Home, history and a house

After three years in foreign parts – tropical ones, with only bougainvillea, cannas and frangipani to excite me, I found myself walking in an English field of shiny buttercups and shimmering green grass … hawthorn hedgerow cascading with pink and white blossom on one side, river on the other. I could hear a cuckoo. It felt like very heaven.

I was eighteen and this was how I had remembered the scenes of my childhood… shades of Sir Walter Scott’s:

Breathes there the man with soul so dead

 Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land…

We were living in a house lent to us by friends, far out in green hills and deep valleys. Offa’s Dyke was reputed to end in our garden, just above a huge S-bend in the River Wye. Offa lived from 757 to 796, and invented the penny. His dyke separated Mercia from Wales and stretched for ninety-eight miles from north to south. Whatever the truth of the rumour, behind the un-used stables there was a huge mound stretching into the back garden from the fields and woods beyond, and covered in hazel and hawthorn.

 Our nearest market town sported a magnificent ruined castle stretched above the river, and further out, poetic Tintern Abbey. And at nearby Devil’s Pulpit, a rocky outcrop looking over the river and across to the abbey, there was the usual legend of someone leaping his horse over in the dark, and coming to a sticky end far below.

The house was part Queen Anne and part Georgian, with a charming regency style wrought iron porch stretching along the garden side of the house. It looked over a lawn, where two ancient lime trees hummed with bees in summer, and seemed like silent sentinels in the wintry mist which hovered among their thick tangle of branches in damp winter months. Beyond the lawn was a ha-ha, but not deep enough to keep out the piebald pony who led a small herd of young steers through the gate-posts, up the drive, over the ha-ha and across the garden while every-one else was at church one morning.

By the time I’d rushed downstairs to shoo them away, they had meandered on into the little sheltered garden with a sundial, and pushed their way through the scraggy hedge which gave onto a lane, leaving only their deep hoof-prints.

The lane led down to a farm house, but before I got there, I would branch off through the woods with my puppy, and take the winding path which meandered down to the river. Just below the tree-line, and in the grass which borderedthe riverside was the ruin of a tiny fifth century church, only its outer walls still standing, empty windows framing the sky, ivy climbing part of the grey stone walls, and tangled brambles guarding the foundations. In spring the woods were filled with bluebells and windflowers. It too seemed like heaven.

The house was faded and gentle, dreaming in the silence of the country-side, no neighbours within sight. My bedroom had pretty flowered wallpaper, pale green painted thirties furniture and long windows looking over the garden. It had a soft sweet atmosphere. The other place that I loved, and where I spent solitary afternoons engrossed in a book was the so-called ballroom. Not a grand one, its claim to fame being the ceiling which had been copied from some famous library in a grand house.

Apart from the large and somewhat threadbare faded old carpet on the polished floor, the only other furniture in the room was a big drab-green brocade-covered Knole sofa, and a large gilt mirror over the carved fireplace. That was all I needed. On sunny days I sat on the cushioned window seat, on other days I curled up on the sofa. When I shut the door the silence and the solitude were absolute.

In the drawing room where everyone gathered, I amused myself by reading ancient copies of bound Punches from the book-shelves, and cracked up over stiff Edwardian jokes. Once, after a fearful row in which my step-grandfather took my side, calling me his little high-brow, I managed to get the wireless to myself to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and so I dreamed around the place, head in the clouds, picking flowers, adopting two wild kittens as well as the puppy, and driving everyone else mad.

I didn’t know anyone, but once a boy nearby invited me to a hunt ball at Tintern, and the rather erudite and elegant bachelor who lived on the corner further down, in a house filled with books and good furniture invited us to a pre-ball party. I thought he was much more interesting than my escort, and found the ball very dull, spoiled with too many in Malaya.

In Jane Austen’s time I suppose I would have loved the older man hopelessly, and ended up marrying the boy. As it was, I was catapulted into the army, my father hoping that “it would wake me up”.

Thirty years later on one of my trips back to England I went to see the house. I hardly recognised it. The beautiful grey stone walls had been covered with suburban ‘pebble-dash’ cement and stones. The grounds seemed to have been subdivided anda boring brick bungalow built in the new area. A row of dark evergreen windbreak trees replaced the charming informal groups of old deciduous trees down by the vegetable garden, and the ha-ha seemed to have been filled in. I wished I had never come back.

I drove sadly on down the lane. Walking through the woods, nothing had changed there, and thirty years had passed over the ruined church with barely a blink. Just a few more stones tumbled off the end wall, and the empty windows more crowded with ivy. Nature is gentler than mankind.

