Monday, 11 April 2016


Once, when I was about seventeen, a lifelong friend of mine referred to me as 'feral'. I have never forgotten it, because frankly, I don't think she was wrong.

I grew up a free-range child. I live out in the sticks, so I always had plenty of opportunity for running around outside (which is where I would normally be found, although generally I had a book under one arm and a My Little Pony in the other). My mother insists that I refused to wear clothes at home until I was nearly twelve years old, which is slightly embarrassing. (I did, however, go through a phase of wearing dozens of beaded necklaces over my nakedness, so there are photos of me looking like a child escapee from Burning Man.) I also had a habit of narrating my own actions - thanks to my reading addiction, I got the impression that we were all supposed to be doing so. And when I was about three I was crazy about The Lion King and apparently sincerely held the belief that I was in fact a small lion.
Child self.
I didn't have a terribly normal upbringing. My mum is an anarchist and I think we are possibly considered to be the black sheep of the family. For a long time Mum was into herbalism, and if I had a cough it was treated with hyssop out of the garden (in fact I liked the hyssop cough syrup so much I used to take the bottle out of the fridge and drink it). We used to eat nettles in the summer (you boil them to get rid of the sting) and gather flowers from the hedgerows to make elderflower cordial. Our airing cupboard had bundles of drying lavender and rosemary hanging from the ceiling.

My dad was a photographer in the seventies. He wore lime-green flares and his biggest claim to fame was taking pictures of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Growing up in Oxford he was a hellraiser - he and a friend once rode through a cinema on a motorbike and out of the fire exit doors, whilst letting off a fire extinguisher. His biggest obsession is sixties and seventies rock and roll; and yes, he is a child of that era in every way - when I told him about my one and only teenage experience with drugs (very disappointing, did not like), he said, with genuine concern, "That's a shame. Would you like to try some of mine?"

My parents moved around a lot before I was born and lived for a while in a park home. In my innocence I thought this was because we were from a family of travellers. My dad's side of the family are half fairly normal English people from Oxford way, and half fairly normal Danish people who speak no English whatsoever. My mum's side of the family are Hampshire farm folk, and I don't mean old money, hunting and shooting, I mean I have uncles who live in shacks. 'Rustic' is probably the best term. It's one of the things I like best about my family - they're different. Especially the older generation, who live out in the countryside and aren't interested in the internet. They've never been 'conditioned' to be ordinary. Some of us are hoarders - one relative collected magazine freebies throughout their life, another hazelnuts, allegedly. One cousin has a picture of his tractor as his Facebook profile picture.

I love my weird family because I was never brainwashed to become part of the great social machine. I was an odd child, and I became an odd adult. My mum taught me that creativity and independence of mind are more important than being wealthy or popular. My dad showed me self-sufficiency (and good music). [Edit: he found my blog and read this post. He is disinclined to agree with the term 'hellraiser' because the motorbike thing 'only happened once'. He was also peeved that I only listed two things he taught me, so I'll add, he also taught me the word 'perspicacious'. And how to play guitar. He's awesome. His blog is yonder, by the way.]

I am feral, and I'm proud of it.


  1. Your family sound very fun! I also had a very outdoorsy childhood, I spent most of my time when I wasn't reading running around, playing in creeks and climbing trees. My parents were actually rather conservative for all that.

    1. That sounds lovely! Funny how we both grew up with similar interests as well.

  2. I love family stories like yours!

  3. I'm down in Southampton, but even though it's the city my parents were the grow-your-own-food types. I enjoy gardening as a hobby myself but cannot successfully grow things from seed for the life of me!
    My parents were also apparently in a biker gang and were banned from entering some areas altogether, but they left before having children so I never saw any mayhem.

    1. Hey there neighbour ;) biking and gardening sounds like an excellent parental combination. Sounds like an awesome family! I'm not green-fingered either. I just planted some sunflowers because I figure I'd have to try really, really hard to kill those, they're tough buggers.

  4. A child escaped from burning man *LOL* that created a nice picture in my mind! Your family sounds amazing though!


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