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  • Those were the days... Endless summer holidays - nearly 3 months of them. Most of them spent in the countryside with grandmothers, cousins, aunts and other assorted family members. We were a merry troupe, left to our own devices most of the day. The whole village knew us anyway, and they would be sure to report us to the nearest relative if we did something naughty. Gorging ourselves on cherries and mulberries directly from the trees we climbed at the cemetery was acceptable, we found out. Stealing apples and plums from the neighbours' orchards was not.

    We'd go down to the river, build mudcastles, splash about naked, race sticks and leaves downstream. We would plait endless flowerchains, play 'Cockerel or Hen' with the weeds, chew wheat stalks. We would 'help' our uncle with the bees, until he shooed us all away for making too much noise, for being too smelly. Still, he taught us the different types of honey: the amber of polyflora, which we disdained as being too 'common', the near-blackness of woodland honey, the pale gold of acacia. He laughed when we waited outside the large outdoor ovens where he turned plums into the sweetest prunes we had ever tasted. 'That will take a couple of days, not a couple of hours, kids!' So we would set off, pretending to be cowboys ready to shoot at the Indians (turkeys) or knights rescuing the fair maiden from the wrath of the geese.

    We did have to work: search for eggs, feed the pigs, mind the cow and sheep. Sometimes we did a good job, sometimes we lost the sheep in the fields belonging to the state farm, which meant instant punishment. Once I lost the cow (a tree with black cherries had caught my attention for slightly too long)... but she found her way to church, where the villagers recognised her and brought her back home. We didn't have a horse, so, to feed my hunger for riding, we would chase down carts returning with the hay from the fields. We were never allowed to ride the horses, but we did get to bury ourselves in hay while the cart trundled back.

    In one of the houses of our extended family I found a treasure-trove of books, in another an old chess and backgammon set. We must have played hundreds of card games. As the youngest cousin, I was the designated loser. Still, they consoled me, 'unlucky at cards, lucky in love'. And I did feel so loved.

    Three months of bliss, or so I remembered it. And mourned the fact that my children will never enjoy the freedom that we had.

    A year or so ago I came across some of my diaries from around that period (maybe a little later, as I turned into a teenager) and they are full of complaints. The heat, the flies, the mosquitoes, the toilet at the back of the yard... and that boring, repetitive diet of fresh eggs, fresh milk, home-made butter, bread, cheese and honey. Plus all the fruit you could eat. I was just soooo bored!
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