Wednesday, 30 July 2014
A few months after I first met The Doctor, he decided to take me home for the weekend and introduce me to his parents. (This, according to our mutual friend Fred, was a Big Deal. I guess he was right. The friendship lasted as well as the romance; we, and kids, holidayed with he, and family, in Spain last month).
We took the train, not to their London house, but to their cottage in the country, high up on the Berkshire Downs. It was a beautiful sunny May day, and as we ate a delicious Sunday lunch on the lawn, I remember thinking what a gorgeous place it was, with its views of cornfields, copses and the far off Ridgeway.
Fast forward twenty years, and I'm spending this week alone with the boys in the very same cottage, with The Doctor back working in London. Thanks to my in-laws it's always been a "weekend home" for us -- a real luxury to have. But it's more than that - it's been a constant family home in a time of flux and change. Over the years this ancient cottage has witnessed countless family gatherings, parties, engagements, funerals, memorial services, family rows and family celebrations.
Beautiful in autumn and spring, the village can be bleak in winter, but this summer it has really come into its own. For the last few days the sun has shone ceaselessly, and the sky is azure. There's always a brisk wind up here, but at the moment it's a cooling breeze when it does come, and it's remarkably still the rest of the time. Butterflies flit around the wildflowers in the garden, a distant church bell rings occasionally, and everywhere there is the smell of green things growing.
I work in the mornings, taking breaks to wander round the garden with a cup of tea. The boys play - either outside on the trampoline or climbing trees, or in the playroom which is so far away I can't hear them. In the afternoons, we walk to the local farm shop, or play pat-ball tennis on the terrace, or take a dip in a pool belonging to some very generous neighbours. It's all very laid back.
Today I decided to take them on a different walk, to an abandoned barn about half a mile away. It was rather overgrown with nettles, which prompted quite a lot of grumbling (they're not that much country boys yet) but on the way back we found a crop of early blackberries in the hedgerow, which made it all better. It's simple entertainment, but we appreciate it all the more for it being different from our life in the city. These American/London boys are still learning how to identify flowers and plants - ferns, thistles, elderberries and other things that country dwellers take for granted. (They know stinging nettles though -- and hate them even more than we hated poison ivy in the US).
I've always said I didn't think I could live in the countryside permanently. I'm a town mouse, and I like my creature comforts -- shops, theatres, people. But this week I'm starting to change my mind. I'm sure it's partly the sunny weather, and that I wouldn't be saying the same if I was sitting up here in February, the wind howling through the brick walls.
But just at this minute, with the wood pigeons cooing in the trees and the corn glowing golden in the field beyond my window, I can feel the pull of country life. One day the cottage will be ours (jointly), and I hope that we never take it for granted.