Monthly Archives: August 2019

Seaview – the house – downstairs layout

The front door was painted deep yellow, the same colour as the door you see in the header photograph. Just to complicate the matter, the side that faced the road and had the front door was, from the point of appearance, the back of the house. The back door was at the side. Yeah. I know.

There was an open porch and, as you came in through the door, a small hall that we called the airlock, because there was a door between that and the main hall. Off the airlock to the left, was the cloakroom, with a washbasin and pegs, and the downstairs toilet was beyond that. It was a chilly room, so we tended to go upstairs to the loo, although it wasn’t unused. I kept a book in there, of course, but rarely read more than a page at a time. Plato’s “Republic” lasted me for years and I can’t remember if I ever got to the end of it. I did find it quite an annoying book.

As you entered the hall, the gunroom was to your left. This was long and narrow and lined with glass-fronted shelves, which housed books. I frankly doubt that many guns were ever kept in it. My grandfather had a Purdy shotgun, but I don’t think he was interested in shooting and my father certainly wasn’t. At the end of the gunroom was a desk and the house telephone lived on it. There was also a dog bed in front of the desk. We stood in the dog bed when we used the phone.

When I was a child, you were connected to the person you wanted by the operator. Once, I crept in there and picked up the receiver and a woman’s voice said “number please?” I was horrified at my naughtiness being found out, slammed down the receiver and – I suspect – that’s where my mild phone phobia dates from. In later years, I would answer the phone but only made calls reluctantly, though automatic dialling helped. When I did use the phone, i always unravelled the cord. My mother turned the receiver every time she used it until it eventually twisted so much that it couldn’t be replaced; though I’d usually held it up and let it spin round to correct itself before then.

The hall itself was a big, rectangular room. On the left – which is the right as you look at the photo – was the drawing room. Then there was the passage, which was basically a dumping ground. We never used it. In the middle was the study, under the balcony in the pic and then there was the dining room. Those all faced the river and the garden. On the other side of the hall was the small room under the stairs where the booze was kept. Known as the beer cellar (though it was at ground level), it had a wooden plaque on the door, reading The Slip Inn. For a long time it was kept unlocked, until an unfortunate incident when a house guest, who needed to be saved from herself, was found in there with an upturned bottle to her mouth. As my father’s mother had been an alcoholic and it wrecked everyone’s relationship with her and ended her life at 64, he was shocked into putting a lock on the door.

Between the beer cellar and the foot of the stairs was a big, built-in oak coffer known as the Coffin. My mother kept pianola rolls in there. The stairs had nicely carved newel posts and banisters and two half-landings, so you went up five stairs, turned right, went up seven, turned up, went up six and you were on the landing. As a child, I used to jump down the stairs, but I never had the nerve to jump the full seven. I knew my limits. My sister reminds me that my mother called me “baby elephant” for the noise I made, though no one ever suggested I should stop.

Between the door to the dining room and the stairs, there was a side wall with the Dutch hanging clock, which now hangs in my hall, Mike having coaxed it into working order a few years ago; and then a door to the kitchen area.

Straight ahead, after a small lobby, was the butler’s pantry. My grandfather had a butler, but we never did. It was a long, narrow room, lined with shelves on both sides and the dishwasher was in the middle, in front of the window. My parents were the only people with a dishwasher that I knew, at that time. To the left of the lobby was the kitchen, a big room that would have been amply big enough to be a family room, but I’ll tell you about that later. Through that was the scullery, though it was no such thing. It started as our kitchen and then became a little sitting room. To the left of that was the pantry, where we kept the fridge and, later, the washing machine, and the stairs to the cellar were off that. Straight ahead was the back door, with an enclosed porch, and to the right was the walk-in larder. I can see it all, of course, in my mind’s eye. Every detail.

Seaview – the garage workshop

My father was pretty good with his hands and, for a while, he subscribed to an American DIY magazine. There were projects in it that were for fun rather than serious pieces of furniture and he did a few of those. The one I remember was an elaborate practical joke that he played one Christmas on their friends Ford and Bunty.

My father Malcolm and Ford (short for Wallingford, not that he ever let anyone know it) had been friends since childhood. He’d been best man at their wedding. Ford was great fun and had a mischievous sense of humour. He was the local photographer in Lowestoft and, had the war not intervened, they’d have gone into business together. I’m still friends with Ford and Bunty’s son and his wife and Weeza is friends with their daughter.

Anyway, that’s by the bye. The Christmas special issue of this American magazine, if you can still remember before I digressed, had the template for a Santa Claus scene, complete with Father Christmas and his sleigh, the presents, the reindeer, everything. Daddy spent weeks cutting it all out of plywood.