These memories were prompted by reading Clanmother’s lovely blog on Tintern Abbey


So it looks as though my tea-break is over… it’s been a busy one, with lots of family commitments as well as my own, but I’ve been so touched by messages from my blogging friends  – with so many blogs to read, I find it truly wonderful to be remembered and to receive so many messages encouraging me to return. Thank you all, so much. My word press settings seem to have changed since I took my tea-break, and I can’t work out how to put in pictures or any other paraphernalia, so in some ways this is an experimental post!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Ah well, Friend and I have been at it again. Meeting to have a glass of wine to catch up and discuss the mechanics of hiring chairs glasses etc etc for an eightieth birthday party she’s organising, we take to heart the dictum of always having something to eat with the wine. We’ve discovered a wonderful new spread to eat with a small chunk of roll.Roast a couple of aubergines, and scrape out the flesh into a blender. Pour in a cup of cashew nuts, ground coriander and ground ginger powder to taste, the juice of a lime or a lemon, and salt to taste. Whizz this into a thick textured paste and enjoy with relish and some bread or biscuits!

Food for Thought

A grace found in an old book of recipes…

Lord, forgive us that we feast while others starve.

Bishop Charles Gore at a banquet





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73 responses to “Home, history and a house

  1. There is a bit of wonky stuff at the top part of the post but it is so good to have you back! I was delighted to see the email notification! Welcome and I hope you manage to conquer those WordPress bugs.


    • Thank you Kate, good to hear from you. Yes, I noticed the wonky stuff and haven’t the fainted idea on how to get rid of it now everything seems to have changed in my settings. I’m relying on my grandson coming up to see us sometime this week !


  2. Anonymous

    I was just thinking about you the other day. Nice to see you back


  3. Welcome back! It is nice to read your posts again. Don’t worry about the novelties on the blog, once you get it sorted out with your grandson it’ll be as natural as breathing 🙂
    I used to panic big time… today I realize it’s not worth the energy wasted if anyway things eventually get sorted out.
    Good luck!


  4. Once past the HTML bit that crept in, it was all fascinating. Do you do a Preview post? I find them handy – they are pretty much WYSIWYG and one can keep on fiddling until they come right.
    It would certainly never have occurred to Jane to have a heroine packed off to the army!
    I have also lived in places that lost all character after being ‘improved’.


  5. Welcome back Violetta 😀 Missed you !!
    I see you are into code breaking, enigma machines, etc.at the top of your post. The first line of our secret meeting code phrase is:
    ” The sun never sets at dawn ”
    What is your response Mata Hari ? Ralph xox 😀


  6. elisaruland

    Hooray! A Valerie Davis sighting!
    Welcome back, I enjoyed your trip down memory lane, and as always, your recipe.



  7. Thank you Elisa, lovely to hear from you… I have been quietly reading… and loved your daughter’s prom!


  8. A wonderful, wonderful post. These past few months, my reading has taken me to look more closely at how we progress in our timelines. Just yesterday I was reading about William Wordsworth’s more radical early years as compared with his later years. As we move along our timeline, our values, thoughts, ideas transition as we gather experiences. That is not to say that we become any wiser, for I have met young people with great insight, but that we embrace a greater understanding of our existence within a finite world. (Does that make sense?)

    “If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca


    • Dear Rebecca, you are such a generous reader, thank you for your lovely comments and insights… yes interesting about Wordsworth’s transition from fiery young radical to conservative… I love Browning’s lines about him… ‘Just for a handful of silver he left us, just for a ribbon to stick in his coat…’ A columnist here used to say that nothing slows down a young radical as much as a second mortgage, but I find that didn’t happen for me… I’m as radical as I became in my twenties having thrown off the shackles of my family conditioning… I loved what you say about ‘a greater understanding of our existence within a finite world’… and how finite it does feel on the material and physical plane these days ! I simply loved your quote and also the juxtaposition of your name with Daphne du Maurier!!! XXX


  9. Your descriptions brought me right to the scene, so that when I viewed it with you all those years later I felt a similar sense of disappointment and almost abandonment. How sad is the progress of time…


    • Thank you Ronnie, lovely to hear from you. It’s such a gift to hear from you that you felt it the way I did… this sharing and understanding is one of the great bonuses of writing a blog! Thank you again


  10. chennicole2013

    Returning to a place remembered from childhood and finding it changed is an experience many of us can identify with. I have such clear memories of “Harrison Street,” where I grew up, but years later when I tried to find it, I couldn’t. It may have been under a new freeway interchange; or maybe I was simply confused.

