Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Cottage

On Saturday afternoon, Betty and I threw our sleeping bags and toothbrushes into the car and headed for the hills for the night. We were off to visit my Dad who had travelled down from London to spend a night in the cottage - a holiday cottage he has rented for 40 years, of which the lease will expire later this year.

After an hour long journey winding our way up into the mountains along narrow single track roads, we arrived.  We parked up, scrambled over the gate, and trudged up the muddy field with sleeping bags under arms.  We crossed over the wide stream using the wobbly stepping stones, up a muddy bank, and finally got to the cottage. We saw a wind-up radio perched in the branches of a tree blaring out some local music station, and we saw lots and lots of daffodils.

We entered the cottage, and immediately felt the warmth of the roaring open fire crackling and spitting, and the familiar smell of fried onions and paraffin from the oil lamps filled the damp air. Betty shook her wellies off and slumped into the big old brown leather armchair next to the fire, and asked me for some food. Off I dutifully went to the kitchen where I saw my dad's old bow saw with its orange handle, hanging off a chair. I carefully placed it in the middle of the kitchen table. The large dresser in the corner of the room caught my eye and for the next ten minutes I became completely immersed in my childhood. I opened the cupboard door and found the old metal train set, the wooden bird puzzle, the Rupert annual, and a neat little pile of very old, slightly warped, musty smelling Ladybird books. 'The First Day of the Holidays' (about a pair of penguin siblings called Pen and Gwen, who didn't want to shell peas and instead found a motorcycle to go for a joyride on) particularly caught my eye. I hadn't seen this book for almost 30 years. The nostalgia started seeping in. I held onto the book and decided I would read it to Betty at bedtime.

Completely forgetting Betty's food, I went up the steep narrow spiral stone staircase - the steps were warmed by the fire beneath - and was immediately drawn to a painting (by me at around Betty's age) hanging from a cherub on the bedroom wall.  It had faded with age, and I wondered what I was like when I was four, and what I'd been thinking about at the time.  I looked at the bunk bed I used to sleep in and affectionately remembered another picture I had drawn, of a jar of Marmite, stuck to the bed rail for many years. I felt the mattress and it was hard and lumpy, and I couldn't believe I had never noticed this before.  Memories of my dad kissing me goodnight, and the sound of the crackling fire and the kettle whistling early in the morning came flooding back.  This is where Betty and I would be sleeping tonight.

Betty called to me: 'Mummy, I am starving' which quickly snapped me out of my reminiscence. I went back downstairs and sat in the armchair opposite Betty. I looked at her sitting there for the first time, in a chair, a cottage, a valley, that has always been so unbelievably dear and special to me, a place I rarely come to these days, but spent so many happy times here as a child at weekends and during the school holidays. A place that has been ours since before I was born, but a place that will no longer be ours very soon.

My Dad then appeared in the doorway holding a broken wooden rake, and said 'Hey there you two, cup of tea?' I suggested we all went to the local pub instead, before it got dark, and I wondered if the pool table would still be there. 

I desperately wanted Betty to have a taste of everything I had experienced when I was her age at this magical place.

The following morning Betty and I woke to the sound of the crackling fire and the kettle whistling, and my dad clanking around downstairs.  We toasted bread on the fire for breakfast, played in the treehouse, raked the grass, explored the stream, and I took lots and lots of photos of every little thing: the food cupboard with its wire mesh front, the ancient calor gas cooker, the wooden cabinet holding glasses, mugs, tins of baked beans and toilet rolls, the oil lamps (one in particular with its big white berry-like shade), the table with lawn mower underneath, everything.  And when it was time to leave, I walked back across the stream, and down the muddy field, with Betty in one hand, and the Ladybird book about the penguins in the other.


nappy valley girl said...

That sounds wonderful, how great to be able to revisit your own childhood like that. What a shame the lease is ending - can you not take it on?

Unknown said...

hi nappy valley, the farmer who owns the cottage has plans for it and the surrounding land i think. we all feel so unbelievably sad. i would have loved for my kids to have grown up with it there x

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Ah, what a lovely description. We have a cottage we go back to in the Lakes which evokes all sorts of childhood memories. My great aunt & uncle live dthere, but it has bene kept in the family. I wd be devastated no to go there anymore.

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