On Christmas Eve, friends invited the neighbourhood round for evening drinks. A watch was kept until Ford and Bunty left their house and then Daddy and Mr Weavers drove down with Santa and his gear and they spent an hour or so constructing the whole scene on the roof. Father Christmas was stuck in the chimney and the reindeer were strung along the ridge. Afterwards, of course, Mummy and Daddy went along innocently to the party and – actually, thinking about it, I have no idea what happened the next day. I remember seeing the construction on the roof so I must have been taken along there, but I don’t know how quickly it was realised who was responsible. Probably pretty smartly.

Sorry to mention the C word at this time of the year. I suspect I’m pretty well finished with the garden – there is more I can say, but it would be all about meeeee – and I should talk about something else. Even if it’s just the house. Isn’t it funny how you remember every inch of where you grew up?

Z returns

We’ve been to Reading and Pembrokeshire and are now back. We were taken out to dinner by friends, longstanding as far as Tim is concerned and, of course, more recent for me, who are just lovely and the greatest fun. Tim and I always intend to be more sociable than actually happens – I think we should arrange more things in advance, because one always makes time for what is in the diary.

Tim has nearly finished the catalogue, then there’s proofreading. On the home run soon. I’ve got various business stuff to get on with too, as well as a lot of cooking and garden things. Tim had a lot of apples on his tree – they’re cooking apples and he thinks they’re Bramleys, but they don’t look like mine and they’re ready earlier. Still, his house is down south.

That reminds me, while we were away we had a crab salad at the village pub, and very good it was. The Pembrokeshire crabs are quite different from Norfolk ones. The white meat breaks up more and the dark meat is darker. They taste of crab, not sure I’d know the difference in the dark. It’s a nice pub. The same person owns the caravan park (not Tim’s, it’s more tucked away and doesn’t have sea – or any – views, but it’s nicely laid out), the little shop and the pub, and we usually have a drink and sometimes a meal at the last. I had a quiche last time, which was considerably better than I’d expected, homemade with lovely pastry. It’s always busy and there are lots of young bar staff, so never long to wait. Good to have a business thriving in these uncertain times.

Still sort of winning

Tim is a third of the way through the catalogue. He says it may not be quite as professionally produced as before, but I am pretty confident. He’s being an angel. Can’t thank him enough.

I caught up on everything I meant to except for making a loaf of bread, because I couldn’t, after all, be bothered. Buying bread isn’t out of the question, after all.

Upsetting as it was, the young cockerels had to go, and they’ve gone and been dealt with by a very kind, practical young farmer, to whom I’m grateful. I cleaned out their run and Tim and I moved it and, with some difficulty, shifted the three week old chicks and their mother into it. Job done and I surprised myself earlier this evening by crying rather a lot. Silence of the chicks.

We had the first sweetcorn tonight and it was tender and delicious, freshly picked and rushed to the pan of boiling water. Well, almost.

So, sort of winning, though it doesn’t particularly feel like it. It should be better tomorrow.

LT wins through. We hope.

The last few days have been trying. Tim is putting together the catalogue for the next sale – I type up all the details and do the condition report, we do the photography together, I crop and, if necessary, straighten the photos and then send the whole lot for him and he compiles the catalogue. Up to now, it’s been on Microsoft Publisher, part of the Office programme. I can’t do that part, even if I were up for it, because Publisher doesn’t work on a Mac – though I could use a different programme if I had the least inclination to address the learning curve, Weeza always used this one, so we just tweak the template.

Tim was in Reading and made a start, and got some way with the photos. Then he took a break, saved progress and quit, and came back a while later. The message was that the file was corrupted and couldn’t open.

He thought it must be a photo that hadn’t saved properly but, to sum it up, that wasn’t it. Publisher had done an auto-update and it was wrecked. He’s spent many hours on the phone to Microsoft and they’ve tried to fix it, and they have retrieved the document but, as soon as he adds anything and saves, it fails again. Eventually, he gave up and told them so.

In short, having checked out other desktop publishing programmes, he’s simply using Word. Even that hasn’t been easy. But he’s on his way now.

It doesn’t help that my business partner didn’t tell me that a piece has been withdrawn from the sale, because I spotted a repair that the owner hadn’t noticed and recommended a lower reserve. Would have been good to know before all the numbers went on. I can’t change the last 20 lots, so there will be a note that this lot is withdrawn. He forgot to let me know, which is fair enough, but saying “just to recap” when he hadn’t told me would be irritating if I let it be.

