This is England by Donna Tracy

Snowdrops, crocuses, primroses, daffodils. Frogspawn in the pond. Butterflies, bumblebees and ladybirds, lighter mornings, April showers. Brightly coloured Easter eggs tumbled in a basket, spring lamb for lunch. Sticky buds, cherry blossom, tender leaves shyly unfurling, shiny and new. [Playing in the street, angry people watching at windows, shouting at you to keep away from their cars. Biking to the park with mates, a sandwich in a carrier bag, a precious quid in your pocket. Playing football ’til the hard lads come. Popping into Poundland, the sneering security guard following you around, the checkout assistant glaring at you when you thank her, old people tutting at you in the street, being moved on by a policeman when you sit on a step to eat. Teachers asking what’s the matter with you? Why are you always so angry?] May day, a village fete with bunting, maypoles and morris dancers, homemade strawberry jam, a thick slice of Victoria sponge on a paper plate. Ducklings on the pond, swifts and swallows dipping and diving, a fat brown trout swims slowly by. This is England.

Summer holidays, a day at the beach, seashells and starfish, sun cream and sand, buckets and spades. Rockpools, jumping the waves, building a moat, protecting sandcastles from the encroaching sea. Watching the curious seals bob up, their heads as sleek and shiny as wet pebbles above the water. [Staying in on your own, watching TV for hours while Mum’s at work, no free school meals for six weeks, a packet of cheap crisps for lunch, cheap pizza for tea, going to the foodbank when there’s nothing left, hoping no-one from school sees you there, telling your mum not to worry when she cries, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.] Fish and chips on the pier, the wind tugging at your hair, seagulls lining up along the handrail, waiting for a fallen chip. Arcades and candy floss, hot doughnuts from a paper bag. Feeding coppers into a 2p machine, your hands metallic and waxy afterwards. Home on the train, tired and content. This is England.

A walk in the country, kicking through leaves, gold and brown and red and russet. Shiny conkers, mahogany jewels, peeping from their spiky jackets, the nutty tang of acorns and beech mast crushed underfoot. Scurrying squirrels. Misty mornings and yellowy afternoons. Scarves and hats and mittens, jumpers and jackets. Shadows lengthening across a tussocky meadow, a horse champing at the grass, a line of trees, a startled deer, a hedgerow, busy with birds. [A too-small blazer, school shoes that don’t fit; he’ll just have to make do. Cheap cereal, white bread sandwiches with marge and jam, cheap pizza again. The first Christmas ads on TV, catalogue debts and final demands, feeding the electric meter, worrying, worrying, crying yourself to sleep at night.] A steamy café, a tea urn, hot buttered teacakes, crumpets and bramble jelly. Bending to examine fungi, blackberrying in the lane, inky fingers and scratched arms, collecting sweet chestnuts for roasting, picking apples at the orchard; russets, Cox’s pippins, Braeburns. A hot crumble with custard, a chicken pie with a thick crimped edge. The rooks calling you home from across the fields. This is England.

Dark, damp mornings, dark lamplit afternoons, staying inside. A wood burner, a pile of logs in a wicker basket. Blankets, rugs, throws, books. Tea and toast with spiced marmalade. Beef stew, roast dinners, hot chocolate with whipped cream. Mince pies and mulled wine, Christmas lights and tinsel, a pile of presents, family at the door, excited children. Church at midnight, singing carols, spilling out into the starlit night, breath glittering into the freezing air, laughter on the walk home. [A quick wash in cold water, shivering at the sink. Sour-smelling clothes that won’t dry. Cutting your own hair, ignoring the toothache that comes and goes, carrier bags in your shoes so your socks don’t get wet. Black mould blooming on the bedroom walls, windows wet with condensation, clammy sheets, freezing air, tight-chested children coughing, coughing, coughing.] A warm, cosy room, a nip of brandy, to bed with a book, a cat sleeping at your feet. A frenzy of wrapping paper, laughter and wine, Christmas dinner, crackers, pudding with cream. Chocolates and cherry liqueurs, listening to the Queen, the Christmas film, dozing on the sofa, eating the leftovers for supper. Everybody smiling, everybody happy. This is England.

Biography: Donna Tracy lives in Norwich. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Mslexia, Litro, Liars’ League, After Dinner Conversation and Dear Damsels. Twitter: @SlaveOfSolitude