The Old Cottage Revisited

I loved visiting my aunt and uncle – not because they were any more special then my other family, but because they lived in a wonderful cottage that sits on the edge of the village green, deep in the heart of Buckinghamshire. I remember how in summer it seemed to shimmer and preen itself with arrogance, while in winter as the snow lay on the roof it seemed to call out to the Christmas card photographers “Take me. Take me.”

My uncle boasted that it was 600 years old – and who was I to argue? At the age of eight and four foot nothing I had to duck under the beams to get to the fireplace that had been bricked forward in modern times now hiding the old bread-making oven. Fortunately the love seats at either side of the fire, underneath the mantelpiece, are still there.

Our ancestors really must have been tiny people. The rooms weren’t much bigger than telephone boxes and the walls consisted of saplings planted in the ground with daub and wattle slapped around with gay abandon, giving a crazy wavy result.

The stairs were about two feet wide and so steep you needed crampons to reach the upper floor. I
couldn’t understand why the pitch of the roof was so steep, but of course it wasn’t a problem to titchy people.

The outside of the roof was thatched, and in the garden was a well – very romantic, and it was fun hauling up buckets of brackish water.

In summer I loved watching the chaps playing cricket on the village green, the sound of ball on the bat reverberating around the village conjuring up images of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

In the morning the smell from the bakery next to the pub over the other side was exquisite and we bought the hot bread and gobbled it down, knowing that the stomach pains wouldn’t be far behind.

Uncle Jack told me how he used to dig up the garden and find human bones – but rather than create a fuss dig them back in again. I get the feeling he was pulling my leg.

These wonderful memories stayed with me until I was able to return as an adult.

Maybe one should never seriously go on a’ memory lane trip, for the chances are that you’ll be disappointed as I was. I eagerly drove into the village after living
in the Antipodes for some 30 years. The village itself was an absolute delight – there was the old church, the winding lanes and the lovely pub much the same – but I didn’t care for the poker machine in the corner!

Unfortunately the cottage had undergone major changes. My relatives couldn’t stand the cramped conditions any more. It was impossible to raise the ceiling, so they lowered the floor, and you went down a few steps as you entered the lounge room.

Some of those beautiful daub and wattle walls stood no longer, having been sacrificed to make the rooms bigger. The thatched roof had given way to a grey slate and the well had been filled in. Was there no end to this slaughter?

My old uncle, now on his own, told how he’d left an electric blanket switched on and the dampness had caused a fire which destroyed a good part of the upper floor. It had been restored to the same shape, but to me it was a huge devastation.

however, it still retained an aura and wonderful fascination – with not all my childhood memories shattered.

Marc Allen