    My late husband left his home in China when he was ten years old. Thirty-four years later, he was finally able to return. China’s development was just beginning then, so on the surface nothing seemed to have changed much. (By coincidence, I wrote about his homecoming experience a couple of weeks ago on my blog.)


  11. Wonderful to see you again, how delicious to read your work. I have popped in to say hullo and now i shall go back and read, i am feeling a little wonky myself .. so am doing this backwards! love love.. c


  12. I didn’t like to disturb you with messages of “when will your tea break be over?” but I have been missing your words and wisdom and hoping and hoping you would be back soon ….I hope that you won’t find us, like your former home, not quite as lovely as you remembered!! And wasn’t Clanmother’s Tintern Abbey post so beautiful?


  13. Yes, indeed, her Tintern Abbey post was what inspired me to take the plunge again, and start writing !
    Thank you so much for your lovely welcome back, it’s so good to be in touch with old friends, – who are unchanged – unlike my old home !


  14. A wonderful, fascinating read Valerie. It pains me sometimes to think of what people do in the name of change and call it progress. Beauty can be cast out and replaced with something utilitarian and bland.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx


  15. What a touching story, Valerie, so beautifully told. It’s good to see you back on the blog.


  16. Margot Wilsonu

    Pleased you have returned. You describe the house so beautifully that I feel I am there. The one place I returned to which had not changed was Ballykinler in County Down, Northern Ireland, which had remained as I remember it totally unspoilt.


    • Thank you so much for the welcome back… and for your lovely comment. I can imagine that Ireland would be remote enough not to be spoiled… I’ve also returned to the dales and country in Yorkshire, and found it so too… thank heavens there are some places inviolate!!


  17. So glad you are back Valerie – I was beginning to worry. What a lovely blog… I have been to Tintern Abbey in that lovely wild valley and remember thinking of “Lines Written Above….” How disappointing for you to find your childhood home ruined by tasteless progress… it makes my heart break to see rural beauty marred by careless pragmatism. At least the old church was still there, decaying gently, and the wild woods remain, renewing themselves annually. Thanks so much for your words and I look forward to your next blog very soon!. Elly x


    • Thank you so much Ellie for your lovely welcome back, and all that you say… yes it’s hard to accept that we don’t all see beauty in the same way, or all even care about it, isn’t it.. one of life’s challenges !!!!…


  18. Ah my morning read has returned – how wonderful to be swept away by your tellings.


  19. Amy

    Glad you are back, Valerie! I was thinking about you last weekend…


  20. I find going back is never the same as well. I keep doing it though only to be disappointed. I love your description of how it once was. 🙂


  21. Valerie, you write exactly why I always hesitate going back to special places that I fondly remember. I’ve visited Tintern Abbey decades ago and I would love to go back. But I’ve been back to a couple of places in England that have changed now too much.
    Ones there were poetic places. Now they are organized in such way that tourist can only enjoy these places within a framework or layout that suits the National Trust or whatever organisation. I understand these organisations need to protect these places and conserve them for the next generations, but I also have to protect my dear memories.
    Lovely to see you are back. Best wishes from the Netherlands,


    • Oh Paula, I so agree… the poetry is lost isn’t it?. I went to Stonehenge after a ball to watch the sunrise in 1962, and walked around the stones in silence and solitude… now there are busloads of tourists corralled behind a fence… and as for the empty cathedrals I used to love… packed to the gills with people and noise beating up into the rafters… Lovely to hear from you, and thank you for your welcome back…


  22. Valerie – you are an inspiration! I’m in awe of your writing! Over the past couple of days or so, I’ve been so drawn into and gripped by the memories and scenes you share with us here on your blog. The clarity and vivid detail of the moment, the people and places you bring to life on the page, the emotions you evoke have left me entranced as I read. Your life, your wisdom and insight, your way with words, all open so many doorways of thought and understanding for me – as a reader and as someone striving to improve my own writing.

    I wish I could say more, but I’m juggling so many things this week, time is running away from me… Just wanted to let you know I’ve been reading your wonderful blog, and am loving the colour and detail, the fascinating insight and sheer life affirming richness of it all! Will be back to read and chat more, when things are less hectic!

    So glad to be in touch!


    • Melanie, what a wonderful appreciative message – thank you so much – I feel the same about your blog, and am fascinated by the way you see things and write about them.

