The setting sun highlights the leaves on the cherry tree, a gentle breeze rustles the ornamental grasses and somewhere in the distance farm machinery rumbles. The Californian poppies close up their heads and say goodnight and the garden breathes a sigh after the heat of the day. Until tomorrow…
Delighted to be featured on Lizzie Chantree’s blog today.
The first memory I have of any kind of music is of my nanna singing to me and rocking me on her lap – ‘We’re two little sheep who’ve lost our way’. She also played the piano, ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ and ‘The Wedding of the Painted Doll’. I loved my dad playing the piano on a Sunday morning; the boogie-woogie and ‘Walking my Baby Back Home’ were my favourites. When I was seven he bought a Pye black box hi-fi and his first record, a ten-inch recording of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. The sixth and seventh symphonies followed along with recordings of Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi. My dad also liked jazz; names such as Fats Waller, Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong. We children had our own record player, a Portadyne. The first record I bought with my pocket money was an EP of The Temperance Seven for 11s 6d. I played it constantly and drove my mum mad.
At senior school there was much talk about pop music. I bought a few records by Cliff Richard. Then came The Beatles. I bought every new release and stuck posters up in my bedroom, but I wasn’t allowed to stick them on the wallpaper! So I stuck them on every surface I could: the fireplace, the wardrobe and the door. Both my dad and my uncle liked The Beatles, my dad saying their music was close to jazz. I had a school friend whose father was in the police force. He was given two tickets for a Beatles concert at the Lewisham Odeon in 1963. I was over the moon when he gave them to us. Wow! But I was very disappointed when the whole cinema was filled with screaming girls. I wanted to listen to the music.
After going to the cinema to see Genghis Khan in 1966 I bought the sound track in our village music shop. I loved this music and my dad would listen with me and encourage my diverse tastes. Also in that year, I was introduced to our local jazz club at The Black Prince. I loved it. From then on I went every Monday evening with friends from work. We were treated to all the big names, Kenny Ball and Chris Barber among them. During the break pop records were played and this is when I got into Motown. ‘Reach Out’ by The Four Tops takes me straight back to those days. Sunday was R&B night when we had visiting bands such as The Shevelles, Gino Washington and the Ram Jam Band and The Ferris Wheel. It’s only now that I realise how fortunate I was to be able to see all these live bands so close to home.
Each New Year I am reminded of two occasions when I got very drunk. The first was when I was 16. I was invited to a New Years’ Eve party by one of the girls at the salon where I worked. I purposely went without any dinner that evening expecting there to be food at the party. There were two married couples, another apprentice I worked with and me. I made a real effort with my hair and make-up, caught the bus and hoped, not having been to this house before, that I found the right stop. They welcomed me with ‘What can I get you to drink?’ I asked for the only drink I was comfortable with – port. As the evening progressed it was obvious there was no food on offer. I was constantly ragged with, ‘Drink up! Don’t let the side down, Julie’, and ‘Sweet sixteen and never been kissed!’ All I remember is people hanging out of the window shouting, ‘Happy New Year!’ and being sick all over the carpet before I could reach the toilet. One of the married men ran me home at 2am. I was still drunk but I managed to give him directions to my house. Once outside he turned to me and gave me a very passionate French kiss. Then he escorted me up the path and asked for another kiss under the porch light. I had two feelings: one was that this kiss had stirred feelings in me I didn’t know I had, and the other was absolute shame. I stumbled upstairs to bed and was sick again in the night. In the morning I was too ill to go to work and my father thought my behaviour inexcusable. I was not only drunk but a married man had driven me home alone! In the coming weeks this man would come to pick his wife up from work with his mate, both of whom were at the party. While I swept the salon floor they would sit talking about me with their heads together, making me blush. I don’t know if he ever told his wife about ‘the kiss’.
The second time, four years later, I was in Scotland with my fiancé and his parents, aunts and uncles. Hogmanay, I was to learn, was a big deal. The scotch was flowing well before midnight. We were all having a good time, dancing to music and sinking the drinks. When the clock struck 12 I couldn’t stand up. They all thought this was hilarious – it’s what people did at New Year – and if you got off your head you were one of them. First footing was talked about and there were a lot of comings and goings but I was taken to bed, which I had to share with my mother-in-law to be. They all kept popping in to laugh and joke with me and I remember imitating their Scottish accent in my stupor. In the morning my fiancé was out for the count on the floor, with his finger stuck in the neck of a whisky bottle. Even now, I can’t abide the smell of whisky! Or port!
In 1957 my father passed his driving test first time and bought a Ford Anglia 100e in Warwick Green. For me, at 8 years old, this was exciting! The open road beckoned and off we would go, my parents, me and my sister and later my brother, on days out on a Sunday to the Kent countryside and coast; Westgate and Broadstairs being our favourite resorts. Our first holiday in the Anglia was to Weymouth and I can remember my father bitterly complaining about the parking restrictions even then! When my brother was 2 months old we drove to Hayling Island and the Sunshine Holiday camp. I don’t know how my mother managed with a young baby bundled on the back seat with my sister and I sitting hunched up beside the carry cot! We had this Anglia for ten years. I passed my test in it in January 1967 but little did I know that three weeks later I would write it off and put myself in hospital. After the initial shock of my being involved in a road accident my father was devastated about losing his pride and joy. When he went to see it on the scrap heap it was ‘still shining like a new pin’. And I had to provide the £90 deposit for the next car, a second-hand Ford Anglia estate, yellow and white. Needless to say I was never allowed to drive that car!
