We were only away for a few days when a fire destroyed a listed thatched cottage in our village. 8 fire engines fought it for 5 hours. The access road is tiny. It must have been awful.
I read the article and e mailed a friend who lives in the lane to say I hoped she wasn’t affected by it, only to later find out it was her home that was gutted. Thankfully everyone was safe, and they managed to save many of their possessions. Their house, which we always describe as Little Grey Rabbit’s House will be rebuilt as before with clay lump and brick, tile and thatch. It will take until December 2018.
The plume of smoke from their chimney will be visible over the field and the little upstairs light we can always see when we drive home at night will glow in the dark again. The memory of it all will live far longer with the family.
The fundamental nature of losing your home really hit me. When we visited she was in shock, surrounded by the thatch which was torn off by the firefighters, with no electricity or water. Trying to piece together the normality of life while waiting for the loss adjusters to assess the damage. They are showering at a neighbours and cooking on a one ring camping stove.Their teenage daughter lost all her coursework. The only thing we could do was say how sorry, and try to empathise, and offer to make a shepherds pie. Well, it had peas, carrots and gravy, and was the most normal, plain and comforting thing I could think of.
The customary talk of what you’d gather up in the event of a fire happened round our kitchen table. I was amazed how hard I found it to identify any one thing. The girls both thought of all the things on their computers which would sum up their favourite things. So opted to grab their portable hard drives, oh and a childhood toy. Photos are the worst, all of your life in image. The prompts for our reminiscences. Dad used to use them and his notebooks and journals to remind him of significant events, throughout his life. The place, the time, the mileage, the cost. At the time I thought it pedantic. Now not so.
What would I grab? I don’t know. Apart from my family. What would I miss? What could I not live without? Too many things to analyse, collected over decades of marriage and family life. With much of it commemorated on, yes a portable hard drive. My mother’s handwriting..I’d like an example of that. Letters from Nick from far off places. I’d like those.
The habit of not calling a place a place, but describing it instead is a habit we’ve got into, and I suspect everyone does it. Notcutts Garden Centre is not called that here, we refer to it as “The Garden Centre where Peter Purvess got bitten by the dog” Pubs are rarely described by their name rather “that place where all those expensive cruisers were moored with people drinking champagne in blazers” or “the one by the river with the car park round the back between the new houses”. House numbers never known are replaced by “The House with the Butterflies on the outside” or “just down from the ‘Unhappy Shopper’ (village shop, long closed).
Then there are places that never even existed. My mother always used to say, when being pestered about where something was would say in exasperation “Up in Annie’s behind the clock” I have absolutely no idea why. But I had a tin clock with nursery rhymes on it and I always imagined it was there.
Nick has a photographic memory. He can locate a place we once visited almost by sense of smell I reckon. An obscure bit of river where he swam once in Spain, a farmhouse we once had a holiday in when H was a baby. A place I can only describe as “that place where we bought those climbing plants, you know, the ones with the white flowers, there was a big old dog”. He’ll find it.
Needless to say the use of satellite navigation systems to him, when not at sea, is for the faint hearted.
We sometimes get lost. So great is his memory for irrelevant things when he’s telling me all the bits he can remember, and I can’t I resort to “oh yes, there was a little girl and an old man and a donkey in a straw hat standing by a gate?” A friends mother developed Alzheimer’s, and she worried that the people who cared for her mother wouldn’t know anything about the life she had led or anything about her. She made a memories book, with photos and reminders and little things they could talk about with her. I’d like one of those if I forget. Now, what would be in it ……?