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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As mentioned, the second post of the day, because I’ll be unlikely to write anything for the next few days.
I mentioned that Rose has been in Trinidad, visiting her brother and family and she arrived home again yesterday evening. I didn’t bother her with the news while she was away, but briefly filled her in while she was on the coach back to Norwich.
So, now she knows that Scrabble is sitting and that the eggs may hatch any time from Thursday onwards. Canasta’s eggs took nearly four weeks to hatch, but nearer three is more likely. I’ve left everything ready, in case it happens while we’re away. Tonight, we’re at Tim’s house in Reading, and are off to Pembrokeshire in the morning.
Other news is sadder, because one of the big black hens died the other night. She’s been getting gradually more withdrawn for quite some time, spending a lot of time on her own and, whilst the three black sisters used to lay an egg each almost every day, there have been few for the last few months. I don’t know much about non-bantam chickens, but I suspect that the sort of hens that produce a lot of eggs have shorter lives. As they were given to me, I don’t know how old they are, anyway. But in any case, she had gone from being the leader of the three to the quietest and, for the last couple of nights of her life, I’d picked her up and put her to roost. And then, the other morning, I found her lying on the floor.
I spent a couple of days writing the information for the auction catalogue and we did all the photography and labelling over the weekend. Now i have to crop the photos and then LT will put the catalogue together. Since the weekend, I’ve had two people wanting to put more china in the auction and had to turn them down. I’ve got 109 lots already, which is a few more than I really wanted. But there are lovely pieces. I’ve fallen for the adorable, and very functional, eye bath, but I won’t bid for it. I have too much stuff already … though it’s tempting.
Tim and I were talking about the nature of collecting and the impulse, even obsession, to do so. He just doesn’t get it at all and I don’t really, though I have more comprehension of it than he does. Russell, like his mother, was a born collector and never happier than looking out for something to add. Neither of them was obsessive though, which does seem to take it beyond pleasure.
In other news, my foot is getting better but I still have to wear the boot. It’s been quite uncomfortable while the weather is hot, but at least I can take it off and am very glad I’m not in a plaster cast.
No wifi now until next Monday. But, as I have brought my computer with me, I can get on with these photos without being tempted by the internet.