My father was a naval engineer and during WWII he alternated between active service and re-building battleships, often also camouflaging them with paint to look like a destroyer and a frigate with a gap in the middle exactly where the engine room was positioned to deflect enemy attention. More on camouflage later.
At five or six years old after the war ,I would be taken down the hatchways on board ship to experience the actual engines deep in the ship’s belly. Down past the galley and the rich smell of baking bread. On down past the steam filled laundry and the scent of soap washed clean sailors. the I remember the vibrations, the pistons moving rhythmically, the noise of all the different parts meshing together, the smell of engine oil, boiler heat and the hissing of steam. It was like a powerful animal allowing Itself to be bent to human will. An engine is so much more than the sum of its parts, having temperament and a certain magic surrounding it. We would re-emerge up on deck slightly deafened and disorientated back in the gentler hum, now rocking at anchor, waves idly slapping.
When I was 13 or so, staying on Dartmoor with my special second mother, (my real mother had poor health) we would go wildflower hunting, bringing back specimens to look up and identify. No computers then or camera apps on phones. I just loved the treasure hunt of following clues until an Aha moment delivered the result. By then at boarding school, we were fortunate enough to have a wonderful science teacher who taught us biology and above all botany with jars of plants set out in their Latin families, whose names and parts we had to learn by heart. Every day I thank her for that priceless gift and likewise our Latin mistress who opened the doors to their language.
That same summer we walked many paths and old ways and I remember one early evening
we turned into an enclosed Green Lane leading to a remote moorland farm. My first and abiding impression was receiving a scented surprise of warm nectar breathed in, belonging to every plant in flower and enveloping us. It was a shared moment of heaven as I realised a consuming passion for that elemental world and fell in love with wildflowers and their secret life.
Two high banks rose opposite each other with a perfect partnership of plants, above them the hedges with their own distinctive character and bird life. It was a riot of colour. There were arching pale pink Briar Roses, festoons of Wild Honeysuckle, Blackberry and lower down on the warmer side, Ladies Bedstraw, Campion, Speedwells, Wild Strawberry, and so many more sharing their space with granite boulders. The purple spires of Foxgloves, mixed with pinks and reds, creamy yellow of Ladies Bedstraw and Agrimony in amongst the purple bonnets of wild Columbine was unforgettable. On the opposite side, the cool trickle of water slid down wet mossy stones and fern leaves in every shade of green. It was balm to the soul after the dreary flat colours of wartime. Ferns, Penny Wort, Toadflax, Foxgloves and pure, warm, wet earth offered a deeply restful note. The perfume, the colours and the life they supported were all one and I breathed it in till it engulfed me. Ever since, banks have been special to me.