20 Jun 2016

20th June 2016 The accidents of fate.


Monday 20th 56F, 13C, rather cloudy and windy but with some brightness. The forecast is rain later
so I had better get an early ride in today.

Not exactly an exciting picture but it forms one corner of a village square with the village pond in the trees beyond. I did not capture the Coots, the Martins, the Swallows, the Mallards or the Pheasants but they were all there. As was much else no doubt. Such tranquil scenes define the spaces around us. Given the accidents of fate it might easily have become a slavish lawn to be endlessly mowed. Or even be-housed with yet another soulless, identikit-bungalow from the standard catalogue. What do you have on your corner?

I came across this tiny old cottage while out on a ride. Note the round poles for rafters and unlikely chimney. The single, upstairs bedroom is carved out of the uninsulated roof space with bare planks. No doubt the plain windows are an attempt to modernize at some point in the last century.

The decorative edging to the brickwork is traditional and shows that pride was invested in the original construction. It would have been thatched for most of its life but had succumbed to Eternit corrugated, asbestos-cement roofing at some point.

The antique pram once lost in the darkness of the roof space demands respect for a personal history going back at least a century. Real people lived here and they had real children who played in the tiny, rural lane and front yard before the internal combustion engine was even invented. The pram once held a precious cargo not long for this world as the generations queued impatiently for their moment of being the center of attention.

The family would have been surrounded in fields and forest as far as their eyes eye could see. They would have explored their endlessly fascinating world with a freedom now long forgotten. The sound of traffic was just a dystopian nightmare for an intellectual few who could afford the time to sit and write down their dreams and nightmares. Two great wars would come and go with no obvious winners but hundreds of millions of losers.

The "decorative" electrical installation takes us well back in time to when rubber cable casing was the  norm. Huge cartridge fuses would have to be bought from the distant village shop whenever an overload occurred. Now there are no village shops left from the countless thousands which supplied and supported the rural population over the ages.

The Co-op began to take over in the 20th century and still clings on in some rural places. The saviour and also the beginning of the end for rural retailing and huge numbers of family workshops. I was reading the memoirs of a road-blighted local village which once sported more than 20 business at the start of the 20th century. Now, like many others, it huddles against the noisome roar of speeding, though traffic. Those who did not struggle for the hard survival terms on the land must have been merchants and artisans. Clinging to their pride and an impoverished independence to the very last.

The old stove is often a restored centerpiece of many a gentrified cottage and farmhouse kitchen. As obsolete and smokey and as difficult to manage as it was when large families were crammed into every available corner. The hard and unforgiving fields, harsh schooling and the harsher church offering the worn down mother a temporary respite from the bawling and din of managing childhood and giving birth to yet more.

The wall behind is suggestive of tiling but is is hard to say where they went and why the wall broke into cubes. Perhaps they had value to some casual thief or antiques forager?

The tiny bathroom sports a real bath but seems to lack any form of window. There may be more light leaking in through the missing roof than at any other time.

The old place once had a small barn or workshop attached which would have blocked any light from reaching inside. The obligatory washing machine would have kept the occupants bemused and irritated alike. As it churned endlessly in the background, punctuated only by dimly heard birdsong. The bathroom ceiling seems to never have been decorated. Not even a coat of whitewash in this dark, long-inhabited cave.

I peeked inside and was almost knocked over by the overwhelming stench of damp and mildew! Real people had suffered in the misery of this toxic atmosphere right up until only a year ago.

A more general view which would always have always been blocked by the demolished outhouse-barn-workshop.

Half the roof clings gamely on under a picturesque but uncaring sky. It has seen it all before. Again and again, as poverty and riches alike failed to keep up appearances and another living space succumbs to demolition.

I remember passing on my trike and seeing lots of cats and kittens in the tiny front yard and smiling to myself. The cats must have belonged to somebody. Or he, or she, to them.

The eking out of an existence in a lonely rural lane without near neighbours has finally come to an end. There is nobody to worry about the storm in the rattling roof or the need to scythe [or mow] the time-greedy lawn which runs along the undulating lane between gnarled and twisted old apple trees. Once a vital family resource against hunger and disease but now just more windfalls.

The excavator effortlessly destroys the history and soul of another old building. But, above it all, this was a real home, for a real family and real people all down the long years. It provided shelter and a place to rest weary and aching limbs for the young and broken elderly alike. It was the destination and final destination for excited children and the ruin of their hopes and dreams for far too many.

An aerial view from 1961 shows the little place was still thatched and still registered as a farm. [Image from Set Fra Luften] The small fields are  now an almost continuous prairie.

The 76 square meters of house reached the ripe old age of only 116 years before being cut down by the excavator of progress. There may have been an older building on the site before the present one. The barn's yard facade was timber framed suggesting an earlier period.

I can still remember pretending to help set up stooks and haystacks in the fields of a temporary school friend in in my youth. Backbreaking work under an unforgiving sun for a badly untrained and skinny teenager without a muscle or sinew to his name.

Then back to explore old and incredibly dusty farm buildings full of indescribable smells. Of strangely outdated contraptions of wood and iron and square-nutted, paint-flaking bolts. Built heavy to last forever, before built-in obsolescence and empty hype were the norm, but handicapped for all of that. The remarkable skills which went into their construction now lost to history. Once upon a time every farm building held wonders. So many that human curiosity could never be satiated by today's mere expenditure or drug culture. Long sunny days of dusty and rusty, pre-loved, ancient motorcycles and sidecars and carts and bicycles with flat and cracked tyres. Strange objects abounded with no obvious purpose except a tired and painful existence as a torture implement for young, aching muscles.

The smelly detritus of massive, cracked and greasy, buckled leather once the daily dress for equally leathery and greasy horses. All safely discarded under dry cover at a whim. Just in case it came in handy or could be sold, but never was. Time and technology rolled past and then over the massively timbered structures from a slightly foggy, forgotten past. Agriculture was a disparate, private museum for long centuries before the steel sheds and the giant GPS-guided, field robots were borrowed from the bank on borrowed time and money.

Old men who learned to keep their aching memories to themselves as they dragged on hand-rolled cigarettes with gnarly, tanned fingers. The ancient village pub, they once inhabited, now a door-banging car park for the commuter gentry, "incomers." With their pseudo-horsey, surgery-enhanced and bleached 'ladies' and loud talk of shallow, false pride in ephemeral possession. People defined at a glance by their loyalty to some trendy car maker, designer clothier or handmade wallpaper faschionista.  

Today I walked a loop out on the fluffy fields by the spray tracks as a stiff wind tugged at my cap. Safely away from the traffic, there was ample room to wallow in delicious but severely blinkered, rural nostalgia. I was back in my childhood again as I brushed through the stalk-narrowed tracks. The comforting skylarks overhead, defining the infinite, threatening, but rather indistinct sky. As the crops rocked back and forth in neat, alternate rows. Like some incongruous props from a post-vaudeville, silent movie. An 'entertainment' vaguely involving a stormy sea and long forgotten hero as barter for heavy pocket change.

Talking of heroes, I had better get my ride in before the promised rains come. Too late! I was seconded to gardening duties and heavy duty, hedge clipping in particular. All undertaken under the watchful eye, firm tutelage and frequent admonitions of The Head Gardener. I just wish the good lady understood the term 'voluntary' with rather more rigor. Or even a touch of empathy. But nature is a hard taskmaster. It was ever thus.

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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