Sunday, May 30, 2010
And So Inside
Lets start then and watch a young family settle their belongings in a small cottage, crammed into a small corner of the southern Cotswold. Built of random stone back in the first half of the nineteenth century. Held on the one side by the road that eventually led me out of there and on the other by the river that ran trough our lives like time.
How my father and mother came upon the house I am not sure. We had been living near Calne in Wiltshire for the earliest years of my life. Recently though my father had gained a place to study in Newton Park College just outside Bath. He was training to be a teacher and the house in Swineford was just a few miles down the road.
My mother was probably glad to leave the old place. No electricity and water from the well would have been hard with three small children. Never mind the remote location in the middle of a field.
I was around five years old, my sister Melissa was four. My recently newborn sister Claire completed our little family.
Jumping out of the car Melissa and I ran through the gate, past two Lawson Cypress trees, and a wilderness of cabbages greeted our senses. Brassicas in forms new and horrid towered green over our heads and the whole world smelled of them. Melissa and I were soon lost among trees of sprouts, cabbages and kale. Emerging bewildered and bemused at the hand fate had dealt.
And so inside.
The unpromising front door opened on to the pavement of the only road running through the village. It was hardly ever open and in time was closed off with bricks. Beyond serving as a shallow alcove for Christmas cards and other seasonal decorations seldom thought of .
To get in to the house we had walked through a side gate, round the relatively modern bathroom extension and in through the south facing back door. A ramshackle kitchen with a roof that let more water through that it held back, leaking in every corner. To the left the post war luxury of an indoor toilet and bath. To the right a garden facing room with the exotic unfamiliar ‘french doors’. Then on from here to a dark enclosed sitting room and study, both with Bath stone pillared windows. Between these two, the corridor leading to the front door. To the side, sharing one corner, a cupboard and a set of stairs spiralling one hundred and eighty degrees up to three bedrooms. Two roadside and one facing the garden and the river.
This then was the little house we move in to. A leaky roof covered with red baked half roman tiles. Fireplaces that smoked whenever the wind was in the wrong direction. Strange smells of damp and putrefaction from the river and the drains which seemed equally gifted to flow in two directions depending on the nature of the flood.
A few small rooms with monstrous wall paper covering damp plaster. Ceilings defying gravity with only the strength of a few layers of paint to hold them. Floorboards offering holes of every size from the tubiform sponge of woodworm, to gaps where a medium sized rodent might rush and hide.
This whole tucked inside random stone walls and with a garden large enough to grow vegetables and feed a pig. Pretty much unchanged since the eighteen forties, the only real concession to its second century being the bathroom. Robust in its way and built to serve the accommodation needs of the local copper mill owner whose work force needn’t stray too far.
Outside, as well as more cabbages than one could comprehend, two ill advised, and in truth ugly, trees far too close to the main building, an asbestos garden shed. A flagstone path held a straight line down to the river Avon hidden behind an untidy hedge and a greengage tree.