Thursday, 19 April 2012

"Leaving Home," limewood carving.

86. "Leaving Home" Limewood carving by Peter Murphy.

I never intended to leave our previous home."You'll have to carry me out in a box," I said on more than one occasion. We were living in an old farmhouse with a large, overgrown and magical garden. It was very similar to my childhood home. "You've bought 'Coruisk'" my father said when he first came to see what we had let ourselves in for.

To the south and east beyond the garden lay an orchard and fields. To the north there was a small hill of oak and ash trees that protected us from harsh weather, creating a micro-climate that enabled me to grow buckets of tomatoes and plentiful 'Sweetheart' melons. Close to the rear of the house a long stone wall had been built to protect us from a new road that marked the boundary to an ever-growing satellite town.

All the family was captivated by the garden. For the children it was a space to run, swing and climb, to camp on the hillock with friends, to loll in the hammock strung beneath the massive fir tree on the lawn. Peter converted the pig house into a small carving studio, put in a workman's stove and reappeared only for meals when I rang the bell that hung outside the kitchen door.
I gardened, in the long conservatory that led off the sitting room, in the flower borders, the vegetable garden with it's old fruit bushes and on the sunny banks of the hill where the slow worms loved to bask.

The space around us became a source of our art; paintings and drawings, woodcuts and carvings. The carvings in particular recorded the pattern of our lives whilst living there.

Then the town boundary was altered. In spring, when the neighbouring orchard was in full, glorious bloom, diggers came and wrenched out all the trees. A national firm had bought the land for a housing development and our dream home was at an end. They built tight to our border, wrecking our drainage system in the process and causing un-imagined grief. After two years of disputes we were relieved to leave.

Peter made this carving once we had moved house. It is a farewell. Although we had physically left the farmhouse it took me a good year to say goodbye, I mourned for what had been. But I had been taught some valuable lessons; that nothing is set in stone and that it is best to be flexible and enjoy the present, for who knows what tomorrow may bring.

87. 1950's Aga cooker.

The buyers of our farmhouse had no interest in keeping the Aga - did we want to take it with us? What a question! We employed a man to come and move it for us. He was as squat and solid as the cooker, with hands as large as the hob lids. He moved the Aga with great skill, and seeming ease, out of the kitchen and through the door by means of a few wooden rollers. It sat in the garage of our new home for a while until we had rearranged the kitchen, having to knock down a wall to accommodate it. Once it was in place our small cottage started to feel like home.

Quite apart from cooking, an Aga serves a variety of purposes, airing clothes, drying kindling/hair/wellingtons/dogs - you name it! It provides a constant, comforting level of warmth. I have been cooking on this Aga for well over a quarter of a century. It was converted to oil when we moved house so that now it is rather expensive to run. But I think that it is well worth it, and the dog agrees.

88. Hungarian dresser.

The fitted furniture could not come with us from our previous home and replacements were needed. My old built-in kitchen dresser had open shelves and all the glass and crockery had to be regularly taken down and washed. I wanted it's replacement to have glass-fronted doors to keep the contents clean.
We searched for a while before finding this dresser, in a rather forlorn state, brought from Hungary in a van, one item of many to be patched up and resold. It makes me smile because, although crudely made, it has pretensions of grandeur, with it's fluted columns and decorative details. The feet were worn and uneven as though it had previously been standing on an earthen floor.
Now china stays clean behind the glass doors and the capacious lower cupboard stores my heavy crockery. There is a bread slide, a useful pull-out shelf. I would love to know the history of this furniture, what items formerly sat on the shelves and what sort of dwelling it came from.

89. Hungarian wardrobe.

Rummaging amongst imported furniture that was stored in old farm buildings awaiting restoration we found a couple of wardrobes. I personalized the one in our bedroom by painting on the door panels and adding a poem by Robert Herrick. It seems very suitable for a room where we drift into unconsciousness each night.

Here we are all by day
by night we are hurled
by dreams
each one into a several world.

Robert Herrick,  1591 -1674.

I suppose that this piece of furniture is now anglicised and in the future people will look at it and scratch their heads!

90. Antique French chandelier.

It is interesting how some goods travel from one country to another. What is considered old-fashioned in one place may be highly desirable in another. Things disregarded in France have long been coveted by the English.
I wanted a light fitting for the sitting room, nothing too flashy, but a bit special none-the-less. Chandeliers have become very popular but new ones can look outrageously shiny. In an antique shop I found this old French fitting looking suitably 'shabby chic', with it's dark metalwork and slightly wonky crystal drops. I love it!

91. "Keeper's Cottage." Egg tempera painting by James Lynch.

James was commissioned to paint a portrait of our cottage for my sixtieth birthday. He is a keen hang-glider and the subjects of many of his paintings are seen from a bird's-eye view. Because of this we erected a scaffolding tower at the edge of the lawn. He sat on a chair atop this in nonchalant fashion, sketching and making notes. He went away with this information and several weeks later phoned to ask, "Do you want me to include the house next door?"
"Not really," I replied, so he used a degree of artistic license.
In reality our cottage sits in the centre of a small hamlet, but in my head I live joyfully surrounded only by nature.


  1. There is a Bloomsbury feel to your current selection of objects. Even the '2 bum cream Aga' (we had the same model) has a Charleston look about it (ours ran on little oval coal thingies). Your cottage sounded ideal; the sort of house we'd all like to live in. What a shame that things change. We keep saying, ourselves, that we should buy a house amongst 100 acres of 'keep out' land.

    1. We used to have a Pither stove just like the one at Charleston but stupidly sold it on. My childhood home was tattily creative, very similar to Charleston!
      Your life looks pretty idyllic as it is, Cro - just the odd frost to remind you that you are a mortal.

    2. My people were similarly untidy; they called their style 'Victorian Clutter'. Stuff everywhere, but all very stylish!

  2. An Aga (or Rayburn as I had) is the heart of a house and makes it a home.
    I miss my Rayburn, and the 260 year old house and smallholding too.

  3. They sound like an excellent combination.

  4. What a perfectly wonderful blog. I came to you via Cro and will go away right now to make sure I don't lose you. I love the Keeper's Cottage picture. This is such a good idea (100 objects) I might borrow it. Do you mind?

  5. Dear Elizabeth, I pinched the idea from Neil Macgregor's wonderful, 'The History of the World in One Hundred Objects.' I would love you (and Cro and others) to do the same because I think that it is a fascinating way to reflect on a life - I look forward to seeing what you choose!

  6. Chic baby! would you like to follow each other blog? :X

  7. Oh that chandelier! Makes me feel all romantic inside. When you are finished will you publish your 100 objects for your family? You must

    1. Yes, that is exactly what I plan to do, Donna - you are a mind reader!

  8. Lovely cottage and scene captured by the painter.