The Cottage Smallholder

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The Witch at the bottom of our garden

undergrowthWe moved to Cambridge when I was two years old. Initially to Hertford Street and later to Chesterton Road. The latter house had a much bigger garden with apple trees to climb and a camp behind a blackberry bush, just enough room for two to crawl in and sit close together. We spent a lot of time playing by the compost heap. This was the furthest point from the house and well out of my mother’s earshot. It was also the perfect spot for observing The Witch.

The Witch lived in rather a grand house around the corner. Her garden backed on to several houses along our road. Our garden overlooked her overgrown shrubbery. If we stood on the compost heap and climbed onto our fence we could see some lawn and the house in the distance. There were small paths twisting through the undergrowth. Sometimes we’d spot The Witch stalking across the lawn. Not wearing a black pointed hat but in pale, floaty old lady clothes that matched her white hair. Occasionally we heard children playing in her garden. We observed them through the gaps in the fence. They seemed happy – were they under a spell?

We had discovered some Deadly Nightshade in the rough grass beside our fence and knew instantly that there was a witch about. Who else would plant something poisonous in our garden? From that point The Witch became truly scary, capable of unfathomable horrors (we had been brought up on Grimm’s Fairy tales after all). Now courage could only be displayed by exploring her garden to find traces of witchcraft. It was war in a panicky ‘get to know your enemy’ sort of way. My elder sister would help me over the fence and direct operations from our side. Desperate to impress her with my heroism, I would carry out instructions with a pounding heart, moving a little nearer the house on each foray.

One day, when I was least expecting it, I turned a corner and bumped into The Witch. There was a moment of shock before she grabbed my arm and pulled me towards her house. I looked back at our fence. My sister’s face had vanished. I was totally on my own and absolutely terrified.

The Witch’s drawing room was surprisingly normal. No cauldron on the fire or cages of whimpering children but they could be in a different part of the house. I stood petrified before her whilst she towered over me.
How did you get into my garden?
Over the fence
What were you doing in my garden?
Do you know that my garden is private property and that trespassers will be prosecuted?
She turned and fumbled in a drawer. She removed a small notepad and pen.
What is your name?
What is your address?
I thought of the police arriving in a Panda car and my mother’s reaction. So I made up an address, an hour’s walk away on the other side of Cambridge. I explained that I was just visiting the children next door. And no, we didn’t have a telephone at home.
She leant on a small table to write out the address carefully in large curly writing.
I’m going to let you go now. Your parents will be hearing from me.

I ran all the way home on a wave of terror and relief. I let myself into the garden by the side gate and went to find my sister to tell all. The police had not arrived and after a few weeks I was confident that I had tricked The Witch. All was well until one afternoon we were coming home from school with my mother and suddenly The Witch was looming towards us. She recognised me at once and rushed up to my mother.
Your little girl told me that she lived at 206 Hills Road and I walked all the way there only to find that she didn’t live there at all!
I shot into the house, hid under my bed and prepared for the worst.

A few minutes later my mother’s head was peering at me, laughing and saying it didn’t matter at all. I was astonished and delighted. A marvellous magic had taken place.

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