July 12 – Bags of memories
Twenty-one years of life has been crammed into bulging black bin bags, making the hall look like a rubbish dump. No, not our life, just our tendency to hang on to vague plans for the future and memories of the past. A moses basket filled with soft toys, a child’s pram, picture frames, a plastic policeman’s helmet. The hall is heaped with the toys from our children’s childhood, props and costumes from the parties we’ve held here, recipe books never read and dresses no longer worn.
One pile of bags is destined for charity shops, the other for the recycling centre where the various bins are clearly labelled and where it is all too easy to throw in bags of unsorted toys and clothes. But the tendency to value even the oldest doll, even the shabbiest teddy, is hard to abandon, so the charity pile grows larger by the day.
In three weeks time this old house, where we have loved its bulging wattle and daub walls, its oak timbers, its steep tiled roofs and its diamond paned windows, must be empty. A new family will arrive to fill the house with their life and our life will have gone.
We shall take away with us our memories of the litters of kittens born in the spare bedroom who took their first steps tumbling down steep stairs, the scenes played out with the dressing-up box in the hall, when a niece said she was ‘only a starter nun’ while re-enacting The Sound of Music, and the wild games of hide and seek which once resulted in mild concussion and a bitten tongue. We’ll take away the many parties and dinners in the candle-lit dining room; the Elizabethan banquet for a class of eleven year old girls, the New Year Murder at the Manor dinner where a body was chalked on the floor and we drank Bloody Marys and ate Bang Bang Chicken; the annual lunch party for a horde of female friends and the very first Christmas party when the Dickensian Carol Singers entered the library bearing lanterns.
We shall also take away the many, often startling, memories of the wild life that thrived outside in the grounds and sometimes inside the house too. The roe deer that dropped dead beside the front door one Bank Holiday, which had to be transported to the woods in a wheelbarrow for the foxes to devour; the mole that was found crawling around the drawing room one hot summer’s day and the grass snake that slithered under the courtyard door and into the house during a lunch party.
And we’ll take memories of the animals which were part of the family too. Itchy and Scratchy, the Kune Kune pigs who arrived the size of fat puppies and grew to be gentle giants who loved to be stroked and greeted us with conversational grunts. Miss Lala Honey Bunny, the little grey lion head rabbit, who chased the cats and begged for bread, who loved to sit on the sofa and tear up, rather than read, a magazine. The many hens who have come and gone, some to natural deaths, some to a fox’s dinner table, who have provided us with a regular supply of eggs and fluffy chicks in some years.
And we’ll never forget the sheep, both our own and those of our tenant. In the early years Tom the ram came to service our ewes, who knocked him down and nearly killed him, but he provided the first lambs. In later years the fields around us have been grazed by Welsh Mountain sheep which excel at escaping and always think the grass is greener beyond the fence. We have watched lambs playing games of chase in the early evening, with their mothers calling to them it will be tears before bedtime, we have come to know individual sheep by sight and sound and we have seen them give birth and we have seen them die.
But as well as taking away so many memories, we are also leaving a legacy in this wonderful ancient house. When we came here two rooms were unusable and the roof was leaking. Before we could even think about decorating and recarpeting or refitting the kitchen and bathrooms, we had to rewire, replumb, retile. We removed secondary double glazing and polystyrene wall insulation, we uncovered tongue and groove panelling, beams and wooden floors, unblocked fireplaces and brought the house back to life.
And we are also leaving a garden which has grown with us over these years. To the majestic magnolias and amorphous box we’ve added climbing roses, beds of delphiniums, rows of flag iris and billowing hydrangea. We’ve planted pleached hornbeam, silvery whitebeam and a grove of silver birch. And we’ve added a rustic folly, uncovered a well and created formal steps leading to a meadow filled with buttercups and clover.
In three weeks time, our life here will have been sent to charity shops or recycled and packed into crates which will sit in storage. But our old life will live on in memories and we shall look for a new life in a new home.