      Thanks to your blogs I went into the big smoke to get myself some of the books that have disappeared from my shelves – like ‘ Far from… can’t think where that’s got to, and of course I want to re-read it after our discussion… gobbled up the Mayor of Casterbridge again, and am in the middle of Under the Greenwood Tree at the moment. I long to re- read Adam Bede after your wonderful blog ( and glorious pics) but no-one has it at the moment, so I’ve ordered it… and bought The Mill on the Floss, which i haven’t been strong enough to read again since it overwhelmed me when I was ten. Would love to have seen Alan Bates as Henchard… can’t think how I missed it… and now back to your blog and other classics!


      • Valerie – what a lovely message! I first read it a few days ago, but was called away before I could reply – so just popping back now to say thank you so much. How wonderful that my blogs have inspired this marvellous reading journey back to old favourites! I’d be so interested to find out how you get on with your steps back into The Mill on the Floss, after your original experience of the book when you were ten. Great works of literature reveal so many different and new things to us over time, as we move through life – whilst leaving indelible memories of those first meetings too…


  23. Welcome back dear Valerie!

    I enjoyed so much reading your post and I love your beautiful descriptions. I wish I could sneak into that ballroom, once in a while. 🙂

    Sending much love your way!


  24. I am so glad you are back, Dear Friend! I am so enjoyed this post and a peek into a time in your life of peace. Sending you magical love!



  25. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    Valerie, what lovely reverie here. Really like the way you wrote this. Beautiful.


  26. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

    oh how I have missed your words! I came looking today since I am computer challenged and I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t getting any notices from you..or if I clicked something I shouldn’t have.and when life gets in the way with challenges I get lost in between thoughts of day LOLs…
    Welcome back…..!
    I enjoyed reading another tale of your world….as always it is wonderful
    taking me along the paths with you….
    Take Care…You Matter…


  27. Valerie – I hope this link takes you to a free seminar you may want to join: http://live.soundstrue.com/refreshinghearts/?_bta_tid=3.RM0._Gp-.A07B.J-0G..dGQg.b..l.ATe6.a.Uk4aGA.Uk4aGA.u8brZQ&_bta_c=b5pjzf87yoi7r5bkuyx5jk3od5p1b

    Sounds True ( a great site ) is featuring this free seminar with Thich Nhat Hanh. The above link is for the registration. If you click on enough choices, you’ll find a time converter so you know when it’s available for you.

    Now, I’ve discovered there is a post after the ??? beginning, I’m off to read your welcome words.


  28. Dear Bishop Gore,
    Since joy is one of the the Fruits of the Spirit and since it is a virtue listed in each of the major Holy Books on our planet, may it freely rise in recognition of God-given taste buds, Divine abundance and a w(HOLY) talented chef.

    Couldn’t resist, Valerie. Some Bishops could benefit by adopting a rousing rendition of the Johnny Appleseed song as grace. 😀


    • Oh, yes,l food glorious food Amy – and I also go along with the Jewish saying that when we get to the other side,we will be called to account for all the permitted pleasures that we failed to enjoy..,
      However i have a soft spot for Bishop Gore – there weren’t many Medieval bishops who had any compassion, and not many since,
      either !!!!
      Please send me the Johnny Appleseed song – would love to know it ..X


  29. Such beautiful description in your story! Happy to see you’re back! 🙂


  30. Luanne

    Valerie, I am so happy to see you back. Your writing is such a treasure in the blogland.


  31. Dear Valerie, I’ve been on a half tea-break of my own – only doing the bare minimum. But you’ve been in my thoughts, and I’m glad to see you back!

    This post reminds me of an earlier one you wrote about a homestead you spent some time in when you were married. I wonder if this home has anything to do with your connection to that place?


    • Hello Alarna, hope you’re enjoying your half a tea-break !
      Is Melbourne beginning to warm up for spring now?

      Interesting question you ask…there were other houses in my childhood just as beautiful – my parents had the knack of finding lovely houses… and I’ve tried to carry on their tradition, no matter how hard-up I am !!! That’s another story !!!


  32. I love the way you evoke the houses you have lived in: it’s heartbreaking to read about the familiar ‘modernisation’ of these beautiful places, but so good that they’re still there, somewhere in the ether when shared liked this. I’ve just come from the Welsh border after a few days holiday, and there was much unspoilt, and many still-loved houses, rescued and restored to their natural state.


    • Thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoyed the house story… yes,’ improvements’ are so rarely improvements!
      But how heartening to know that you found so many cherished places, still unspoiled – I must get back to your blog to enjoy what you have seen !!1


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