Monthly Archives: September 2019

Rectory Road

Russell had already bought a house, which he was living in when we met. I was sixteen and my father had just died.

It was the Hong Kong flu epidemic that caused his death. We all had it over Christmas and we were all awfully ill. And then we got over it, but we were still not very well and it wasn’t known then that it can take weeks to recover, during which time you’re at greater risk of a heart attack, if you’re at all vulnerable. So, not to dwell on it, that’s what happened.

Russell’s father was the family solicitor, though he’d retired by then for the most part. And he suggested, kindly, that Russell should help us out and relay messages, rather than go through the office – for which, of course, my mother would be charged. And, one evening, a diffident young man turned up on the doorstep and introduced himself. We all became good friends. There was no romantic attachment at all, I was still at school and he was already in his thirties.

But, three years later, that changed and we got married and I moved in with him. The house was big, Edwardian, semi-detached, on three floors, long and quite narrow. When Russell bought it, a great deal of work had to be done and, because the dining room was dark and not very interesting, he had the dividing wall removed and incorporated it into the sitting room, with a nice arch between. He had a collection of paintings already and they looked good on the walls there. There was a utility room, then a big, long kitchen and then a scullery which led to the back door and a smallish yard, with a garage. Upstairs, there was a master bedroom with a dressing room, another bedroom behind it, a bathroom and separate loo and a back bedroom, then two more bedrooms and a box room upstairs again.

I never felt very at home there, actually, It didn’t feel homely and I’d had little part in decorating it; only our bedroom. If we’d stayed there long, we’d have changed things and made it more comfortable, but it was a big bachelor pad. There were no comfortable armchairs, they were all antiques and, although I didn’t dislike the house, I just didn’t really settle in. However, we had people in for dinner regularly, my mother lived only three miles away and Russell and I were happy to be together, of course.

I wanted to cook Christmas dinner for the family, that first year. My father in law preferred to stay at home, so it was my mother, sister, Russell and me. I decided to cook a goose and bought a new roasting tin that it would fit in. I measured the goose to check it would fit, but didn’t think to measure the oven and, so it happened, on Christmas morning, I discovered that the tin wouldn’t go into the oven.

I have always been resourceful. The goose itself did fit, so I made a tray out of aluminium foil and put that on the oven floor and put the goose on the rack. Half way through cooking time, the tray was full of fat so I carefully turned down one corner and drained out the goose grease – which made some splendid roast potatoes over the next few weeks. Other than that, it all went very well.

By this time, we were expecting Eloise, and Russell had bought another house. He was an estate agent as well as auctioneer and this particular house had been on the books for ages. In the end, he bought it just because he felt sorry for it. It was in a very poor state and he had planned to do it up and sell it, but we decided to move in. And dear friends bought our Rectory Road house and turned the big downstairs room into an art gallery. 45 years later, they still live there.

Free ranging

The four young pullets were three months old on Sunday and they’ve been hankering for an excursion into the big wild world, so I opened the door of their run and let them out. They are rather sweet, nervous little girls who don’t squabble with each other for food, but just help themselves to the plenty that’s offered, so they were wary about going out. I sprinkled a handful of dried mealworms, which encouraged them. Later, I looked again and they were pottering about happily and, later again, the other chickens were with them and there was no bullying going on. So this seems to have been a smooth transition to the grown-up free-range world and, in a few weeks, I expect they’ll join the others in the hen house at night. They are, at present, very biddable and go back into their coop when I guide them.

The younger chicks, who hatched on 31st July, are also impatient to get out, but they’re too young. With the predators we have about here, I can’t take the risk. So I give them handfuls of grass and scraps from the kitchen as well as their own food, and they’re doing all right. Of the five, I’m sure that two are girls but don’t know about the others. They may well be cocks, but they don’t square up to each other and bicker, so I won’t come to any conclusions yet, until they start to crow or they don’t. The other ones were accosting each other from a few weeks old but, just as Canasta and Scrabble, their mothers, have different personalities, so do they.

Indoors, we’ve been putting together a cabinet to hold drinking glasses. In the dining room, there’s an alcove that used to house a cupboard staircase until 1928. It’s not used except to hold a small corner cupboard with Russell’s collection of Goss china. I’ve been looking for a shallow cupboard for quite some time, but haven’t been able to find what we needed. Display cabinets for small collectables seemed to be promising but the glass fronted ones were too shallow and I just couldn’t find the right thing. Finally, it occurred to me that a CD cabinet might fit the bill, and that’s what we now have. It isn’t glass fronted, but that was not possible to find, and the shelves are completely adjustable. Of course, the cat will jump up there if she has a chance, but I’ve found a suitable curtain – there are advantages to having a lumbar room – and we can put that up to stop her doing so.

