rage between the grown-ups. At these times they cleaved together all the more strongly, silently supporting their real mother against the interloper. Supper, and more fun with torches.