Monthly Archives: August 2019

Seaview – The garage and conservatory

Looking at the photo, at the left of the house is the conservatory. I don’t remember it being heated, but there was a grille and pipes underneath, and there was a boiler room in the outhouse next door. I do remember it being warm and steamy, so evidently the terracotta quarry tiles were sprayed with water when it was sunny. There was a plumbago and a nectarine tree on the back wall – you couldn’t buy nectarines in the greengrocers back in the sixties, only peaches, so these were a great treat. The plumbago has a pretty, pale blue flower and it’s slightly sticky, so when you walk past, you find you’re covered with flowers.

The rest of the conservator had various plants, the sort you’d expect, and a grapefruit plant in a big pot, that had been grown from seed by my grandfather in the 1940s. It never bore fruit.

From the house, you reached the conservatory from the dining room and it led outside to, on the left, the lawn and on the right, a passage past the kitchen door to the drive. Straight ahead was another path to more greenhouses, which backed on to the garage. That is, one on the back wall of the garage and another on the side wall. A third greenhouse was free-standing. All of them were brickwork to waist level, then wooden-framed glasswork.

The garage was huge. Empty, it would have taken at least three cars side by side and probably four end to end. In fact, comfortably four, because we had two huge freezers. that my parents had brought from the hotel, plus all sorts of tools and equipment, at the sides. Half way back, there was a wooden staircase to the loft. I have no idea what that was originally used for, but there was a pulley system through a doorway at the front, which I never saw in use.

The loft was equipped with benches and vices and a full set of tools and my father, who was quite keen on carpentry, spent quite a lot of time up there when I was a child. At school, we were once asked to write about our parents’ jobs. My parents weren’t employed but, at the time, my father was engaged in constructing wooden troughs for geraniums, so I said as much – “my father builds boxes in the loft” – which led my teacher to think he was a carpenter by trade. My best friend’s father was the school caretaker and carpenter, so this was fine by me.

Random memories of the garage: once, I was in there, casually splitting a garden cane. A whole family of earwigs fell out and I was startled into fear and ran out. Similarly, when I ventured back, I saw a large rat sitting on a step to the loft, and hopping up to the next step. It just jumped on its haunches. I told my parents, who were suitably dismayed, and I guess the rat and its family was dealt with. I also remember, as well as the big commercial freezers, that we had a small freezer for ice creams. We never had puddings or cakes, but ice creams somehow escaped my mother’s embargo on sweets and it was not unknown for me to help myself from the plentiful supply. If ever I’d been told not to, I’d have stopped, but it was never mentioned. I have no idea whether I came under suspicion or whether everyone helped themselves, so my raids were unnoticed.

Still looking at the photo but out of sight, there were some outbuildings on the extreme left, left of the garage. Stuff was in there. I don’t know what. Just to the right was a big manure heap. Between that and the road was the stable and its accompanying building that housed the bins for the horse’s feed.

I should draw up a diagram of all this, innit?

Dogs and children

Before I carry on with the garden, here’s a quick update on the people and dogs in yesterday’s photo – this one –

My sister is back row, left, with Simon on her lap. John is next to her and his little brother George is between them. Huckleberry is looking over John’s shoulder and Aline is the girl in the plaid skirt.

In the front row, Bess and I are laughing. Pearson and my mother are holding Kipper between them and Jess is in front, looking back at them.

Dogs first, obviously. Simon and Bess are the parents of the other three dogs. Simon is a mongrel, a real Heinz 57 varieties dog. Bess is a pedigree black labrador, who was adopted by us because she was a failed gundog – terrified of loud noises, there wasn’t much hope for her in her intended career. I was, unfortunately, responsible for her and Simon getting together, but I was only a little girl and, when told not to let Bess out, didn’t appreciate that this also meant not letting Simon in. I was brought up to obey dogs, how was I to know? There were seven puppies and we kept Huck, our neighbours took Kipper and Jess went to the gardener. Another dog went to an employee of Kipper’s owner and was called Bloater (Mr Catchpole owned a fishing fleet) but I don’t know who took the others. They were given away to kind people, my mother would have made sure of that. At this time, we only had the three dogs, but this changed over the years.