We’ve also finished the catalogue for the next auction and that will go on the website and be posted out within the next week. So progress is gradually being made. I still have sleepless nights about personal admin and so on, but I may manage to get through all that too, one of these days.

Seaview, the bedrooms

My parents’ bedroom had an en suite bathroom and dressing room – of course it did. The bath was a six-footer and, when I was a child, I used to lie full length under the water with just my nose sticking out. There was another bathroom, but it was a big, cheerless room and only guests used it. There was a separate loo – of course there was – and no cistern, when you pulled the chain, the water came straight from the tanks up in the attic, so if the valve stuck open, as happened once, water just kept flushing through. There was a wooden seat, a nice old one, well polished by years of sitting. There was no lid.

Also on that floor was the spare bedroom, which was above the dining room, which had its own washbasin, so guests didn’t have to use the cheerless bathroom unless they wanted a bath. There was the housemaid’s pantry, which was a room about five feet wide and ten feet long, and the linen cupboard; about the same size. Not sure why they needed both, but of course my grandparents had Staff. Then there was a passageway, with the day nursery halfway down and the night nursery at the end, down a couple of steps, above the scullery and next to the back stairs. The day nursery was used as another spare bedroom – in 1976, my son Alex was born there. The night nursery had all sorts of things in it, including my father’s office stuff. He had a printing set – the proper thing, you set the individual letters to make up the words and there was a Roneo duplicator and a franking machine.

Tim asked delicately, what happened to all the money, then? Death duties, taxation and a kind but unwise investment, in short. The investment surcharge of the late 1960s raised a top slice of over 100% on invested earnings – it was retrospective, so couldn’t be planned for in advance. A year or so after that, my father died suddenly and a company he’d put a lot of money in, to try to keep it afloat and help a friend keep his job, went bust. It was, unfortunately, after it had been included in the valuation of everything Daddy owned; because, in those days, a widow paid death duties on the death of her husband. So she had to pay tax on an investment that no longer existed. My father had set up a trust, which was only intended to last until Wink and I had grown up and wouldn’t need a guardian, and really was planned for if both our parents were killed in a cross-Europe trip in their sports car, which they’d taken ten years earlier. But that didn’t happen, my mother didn’t inherit the capital and nor did Wink or I. So, if you’re thinking of me as an heiress, I’m not, in fact. Russell inherited this house from his parents (which needed a lot of work done at the time), but otherwise we’ve made our own way in life. And that was easier to do than it is for our children and there are no complaints.

Z goes to London

I’ve been busy for a few days and have not sat down at the computer very much, and when I have, it’s been to check other blogs rather than my own.

I had a day in London on Thursday, walked a good five and a half miles and my foot bone survived it, though I have to confess I was a bit blistered, after a couple of months of lounging around. I’d bought my train ticket online as usual and, once I got to the station, went to download it, only to find that I’d inexplicably been signed out of the website. I had the email confirming I’d bought the tickets, but I tried numerous times to sign in and couldn’t do it. I tried to reset my password and it didn’t make any difference.

It did in the end, of course, and it was just in time, after a good half hour because, just as I finally signed in, the conductor turned up at the end of the carriage to check tickets.

After that worry – because I do worry, I can’t help it – the day went smoothly. I arrived two minutes before my appointment, which should have been more but I was so surprised at being offered a seat on the crowded Tube that I missed my stop and had to go on three more before I could rejoin the Northern line. I spoke to the builder, his workman, had lunch, visited the British Museum, where I particularly went to see the Sutton Hoo jewellery, the Elgin Marbles (because I expect they’ll finally go back to Greece and I’ll never see them again), the Easter Island head and the two pieces of Lowestoft china that are all they own. And I had a cup of tea and a bun.

And then I met A and we went on to meet his wife L, who’s one of my oldest and dearest friends, for dinner. And, embarrassingly, they won the tussle for the bill – embarrassing because I proposed the meet-up and they paid last time too. Lovely to see them all the same, it’s been some months. So it was a good day and I was home by 11.30 that night.

The top floor

My bedroom was on the top floor, on the right as you look at the picture. I shared it with my sister. It was a long room, 12 or 14 feet wide and maybe 20 feet long, but I’m guessing that. There was a gas fire and, because I was an indulged child, I made my sister get up first in the winter to light it. Once, I forgot an apple I’d left on the fender, for half an hour or so and looked again to find it was half-baked and very tasty.