Anyway, we’re letting it all wash over us and being good natured about it. Tim is so patient and treating the learning curve as a challenge. I made risotto for dinner, which is always cheering.

I’ve procrastinated, day after day, until I’ve run out of time and I’ve got an absurd amount to do tomorrow. I used to be good at this sort of thing, but I’ve relaxed in my old age. Now, I think I can wing it until it’s too late to worry. What else can a Z do?

Seaview – the garage

The garage was huge. It was described as a four-car garage, but it could have taken at least a dozen, if emptied. My parents had brought a massive catering-size freezer from the hotel which took up several yards on the left, and there was another smaller freezer beyond that, but that only went halfway back. There were all sorts of things stored there and the back half was chock-a-block, but it was still roomy. There was a workroom above and a pulley system so that whatever was constructed up there could be brought down. I have no idea why this was built by my grandfather. There was a workbench and a lot of tools, but they weren’t used a great deal in our day.

The staircase was wooden and I think it could have been slid up, like a staircase to an attic with a trapdoor. It was never closed, though. I remember once, when I was a child, looking into the garage and seeing a large rat sitting on a stair, and it casually hopped up from one step to the next. I ran in and told my mother, who was suitably impressed and I suspect the matter was dealt with. I didn’t tell her about the time I came across a bundle of canes: one had a jagged end so I broke that bit and a family of earwigs fell out. I was more scared by that than the rat as it was more startling, ran out and didn’t go in the garage on my own for weeks.

I’ve been trying to remember the doors and I think they must have been concertina style. They weren’t up and over and they didn’t open out – or, indeed, in – so they must have been. We were not in the least security conscious, relying on the dogs, and I don’t think they were often shut. We never locked the house either. My father said that, with our big windows, we’d be far more inconvenienced than any burglar.

The dogs were, indeed, our protectors. They were very friendly and not at all scary, but once we were all out visiting friends and, for some reason, it was realised that other guests needed to call in at our house to fetch something. As the doors were unlocked, they were able to do so and they were welcome to. But, as they opened the front door and walked in, cheerily greeting the dogs by name, they were met by a phalanx of hounds with hackles raised. “It’s all right, we’re allowed!” … “Um, maybe not.” And they left with dignified haste. Next time they visited, the dogs were as friendly as ever.

I do remember my father constructing things in the loft, though. I’ll tell you about that next time.

Moving the chicks

Canasta’s chicks are two months old now, having hatched on 14th June, and it will soon be time to use their big run for Scrabble’s little ones. And, I’m sorry to say, it is also nearly time to say goodbye to the young cockerels. There is no choice about it, they’ve been squabbling for a few weeks and it will get worse.

Their run is covered by netting; nylon netting rather than chicken wire, and I dropped it down so that they couldn’t run about when I let them out of the coop. That meant that I could pick up the pullets and give them to Tim, who popped them into their new home. I can’t put the little chicks in there, though it would be easier, because there are steps that are too high for babies to jump.

Of the nine youngsters, three are buff, one is mostly white and the rest are mostly darker, a mixture of black and brown, two have white necks. Funnily enough, all the buff ones are girls and so is the speckled white one. I was unsure about one of the dark ones, so I’ve moved it too, but it may be a boy. The other four certainly are.

I put Canasta out and she scurried into the veg garden. Last time I tried putting her away from her chicks, she spent the whole day trying to get back in until I relented. And tonight, she went to roost with all the others. There has been no quarrelling, fortunately. Chickens can be awful bullies, but these bantams are pretty good.

When I lost my chickens to the foxes, my friend Lynn kindly gave me two of her youngsters, though one of those was later killed by a mink (most likely culprit). So I owe her and will give her a couple of these ones. I hope to end up with three or four girls though, so fingers crossed for Scrabble’s babies.

Scrabble is well named, by the way. She digs massive holes in the ground, even when there’s plenty of grass to eat, She scratches up the turf and deposits it in the water container. She’s not as good a mother as Canasta. But she sat for three weeks and looks after them, so I can’t really complain.

Anyway, if you’ve got this far, a change of subject – the family is coming over tomorrow, which we’re really looking forward to. We’re doing a simple cold lunch and, other than a summer pudding, I’ve bought the desserts. I’m most awfully lazy nowadays and I don’t even care.

Z drops in

I’m quite busy this week, as my sister Wink is staying. LT is in Reading as he had someone coming to do a job at the house, but he’ll be back tomorrow. Busy in a sociable way, that is – it’s not that Wink is any trouble, though she does lead me astray in an alcohol-driven sense. I don’t mind that though, it’s my duty as a sociable hostess to accommodate her every wish.