The two boys, John and George, came to stay with us for two summer holidays. They lived in very poor conditions in Stratford, north London and it was arranged through the WRVS as a welfare thing. John was the eldest of four and George the youngest; the two middle children, whom I never met, were Paul and …. Mary. It was the 1960s and you can guess what her nickname was. They were very nice kids, John was my age and George was five – I think I’d have been nine in this picture, going to be ten in the September.

Pearson Clark was my mother’s godson. His family had got to know my parents at the hotel, when they were guests and made friends with them. My parents often invited guests they liked to have dinner with them in their flat. They lived in Basingstoke, I think – I should know – and Pearson came to spend the summer holidays with us for several years. He was also my age.

Aline Clerk (pronounced Clairk, of course) was a French girl, who came to us as an exchange student. She was my sister’s age and the families made friends. Her younger sister Pascal came to stay too and Wink went to visit them in Paris. She was very lucky, as they holidayed in Nice and she went there with them too. I remember her coming home and saying that she didn’t think she’d ever bathe in the North Sea again, after the Mediterranean. And that she enthused about the pistachio ice cream, which was far more exotic than anything available here.

And, of course, my pretty mum, Jane. She’d have been in her late thirties here.

Z’s homes – Seaview – the lawn

By complete coincidence, I noticed in the weekend property supplement of The Times, half my old house for sale. Here it is on Rightmove, hoping the link will work for anyone out of this country –

It looks very little as it was when we were there and has been chi-chi’d to within an inch of its old life. At least it doesn’t seem to have the gilded radiators or gaudy scenes painted onto the ceilings any more. Friends knew the then owners, about twenty years ago, who kindly invited us to Sunday lunch and showed us round. They were a bit embarrassed at the radiators and ceilings that they’d inherited from the last owner. But there, I have simpler tastes and I must try not to be snobbish about it.

I’ll return to the garden. I’m not sure how far the house is set back from the river, at least 100 yards but it could be twice that. The house is set higher than the garden in front (the frontage is the river side, the back faces the road) and there was a terrace in front with steps down to the lawn. The lawn, in turn, sloped for half its length, then there was a flat area, then four big rectangular beds, each half the width of the house and, I should think, ten to fifteen feet deep. Beyond that was an area of rough grass, trees and shrubs, and then the lower lawn and the river beyond. This area was all directly in front of the house. At the side (on the left, as you look at the picture) there was another section altogether, but I’ll come on to that in due course.

To the right of the house – still looking from the riverside, as in the photo, there were some cordon apple trees, quince trees, a walnut and two horse chestnuts with pink flowers, and an enormous bay tree; or rather bush. It must have been twenty feet tall and as big in diameter.

The sloping section of the lawn used to be set out into flower beds, which were planted with bedding twice a year. Two round beds, each surrounded by four other beds to make two separate squares. In the early 1960s, my parents decided to put them down to grass and make one big lawn. This was partly because the bedding scheme looked quite old-fashioned, partly because it was time-consuming and expensive to keep up. Years later, there was a hot, dry summer and you could still see the shape of the old beds from twenty years before.

The further two rectangular beds contained herbaceous plants. Everything you can think of, all the traditional English garden flowers and they were smothered in bees and butterflies all summer. The two nearer the house were planted with Queen Elizabeth rose bushes, which are attractive, tall, healthy plants which bloom all summer. The flowers have long, straight stems and their only downside is that they’re unscented. My mother decided to make a bold statement with her rose garden and just have one variety, rather than a display of different ones. I believe that 250 bushes were planted which, considering it’s a large plant, gives an indication of quite how big those beds were.

The terrace had a retaining wall, with beds in front and there were various stone tubs along its length. The beds had chrysanthemums and dahlias in them, but I can’t remember what else. I do remember watching the tiny red spiders scurrying along the brickwork. And lying at the top of the lawn and rolling until I got to the slope, then whizzing over and over until I reached the bottom and falling over with dizziness as I got up. And pretending to be a horse and galloping around and over jumps; playing ball with the dogs, who didn’t play fair, as they never brought them back and had to be chased; playing tennis with those cordon apple trees as a ‘net’ (no, they never did very well) ; and the long hours spent weeding the beds and the pleasure of finding newts in their summer dry period. More about those newts another time.

The garden was enclosed by hedges and wire or wooden fences, so it was safe for any wildlife that the dogs didn’t go for. No rabbits, but no foxes or cats either – lots of hedgehogs. Occasionally, one of the dogs would bring in a hedgehog which was, of course, covered in fleas. We used to have to persuade the dog to drop it, gingerly put it into a box and then treat the dog for thousands of fleas. Hedgehog fleas don’t bite people, apparently, but that doesn’t mean you want them all over the house.