I must have been a trial to her. She’s five and a half years older than i am, so my childish prattle can’t have been particularly entertaining. At least she was allowed to stay up later than I was, but I have never been good at going to sleep and was awake for a chat when she came to bed. We had an ongoing story, known as The Game, which only she and I know about, until this minute. It was generally based on a book I’d been reading and we played the various characters and extemporised, making up a story as we went along. I was always the instigator – “Let’s play The Game” and she never refused, though sometimes she could hardly stay awake.

On the way up to bed, we passed Bobby the leopard in his glass case. I always patted the case and said goodnight to him. Then up eight stairs to the half-landing, which I hurried past because the window had its top half at the bottom of it (and its bottom half at the half-landing of the staircase beneath) and I always imagined a hand would appear out of the gap and grab my leg. i’ve never told anyone that either – it’s no great secret, but I knew it wasn’t a real fear, even then, so simply never mentioned it. There were two other bedrooms on the top floor, one of which had two steps down to it. Later, that was my bedroom and before, once Wink left for college, I had the smallest room, long and narrow under the eaves. It had pretty blue and white wallpaper, done specially for me – cornflowers, I think – and a blue curtain the length of the room where the ceiling was too low to use. I slept with three dogs, which was quite a lot when it was a single bed, but the bigger room I used later had a double bed, so we fitted on it rather better. Still, three labradors do take up most of any bed.

Otherwise, on that floor, was the Tank Room, which had the four big tanks, each holding 250 gallons of water, which were filled twice a day from the well. Otherwise, it was a lumbar room. And, of course, there was the wooden ladder staircase to the Lookout. That had a trap door to keep all the heat from being lost.

Some years ago, the people who lived in the right hand side of the house invited us for Sunday lunch, which I’ve referred to before. As they showed us round and took us to the top floor, my hand slipped under the banister and found the sliver of wood that was missing. It remembered.

The kitchen

One of my earliest memories of Seaview is the kitchen, or rather Mr Weavers the gardener having his morning coffee there. He spoke broad Lowestoft and I hardly understood a word that he said. Of course, my ear became attuned after a while, but very little Z was mystified. North Suffolk dialect is very different from coastal Dorset.

After a year or so, the cooking was moved into the scullery, because the kitchen was having a makeover, as we’d say now. My parents forwent a holiday for a couple of years to pay for it. This would have been about 1961. Honestly it was – as we’d say now (sorry) – state of the art.

Do you remember the Beverley Hillbillies? We all laughed, while actually being more in their situation than most Americans. We didn’t have the things they marvelled at and misused through ignorance. I didn’t know anyone else with a freezer or a dishwasher, but it was still rather over my head. But anyway, my mum designed her new kitchen. There was a big alcove where there had been a range cooker, and she had two hobs in there, plus a huge extractor fan. There was also a separate grill unit because my mother didn’t want to have to choose between grill and oven. The oven itself was between the hob alcove and the outside wall. It was set at eye level – before I had an Aga, I always had separate hob and oven because I didn’t see the point of an oven you had to bend down to – and it was amazing for its time. It had a built-in rotisserie – which we used hardly ever – and a timer. And that was a problem, as it turned out.

A few days after the kitchen was finished – I will describe it in more detail later – we all went out for pre-dinner drinks at the Yacht Club. So my mother set the timer to cook the food for when we arrived home again. However, the brand new timer and the thermostat failed and we got home to clouds of smoke. So the kitchen was back, almost, to square one. The manufacturers had to pay for a new oven, cleaning the room, redecorating it and everything. We never risked using the timer again, though.

Opposite the double hob and cooker was a peninsula unit – this was also unheard of. Next to the window was the sink, which had a waste disposal unit – also unheard of; truly this was the most modern kitchen anyone could have. My mother slipped up though, because there wasn’t a draining board. No doubt this was for aesthetic reasons, but it was inconvenient. Further along, there was a cavity with the built-in base for the liquidiser. Unheard of, as before.

Underneath the hob and the oven were cupboards for all the pots and pans and under the work surface were more cupboards for the other utensils. At the other side of the peninsula was space for people to work or to sit and watch or chat, and against the back wall was a big, dark oak Welsh dresser which held various items of china. On the wall opposite the window was another built-in dresser with cupboards and drawers, known as the white dresser because it was painted white. That had always been there, because there was a space in the middle that was the hatch through to the dining room. As a child, I often sat on the white dresser. I used to give a little bounce and then jump up, without needing to put a hand down. It was the height that a work surface is now, I don’t know how I did it. But I well remember the little bounce and jump.