Overnight, healing happened in my foot. It’s different today from yesterday, and I didn’t need to wear my boot until 5 o’clock when I went out to water the greenhouse. We’re being taken out by friends to a particularly nice restaurant in another ten days and I really don’t want to wear it then, so I’m encouraged by this progress.

Poor Tim is putting the catalogue together while he’s away and, having put in more than half of the photos, he went back to open Publisher and it declared the file is corrupted. One of the photos must have gone bad. It’s between lot 58 and lot 75. We will have to work out which – they’re all fine on my computer, as far as I can tell, so we don’t know what the problem is – and retake that picture. All his work has been wasted. He was philosophical about it on the phone, but I’d have been spitting if I’d been him.

The rockery

That’s a misnomer, it was a whole garden in itself. But that’s what we called it. Back in the 1920s, when the Depression was seriously affecting many people, a public garden was built in South Lowestoft, and it was called Kensington Gardens, after the London one. My grandfather decided to have a rock garden constructed on similar lines, to include many small beds, paths and a number of ponds connected by winding channels. At the top was a waterfall and, at the bottom, there was a big, formal, circular pond with a fountain. The water flowed down and was piped back up again.

A huge quantity of Westmorland stone was imported and the channels were lined with concrete. The waterfall at the top could be climbed up to, there were eight ponds in all, some more interesting than others. My favourite was just over halfway down and the reason it was my favourite was that it had space around for a child to lie and look, to see the newts.

If reincarnation were a thing, which I doubt, I think I was amphibious (unless I was a horse or a dog, of course). Not a salamander or a toad, probably not a frog, most likely a newt. I adored them. In the spring, I spent hours watching them and catching them in my hand. It would have been cheating to use a net, the poor little things were tormented by my patient hand creeping behind them, then grabbing quicker than they could swim. I was fast in those days. I loved their little webbed feet and their lizard bodies. Newts lay eggs individually, not in clumps like frogspawn or strings like toadspawn, and the tadpoles are born feisty. If you pick up a frog tadpole in its little puddle, it just lies there, but a newt tadpole thrashes around furiously.

One of the ponds was quite deep, about three feet, and covered in duckweed, which looked quite like grass if you were incautious. I wasn’t, but Pearson was, and he ran into it one day. How we laughed … and how he smelt.

I don’t know how long the rock garden stretched, but I’ll guess 50 yards, and that it was five or six yards wide. The beds near the lawn had lupins in them in early summer, and the scent takes me back there, even now. The soil wasn’t looked after much, so was infested with mares tail, that ancient weed that thrives in poor soil.

At the top of the rock garden, by the Mound, my father had a brick summerhouse built, which was known as Jane’s Gazebo. A weeping willow was planted between that and the waterfall. There was a flowering currant by it too and I’ve always loved the smell. Someone told me it smells of cat pee, so I said that, evidently, I like the smell of cat pee.

Just up from Jane’s Gazebo, there was my father’s veg patch and greenhouse. This was not to be taken over by the gardener.

The Mound

This is a painting that my mother commissioned for a birthday present for daddy in the late 1960s. It was painted by Jack Goddard, who was a pork butcher but a keen amateur artist – he’d have loved to have been a professional artist but needed to earn a living. My sister has the watercolour now and took this photo for me – not from straight on, but if I straightened it up then the house would be askew; or on the huh, as we say in these parts.

What it shows, which the photo heading doesn’t, is the area just to the left of the house, which was basically a big pile of earth. It was planted with trees and shrubs, you can see the tamarisk in the painting, but it was left to itself and it was lovely. We used to scramble all over it and play – it was quite a large area but it’s hard to estimate from memory from all these years ago. 30 feet diameter perhaps – I’m guessing. I don’t know how or why it was constructed, but will guess that it was from the earth removed when the rock garden was constructed. It was maybe 15 or 20 feet high – again, hard to estimate at this remove. There was a smallish underground room constructed inside it, which was apparently the bomb shelter. I looked inside but never went in there because I’d been told not to. My mother said it wasn’t safe and could collapse and, as that was a reasonable explanation, it didn’t occur to me to disobey. I was an obedient child and, because my parents trusted me, they didn’t do anything to block it off. There were some old clay pots in there but I don’t think it was used at all, nothing was ever disturbed.

To the left of the Mound, there was a path that led from the house, past the back door, down to Oulton Broad. It was from by this path, at the bottom of the lawn and next to the rose bed, by a big yew, that was clipped into a big ball about 10 feet wide and tall, that Mr Goddard sat to do his painting.