Last week on the way to Swanage we passed a garden centre advertising tortoises for sale and I very nearly stopped and bought one.
Ever since I was a child I have wanted a tortoise. I am going to call it George. Man said this was a silly name for a tortoise and it should be called Timothy or Theresa but, much as I am a big fan of alliteration, when I finally get my tortoise, boy or girl it is going to be called George.
The only thing that stopped me was that we were heading TO the beach. I could hardly purchase a tortoise and then cart it to the beach for the day, I would get it on my way home. Sadly the shop was shut so I still have no tortoise.
Every time I think of tortoises I am reminded of a great aunt of mine who died many years ago.
She had a tortoise.
She was my dad’s mother’s sister. We called her Auntie Win (although her name was Constance) and she lived in a huge, double fronted Victorian suburban house on the outskirts of London.
Her house was a treasure trove and as a child (and one who was nearly always immersed in a fantasy world of books) I absolutely loved visiting her. Her home was mysterious, filled with curiosities and I loved it.
Her husband, who I don’t think I remember at all, had been in the army I think and he had gathered exotic items from around the world.
Her home was a mass of corridors. Here, a couple of steps would lead to another level, over there a long corridor had rooms that were rarely used through paneled doors and there were huge, heavy, musty velvet curtains draped across archways, behind which I new there were unimaginable treasures. And she used to let me explore.
One day I found a box of books from the turn of the century (not this one, the last one). One had a cardboard theatre with little paper puppets that you could press out and act out scenes. It had never been used and was in perfect condition. She let me press out all the characters of this mint-condition, rare book and I played with it for hours.
She gave me girls annuals from the 1920s and pre- First World War ones and I devoured the stories time and time again.
On the walls she had African masks, and her lounge was furnished with Zulu thrones.
She had a hothouse attached to the back of the house, a pre-cursor to the modern conservatory, and all across the roof grew the most enormous grape vine with bunches of grapes hanging down just waiting to be picked and eaten.
And in the garden, if you could find him, trudged a very ancient tortoise.
My dad, whom I thought extremely old when I was about ten, said he could never remember her not having the tortoise. That shows how ancient it was :)
I can’t remember what he was called but I thought he was amazing. He was wizened and angry and he stomped about the herbs and flowers in the garden trying to avoid me at all costs. And I wanted him desperately but he was the one thing this generous elderly great aunt wouldn’t give me.
Her house was probably my favourite place in the whole world and I wanted to live there. I thought it was just like the house the children were evacuated to in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
And she is the reason that, even now at the grand old age of 46, I want a tortoise.