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