Friday, 12 December 2008

The Dambusters

Time has slipped by and this is now going to seem a little out of sync given we’re hurtling down the cresta run towards Christmas and all those Remembrance Day thoughts are eclipsed by tinsel and faulty fairy lights. But this is what I wanted to say:….

The solid old stone house that I am fortunate enough to live in has great history; not in a flashy sort of way, but in a quiet, knowing sort of way. It has stood on this land, with this view, for over four centuries. Much life, and some death, has played out within its walls. It feels a fundamentally happy house. I could not live here if it did not (and I have lived somewhere that was unhappy, so I know). I think the energies were stirred up, as they so often are, when we first moved in. There was a constant unexplained tapping sometime after midnight for the first few months which used to wake me up and make me wonder. Eventually it stopped and has not been heard in the last five years. I spend huge amounts of time here by myself and I have never felt ‘spooked’ or threatened in any way. Au contraire, in fact. I feel this house envelops me and keeps me safe when wind and rain beat against its hardy exterior. It is my friend and my protector.

When we moved up here, there were a series of extraordinary coincidences regarding people who had had connections with this small village. People who had been evacuated here, people who had had cousins living here and a number of other strange collisions of fate. One of them involved my parents. They were on a history and art tour in St Petersburg and befriended another lady on the trip. It turned out, through idle chat, that she had lived in this very village for a number of years and knew the people who, at one time, lived in our house. The son was one of the Dambusters(read about him here), killed in action while the family were living here. The surviving sister married and moved to Africa and for most of her life has lived on Lake Baringo. Thanks to this new friend of my parents, Betty Astell wrote to me from Africa and told me how very happy they had been at Spire Hollins and what a lovely home it had been for them, apart from the one tragic fact that her brother had been killed while they were living here.

One day earlier this year I came downstairs and noticed some drops of liquid on the parquet floor in the hall. I looked up to see if there was any dripping from the ceiling (we’ve had many a leaky bath problem), but it was dry as a bone (and anyway, there was no bathroom overhead). I thought no more of it until the next day when I noticed the drops were still there with a slight smudge around them. I knelt down to touch them and found a viscous substance between my fingers. Very pale brown in colour and smelling just like the oil that I used to put on my bike chain as a child. It was only later that I noticed there was a trail of similar drops starting on the marble worktop in the kitchen and in a straight line across the kitchen floor and in line with the drops in the hallway. I tried to find every possible explanation but could not. It was not olive oil, or cooking oil. No, it was like an engine oil. It was not the anniversary of the Dambuster mission and I’ve never found an explanation. I just like, in an imaginative sort of way, to believe it was something to do with the brave man that had once lived here and had died for his country one dark night over northern France when his plane crashed into an electricity pylon while flying low to avoid radar detection. He never even got to the Ruhr Dam.

The week of Remembrance I took myself up to Derwent Reservoir, just half an hour from here, to see the water over which the Dambusters had honed their skills to drop the bouncing bombs. It had been a beautiful sunny day but by the time I got there the light was fading. The larch trees had dropped a carpet of golden needles on the black tarmac road that edges the reservoir; the sheep grazed on the lakeside fields and there was hardly a breath of air. It is a beautiful, contemplative spot and perfect for reflecting on the personal sacrifices made for us to enjoy the freedoms, and relative peace, which we have today.

The sunset I saw on my way back home to this special place where I feel privileged to live:


elizabethm said...

Beautiful photos and I know just what you mean about the protectiveness of a happy house. I too have spend a lot of time here on my own and it is a happy, loving sort of a place.

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Great. You are obviously appreciative of where you live, not always the case.
Our last house had a history of haunting. I will write about it sometime. In fact you have prompted me to make it soon.

Cait O'Connor said...

That was a lovely account of your home and I could feel your love for it coming through. I also live in a warm, protective kind of home so I understand how you feel (and like you I have experienced the opposite as well).
Lovely photos, very similar to the Elan Valley dams in Wales.

pinkfairygran said...

Wonderful photos and very interesting blog... enjoyed it, thank you.
There are definitely those houses which are happy places to be, and those which aren't.. I guess you might be one of those people who subscribe to the view that you know within minutes of walking into a prospective new home, whether you are going to be happy living there, and whether the house will like you enough to let you? I knew before we viewed this house that it was meant to be.. it was a fluke I heard about it, cheek which prompted me to knock on the door and ask if we could view it please, for just a few moments despite it being 'viewing by appointment only'. Lucky that they were desperate to move out due to financial problems. And despite the damp smell, the bucket of soaking nappies under the staircase, dreadful wallpaper and carpet everywhere, a pan of congealing minced beef on the hob giving out a dreadful smell. Despite the strong smell of cat pee in one room, the overgrown large garden (already organic veggies and green manures being used in 1989 before it became very fashionable), and the ramshackle shed built out of wooden packing crates... despite all this and more... I knew it was meant for us, and so it has been for the last twenty years almost and I cannot imagine leaving, willingly anyway.

Laura Jane Williams said...

Beautiful blog... I have decided I like you- especially because Madeline Peyroux was playing as I arrived...

Laura x

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