We have to sell my childhood home. The cottage in northwest Devon where I used to explore a technicolour world, discovering bright blue-violet periwinkles in the bank under the hedge (they are still there), noticing the interesting speckled buff of the forsythia twigs against their clear yellow flowers, burying my nose in the scented pink double blooms of the rambling roses, delightedly breaking open the soft, yellow and orange buds of the Welsh poppies without even knowing it was naughty, and happily picking up snails to see what they looked like underneath. True to my Dad’s tastes, there was a pink hydrangea by the white gate and stems of bright orange montbretia outside it (also still there).
We made paths and dens in the (to us) waist-high meadow grasses of the back garden, climbed the sapling beech tree (now a giant) and explored the mountain terrain of building materials kept by my father in an old Nissen hut, where we set up a base-camp ‘kitchen’. Mud pies and soup with hogweed croutons were on the garden menu.
On the low window sill of the long, light kitchen I built elaborate facades with my wooden architectural brick set which included beautiful white gloss-painted turned-wood pilasters and pediments with printed patterns. A few years later my dad took a photo of our baby brother standing, laughing, on that window sill. On another occasion both of the large, light windows in the kitchen were entirely blocked by snowdrifts.
My sister and I would sit at the table creating arty things from our Blue Peter-inspired ‘useful boxes’ – cards and calendars for relatives, bookmarks, novelties and a slot machine for our younger sister with home-made prizes. Making ‘houses’ down in the warmth by the Rayburn (also still there) was a favourite pursuit. Once we made a school, where we taught our toys to draw wild flowers in wax crayon.
Up in our bedroom (three girls sharing) there was a green carpet, perfect to serve as the fields for our toy farm. Here we talked in the dark, had midnight feasts, and tried to sleep despite the Westminster chimes of the huge grandfather clock bought by our dad during a holiday trip to Stow-on-the-Wold and which would only fit on the landing. There I had measles for a whole week and woke up on Easter Day to my mother giving me a yellow-and-mauve mug containing a bar of Bournville chocolate – all I could manage after my illness.
And so to now, and we have to say goodbye. So much of my life and my heart is still there. So many memories of my now departed parents. Part of me wants to buy the house back to make it my own. To live with the tangible artefacts of the past – of which buildings and places are by far the most durable – is to be grounded and rooted in a unique and precious way. One’s life is not just a little patch of personal, impermanent moments but part of a long continuum stretching back to the days of parents and antecedents. There again, to be hide bound by the choices, decisions and haunts of our parents and forebears is to limit our own options in the present. How hard it is to weigh up the sense of continuity, belonging, history and memory – one’s creative origins – against the vast ocean of possibility offered by free choices in the present. The decision has been made, however. The die is cast. The house is to be auctioned. Reluctantly, I must weigh anchor and set sail.