Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Cottage

This is the second piece of writing by my father.

"Further up the hill, the road took a turning to the left and round the corner the hill flatted out 'til after about a quarter of a mile it came to a staggered junction. On the left, the wood continued as far as the junction, while on the right there was a high hedge, behind which was a field. The field ended to be replaced by a small wood, the sight of which gave me a feeling of anticipation.

I expected to see two old cottages surrounded on three sides by the wood and with neat little gardens between the cottages and the road, and behind the houses the sight of gardens with neat rows of vegetables, clumps of soft fruit bushes and piles of branches of trees ready to be sawn into logs for the fires.

The furthest of these cottages had been my home from the age of four, where I spent a happy childhood. The building that did come into view was not what I had expected. Where there once had been two cottages, there was now a very modern looking residence. The front of the cottages had been given a face lift with modern windows and doors, a new roof and pebble dashed walls. But it was at the back where there had been the biggest change. An extension had been built at right angles to create a T-shaped construction. The separate gardens had been replaced by one area of lawns and flower beds. The enveloping hedges had been removed and now the flower beds and lawns seemed to gradually blend into the surrounding wood. To complete the picture, an Afghan hound reclined arrogantly on the lawn.

I stopped the car on the opposite side of the road and in a somewhat dazed condition crossed over to have a closer look. Although there was very little of the old building I could recognise, at least from the outside, I gradually began to notice a tree here and a bush here in the wood that jogged memories of long past childhood games and tree climbing escapades. Apart from the dog, there did not appear to be any sign of life so I was not able to investigate further, although I would dearly loved to have done so. It was a strange feeling; one part of me felt that I had the right to jump over the wall and go into the wood as I had done so many times in my past; another part of me told me it would be trespassing to do so. Even the Afghan hound did not seem very interested or impressed by my presence so I rejoined my family and continued with our holiday.

Although we covered quite a large part of Scotland that holiday, the view and the cottage kept returning to my thoughts. They triggered off many memories of incidents long forgotten. Names of people I had not thought about for years kept coming back to me. At dinner each night, I must have bored my wife and daughter with my tales."          

The View

I recently found two pieces of writing by my late father. These were to be the first two sections of the book he was going to write about his family history.

"I had stopped the car halfway up the hill beside a gate into one of the fields and was now surveying the scene below. It appeared new and at the same time familiar to me. The contours of the fields, the hedges surrounding them, together with the wood to the right were as I remembered but where was the farm that used to nestle at the foot of the hill? Now all that could be seen were the central farm buildings. The fields immediately surrounding were now occupied by a modern housing estate. Even the stack yard, where they used to bring the newly cut wheat to be placed in neat stacks until the travelling threshing machine came to do its work, was now the site of someone's proud residence. In the distance I could see some of the familiar landmarks of the town I used to know, although here also there seemed to be differences but for the moment I could not take in what they were. Even on the lower slopes of the hills on the other side of the vale, housing estates were now beginning to spread their way up the hills where once only the occasional farm or lonely cottage would have been seen.

The scene triggered off recollections of days long past and forgotten stories of over sixty years ago. Did I really remember them or were they just my memories of family tales told by the fireside in the days before conversation and story telling were replaced by the 'telly'?

When I was about four years old, my family moved from the town to a cottage further up the hill from where I was standing. In those days, a 'flitting' was a major event, no removal firms expertly to do the work for you. Instead a horse and cart was hired and all the friends and relations 'mucked in' to do their bit. In the pandemonium that ensued there was no place for a four year old boy. It would have been too much of a temptation for his capacity for mischief. So I was put in the care of my Uncle John, a rather strange man to a four year old. He seemed to be continually sucking a pipe which gave off thick clouds of foul smelling smoke and his conversation was in the main limited to grunts interspersed with the odd 'aye' or 'naw'. I remember standing at the same gate with my uncle when there was a loud bang further down the hill from where the horse and cart were bringing the family goods.

"What's that," I asked.

"I suppose it's the piano falling off the cart," replied my uncle.

And I could almost hear a little voice saying, "But we haven't got a piano, Uncle John."

The privacy of my journey into the past was broken by a voice from the car. It was my daughter asking if I was going to stay here all day. A reasonable enough question, I suppose, since I had brought my wife and daughter on a touring holiday and the view held no special significance for them. We continued up the hill."