Raffaella Barker recalls an idyllic childhood summer 1972
We’re sitting on a gate at our home in Itteringham, Norfolk, me and my brothers Bruddy and Progles, and at either end are Josh and Jake Hull, who were friends when we were little. Progles is wearing a police hat my uncle brought back from Morocco – he never took it off. My youngest brother, Sam, must have been a baby at that time; I was about seven I think, Bruddy, five, and Progles, three. It was 1972 and my sister, Lily, hadn’t been born. We were on the gate to the donkeys’ field – behind us are a lot of king cups, nettles and, somewhere among the greenery, two quite grumpy donkeys. To me this picture represents the absolute idyll of being wild, free children, which is what we were. I remember it always being summer. I always love May because I have such a vivid picture of buttercups and horse chestnut blossom, waking up to the birds and that Kodachrome brightness of the day, and thinking, what are we going to do today? Where are we going to go?
Our house was up a long track and we would just roam around in the fields and woods behind it. If you have children in the countryside you tend to have a lot of animals, too, because you may as well, so we had donkeys (I longed for a pony but at that point I didn’t have one), dogs, cats, goats, rabbits and turkeys round the back. Bruddy had a slow-worm, called Gloria Montgomery, in case she was bisexual. Around that time, to bring in some cash, my dad [the poet George Barker] went off to be writer in residence at a university in America – Buffalo, I think – and my mother [the writer Elspeth Barker] went with him on one occasion. We were left at home with friends looking after us, which must have been hell for them. Poor things, having to get us off to school and fish the nits out of our hair. I just remember it as an opportunity to be even more wild and badly behaved.
My mother still lives in that house. [George Barker died in 1991.] When we were teenagers my brothers became very wayward and went off following bands around the country rather than going to school. Now Bruddy is an archaeologist and Progles paints pin-up girls on to the backs of leather jackets. They both live in Norfolk – a lot of people come back here. Josh and Jake are still round and about somewhere. And I’m still here. This picture is very nostalgic; it evokes my children’s upbringing, as well – you could just as easily plop them in that scene.