How Vivid the Painted Rainbow Stripes Were

Vanessa and Emmanuelle

Me (bottom) and Emmanuelle. France, 1976

There were rainbow stripes painted on the upright canes. So pretty. Magical almost to our young eyes. There were four canes, wedged firmly into the ground, and they formed the four corners which supported the makeshift roof. The whole thing was no wider than the width of my arms stretched out, or rather Emmanuelle’s arms, as she was the one that took the measurement. And probably half the depth, but I can’t be sure because we didn’t measure that. The canes were of the type that might be used in gardening, for plants to know which way to grow, thicker though than the ones my Dad used for his tomato plants. The sides and roof had been made from branches and grasses that must have been found close by. It was difficult to tell though where the structure ended and natural growth started, because they had become intertwined over time.

We pushed through the growth and sat inside. There was just enough room for the four of us to kneel in there. We looked up at the sky through the gaps in the branches of the roof. We knew there would be much fun and adventure to be had here, but not today. Today was for sitting and looking up and around and feeling happy at our new discovery. We imagined children such as ourselves must have made it, maybe with grown-up help too. We were sure it must have been made for playing in though, we couldn’t imagine grown-ups having a use for it. This was a place for make-believe.

It must have been there for some time because nobody lived in that part of the mountain any more apart from us. It had somehow withstood the adverse weather that is prone up there, and still it stood. Perhaps more surprising was how vivid the painted rainbow stripes were still. Yellow. Red. Orange. Green. Blue. It aroused the curiosity of young minds. We wondered whether the children would come back sometime to play in it again. Or just to see if it was still here. Perhaps we would get to meet them. What fun that would be. New people to play with. But maybe they were too old to play now.

We had ventured a little further than usual today, probably further than we were allowed if we were to check. Sometimes it’s best not to check.

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This is my third memoir piece from the year I spent as a child living self-sufficiently with my mother and another family in an abandoned village in the French Alps, with no electricity, or any modern conveniences. If you missed the first two parts, they are here: A year in the French Alps

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53 responses to “How Vivid the Painted Rainbow Stripes Were

  1. Lovely – it has set me up for the day.

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  2. Dalara Heaton

    This is fabulous, thank you for sharing it.

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  3. Hmmm this was very interesting… and fitted so well with the first two… is there more to come.??

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    • There will be, but as you’ve seen, they’re quite slow in coming! I think I worry that my little memories are not interesting enough because nothing much happens, so I ponder for a long time before writing something about that time! There is something dramatic that happens at the end of the year, which is what caused us to leave, but I don’t want to mention that yet!

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  4. More..more…

    That one year is the stuff of children’s adventure books…though those were not real. Enjoying the series immensely! :)

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  5. Not that I’ve ever spent a year in France living self-sufficiently, but central Africa in the earlly 1950s was pretty basic and my sister and I and three friends who all lived in the bush spent happy hours building dens …your writing has evoked so many memories, thank you!

    PS Did you or your children ever read the book ‘Stig of the Dump’? it is also about a childhood of freedom and imagination. Such a priviledge.

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    • Glad I evoked some some memories! Often the best childhood memories come from free play out in nature don’t they, rather than anything structured, which is why it’s a shame that so much of what children have to go through today is structured and organised and controlled.

      Funnily enough, Stig of the Dump was one of my favourite books as a child! I bought it for my kids from a jumble sale a few years ago, but they didn’t seem as enthralled by it as I was! They made a TV series of it too didn’t they, in the 80s I think, did you ever see that? I don’t think it was anywhere near as good as the book, but then that’s often the way.

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  6. I totally love this series! Keep ‘em coming!

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  7. What an experience that must’ve been for a child. And the French Alps to boot. Must have been so lovely.

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    • I think I’ve appreciated having that experience more as an adult looking back than I did as a child at the time. I don’t think I particularly understood that I was experiencing something quite unique at the time!

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  8. I read these three and think what adventures you’ve had. I know I had adventures but can’t seem to remember them. Do continue to write them when you can. :-D

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  9. Wow, I just checked out the other parts. Amazing, looking forward to more from this chapter of your life.

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  10. Certainly a childhood encouraging thinking and creativity. Such fun!

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  11. What an amazing time must have been. Your eloquent writing transports me there Vanessa.

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  12. Luscious writing, Vanessa! This transported me back to the magical wondering of a wide-eyed child.

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    • Thank you David! I think it helps that I have a good memory of a lot from my childhood, so I just put myself back in that place to remember how it felt, and what I saw, and then I just write how it comes, without over thinking it, and without worrying about the writing being technically perfect or anything like that – that way I’m hoping it has a sense of childlikeness about it.

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  13. I was wondering if you were ever going to add to your memoir. Glad you did. What a beautifully written piece.

    I love that last line. It is so very true.

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    • Yes, I hadn’t realised it was over a year since I wrote the last piece on this! I need to pick up the pace, it’s going to take a really long time to tell the whole thing if I only do one post on it a year!

      Thank you for loving the last line :)

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  14. That’s really beautiful! I didn’t know about this series and look forward to the other installments (as soon as I can get a better wifi signal!). Who took the photo? It has artistic merit. Are there any others?

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    • Thank you. It’s a very slow moving series, this is only part three and part two was written over a year ago! Which might have been before you were following my blog, not sure. I think it was probably my mother who took that photo. I’m aware of only maybe 2 or 3 other photos from that time.

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  15. I love the photo and the writing! Keep going, no matter how long it takes.

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  16. Lovely transporting vision of color and potential adventure, seen through a child’s eyes. I often wonder what it was like to ever be so young and hopeful, untouched by cynicism. It’s good to remember we were all like that, once. Thanks, Vanessa!

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  17. Well done! Very descriptive and from your little-girl perspective. :)

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  18. I really enjoy your memoir posts, and I hope we’ll get to see more of them! Of course, I enjoy ALL your posts, but these are such wonderful glimpses into childhood. :)

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    • Thanks J, and thanks for stopping by amidst all your unpacking or whatever stage you’re at! Unlike the first two posts that I did on this, I’ve now thought a bit more about other posts I could do on this, and I have four potential ideas for the next few, so you can expect them a bit more regularly for a while anyway!

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  19. Wow. I kind of miss that magical and mysterious feeling from childhood.

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  20. An adult memory from a child’s eyes … amazing what our mind remembers. Well done!

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  21. “Sometimes it’s best not to check.”–Words of wisdom from children! And so true. Love these. Thanks for sharing again!

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  22. Well, I’m intrigued, and this sounds like fun! I will now read backwards…

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