Of Village life and kindred histories
It is now fifteen months since I moved into the ancestral cottage, and I love it! There are, needless to remark, the two days. Days when I miss Mum and go to tell her something, usually some change I am about to make, but there are the glory days, some rain sodden, some washed with sunlight, in which I relish being back here. Yesterday was one of those days.
We are busy clearing out old outhouses at present, and the skip hire company is making a huge profit for itself..however needs must when the devil drives. I had called into the neighbours to ask them to move their cars as none of them have front gardens into which they could put their cars. The lane is a relic of a bygone era in which my Grandfather’s dairy cart, the neighbouring “Big House” Lagonda and a few bicycles were sufficient unto the day for travel. For the most part the residents on the lane are like myself, returnees to the family home upon the death of a parent, or the need for said parent to take up residence in “Dun Raving Happy Retirement Home” - all have made changes to their homes so there is great give and take when it comes to “Skip Hire” which has become a sort of local mutual loathing society; the loathing stems from the hoity voices of the “designated assistant who will advise you as to what YOU need in a skip”…no hazardous waste, asbestos, paint cans [empty], electrical goods, batteries, the cat, your mother in law [after Hallowe’en week end I could do with a skip for mine] or fresh air!
Are you with me so far? Good, hang on while I make a cup of tea and we’ll survive Skip-life.
I called into the neighbours at the week end to advise that the day of skip-doom is pending - five cups of tea, one gluten free bikkie and a history lesson later I returned home. Hospitality is not lacking, and I have to say that I am blessed with my immediate neighbours. In the first house I went into, upon entering the kitchen [traditional site of hospitality in the Irish home - that or the best parlour] I spotted a large blue and white plate, the exact twin to my own beloved turkey-at-Christmas-holding plate. I asked curiously where it had come from and was told it was found in the shed at the back of the house when major renovations were being done [another mover-back]. We had a great chuckle when it was discovered that I have its twin, one of the vegetable dishes that goes with it, and used to have the milk jug from the service until Mum dropped and smashed it shortly before she went into hospital. The service dates from around the 1880/90’s and the grandfather of the present owner of the plate was a gardener. I was able to fill her in on the two ladies of distressed means who were unable to pay their gardener or my grandfather who delivered milk to them, and who had run up substantial bills all over the area in the course of many years “since Father passed away”. Two houses later a soup toureen appeared in that kitchen, discovered in an attic when the parent had to move to a nursing home. The grandfather in question here was the local baker and the debt owed to him was settled by more of this beautiful dinner service.
It is sad to think of gentlewomen being reduced to such circumstances, but it was a fact of life for many “gels” who never “took” and who were left living on in the family home after the parents had passed away - perhaps a foxhound or cat for company, trying valiantly to keep up appearances and fading farther away from the harsh realities of daily life, while living an even harsher one themselves that no one ever suspected. Shades of Molly Keanes “Good Behaviour”.
I know that my grandfather never put pressure on these type of people and when he died prematurely my grandmother was amazed at the number of them who came forward to pay their bills and to confirm that the dairy would still deliver milk to them. Mum told me often about one “big house” family who said to my grandmother after the funeral that “Mr X never left us short, he was a gentleman and we wouldn’t like to see you going short at this appalling time”. My grandparents had been married for 9 years, and she was left to run a business she had no experience in and three children all under 7 years to rear. There is decency in many people but sometimes nowadays you wonder if that sort of community spirit has become diluted.
We are all agreed that we will be using our respective pieces of that dinner service that once graced a “Big House” dinner table on Christmas day. There’s more than neighbourliness unites us on the lane.