The house is now shielded from the river by greenery, but it was all open in my day. Until my parents, at some function at the Yacht Club on the park opposite (this is the Oulton Broad club, not the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk, which is in Lowestoft), could see that there was a newspaper on the back of the sofa in the drawing room, and had a nasty feeling of being overlooked, even though it was from a few hundreds of yards’ distance, so they planted half a dozen weeping willow trees on the bottom lawn. This didn’t lessen the view from the house but was, as they grew, some barrier from the perspective of river viewers.

You can pick me out of that lot quite easily.

Z could have been a collector…

Those eggs of Scrabble’s that I mentioned hatched the day after we left, which was the earliest possible date. When Rose texted me, she said that five had hatched and she’d popped the remaining ones under her black bantam, who was also broody. I haven’t heard anything since, so rather doubt they’ve hatched, but we’re going home tomorrow and will find out then. A total of fourteen chicks, allowing for cock birds, is plenty. I’ve promised a few to my friend Lynn, who gave me two birds when mine were killed last year, and four to six are quite enough to keep our lot going.

As we used to have around thirty bantams and I was never too good at telling them apart, I never knew how long some of them lived but, of those I did know, it was a pretty consistent eight years. The three big black hens, one of which died last week, were evidently a laying breed, basically – I’m pretty sure they aren’t pure-bred. I suspect that chickens bred for laying daily for months, to a couple of years, on end, which isn’t natural, don’t live nearly as long as those with a more natural life cycle.

Mike, of The Armoury, wonders whether I’m a born collector or not (see comments on previous post). No, I’m not. As Blue Witch suspects, living with a collector for over forty years gave me an understanding and, to some degree, an enthusiasm, but a limited one. I was interested in some of Russell’s collections but not all and I was involved with some of them – actually, it was the depth of focus that I could comprehend but not engage with. If, for example, he found an artist he admired, he’d want numerous paintings by that artist, even if we had no space to hang them. He had collections of all sorts of things that didn’t interest me in the least, such as stamps, coins and Goss china.

I have realised that there were some things I could have become enthusiastic about, if I’d known at the right time. Specifically three, I think: an American friend told me that she had a collection of Christmas ornaments. I had no idea they were collectable and I’ve never seen any for sale in antique shops, but the lovely old glass ornaments that I remember from my childhood, a few of which survive (though I didn’t discover them for quite some time after my mother’s death), are very much treasured. Before I had a cat and after I had a big ‘family’ Christmas tree, I had a small one in a pot, to be planted out later, on top of the Edwardian revolving bookcase, that had those charming baubles plus a few choice ones I’d bought more recently, and I loved them.

Years ago, an antiquarian bookseller – who had been my A Level Latin teacher, until the Grammar school went comprehensive and there was no need for such outdated education – showed me a copy of one of the earliest printed books: a Latin New Testament from 1485. I was bowled over. I wish so much that I’d asked him to let me know if he ever planned to sell it. Many years later, I did ask him, and he had already sold it and, by that time, I couldn’t have afforded it anyway. I left it too late to buy an incunable – or incunabulum, if you prefer the Latin – but I do wish I’d caught on forty years ago.

The third thing is corkscrews. I have a corkscrew that belonged to my grandfather and I think it’s Edwardian, though it might be late Victorian. It’s been in frequent use ever since that time. It works as well as it ever did; one of those corkscrews where you turn a handle at the top to screw into the cork, then push in the levers at the side to pull the cork out. I’ve got a couple of other old corkscrews as well, but they’re the simple screw in and pull out sort. This one is better than any modern one I’ve found. A couple of years ago, my friend J, whose collection of Lowestoft is museum quality, mentioned casually that she has a collection of corkscrews that she can no longer get upstairs to see. I said I would love to look at them one day, and I should raise the subject again, because I really would. That they are beautifully designed for a specific purpose is what appeals to me. Similarly, some time ago, I bought a gadget to open champagne bottles, as a present for Russell, that also – as a fabulous aside – also is a nutcracker. It’s perfect for both purposes! I think that might have reached perfect design.

But no, I’m not a collector. But maybe I could have been.

Lowestoft eye bath.