In 1969 I bought a second-hand pale blue Ford Popular for £65. This turned out to be a mistake. My fiancé knew a thing or two about car engines but it caused rows between us when he could not keep it running through the winter. I finally sold it for scrap and received £20 for it. It would be many years before I owned another car.
My fiancé and I got married in November 1970 in a silver Pontiac Firebird. It was so wide that the gates had to be removed to accommodate it in the grounds of the Camberwell register office!
My husband bought a Vauxhall Ventora in 1971. It was white with a black vinyl roof, but the car was too big for me to drive and I got into a few parking ‘scrapes’. One day after a shopping trip, when my daughter was 18 months old and strapped into her car seat in the back, I locked the keys in the car. I tried to tell her to lift the knob on the door sill but of course, she was too young to understand. I was beside myself. What was I going to do? I couldn’t leave her in the car while I tried to find a garage. Then along came a knight in shining armour who found a wire coat-hanger, hooked it inside the door and hey presto! Up came the release button. I never locked the keys in the car again.
In 1974 our next car was a second-hand Ford Cortina 1600e. I loved driving that car; it was sporty and made a nice throaty noise when I put my foot down and listening to Band On The Run on the 8 track stereo was well cool. We took it to Crayford Stadium one evening to watch the banger racing and when we came out there was a big gaping hole where our car should’ve been. We had to get a bus home. A fortnight later we found it parked in a road in East Dulwich near where I worked, unlocked. We bought an alarm for it but my husband never got around to putting it on. It was stolen a second time and the police found it dumped in the middle of the road in Swanscombe, totally stripped, as if it had just come off the production line. These cars were very desirable and known for their trim – many went the same way as ours.
I must add that during all these episodes, my husband had a company car but he enjoyed having a ‘nice’ car to go out in at weekends. We used the insurance money from the 1600e to buy a Ford Consul GT in Daytona yellow. We thought we were The Sweeny driving around in that! My husband was into custom cars at the time. We attended the Chelsea Cruise on a number of occasions where he got the idea to add sidewinder exhausts to the Consul.
We moved from London to Royston Hertfordshire in 1983. In 1984 I found a job in a salon in Saffron Walden and needed my own car. Someone my husband worked with was selling his grey Fiat Strada so we thought it was a safe bet. Needless to say it didn’t last long. The engine froze in the winter and seized up.
I started working for myself in 1985, mobile hairdressing in and around Royston, and I needed a reliable car. I saw an advert in the local paper and went to test drive an Indian Red Vauxhall Viva saloon at a garage in Royston. It was only two years old, 24,000 miles on the clock and handled like a dream. I bought it there and then and had it for twelve years. During this time I went through a divorce and remarried and moved to a village near Ely, Cambridgeshire. I loved that car but by 1997 it was getting tired. When I sold it it had 150,000 miles on the clock. I advertised it in the local paper for £200. One Sunday morning a man knocked at the door asking about the Viva and could I take him out in it to see how it performed? I gritted by teeth hoping the car wouldn’t let me down and drove him across the fen roads, after which he said he was pretty sure his wife would like it but was it all right if he brought her to see it? The following Sunday she said it was ideal for her job – mobile hairdressing in and around Royston!! He gave me a cheque and they drove it out of my life.
My next car was a new silver Vauxhall Corsa purchased from a dealership in Bury St Edmunds. The unmistakable smell of newness wrapped itself around me as I drove it home. One day I took my young daughter to see my now married daughter and she told me that my old Viva had come back to haunt my ex-husband – the woman had crashed it outside his house!
In 2005 my husband bought a VW Golf persuaded by our 15 year-old daughter to have it in coastal blue. When he retired we bought a bungalow in Cornwall but our daughter wanted to remain in sixth form in Cambridge. To facilitate this, I remained in Cambridgeshire with her until she went to Sheffield University. During this time I drove the Corsa 300 miles to and from Cornwall for the school holidays and Christmas. I knew the route so well I could have done it in my sleep. I also drove many times to Margate to see my brother and to Eastbourne to visit an old friend.
One day I was driving along a narrow moorland road with high banks when a car coming from the other direction ploughed into me on the blind bend. Neither of us were hurt but my Corsa, now 15 years old, was badly damaged on the wing and a write-off. It was a long time before I found another car I could afford but hated having to rely solely on the Golf. Eventually I plumped for a black Hyundai Getz but I never took to the car. It handled badly. We moved to Norfolk in 2015 and I sold the Getz to the garage owner in our Cornish village before we left. I didn’t fancy driving it 300 + miles to Norfolk!
I now drive the coastal blue VW Golf, now 15 years old, and my husband has a silver Skoda Octavia that he bought when we moved. We will keep the Golf until it falls apart but it shows little sign of this happening in the near future. But of course, this year 2020, owing to the pandemic we don’t go very far and I feel I am losing the ability to drive! Roll on next year and happier times when I can get my wheels back in motion.
My mother would’ve been 100 years old today and I would like to pay her this tribute.
Let me tell you about a remarkable lady called Joyce, who overcame suspected polio at age 7, who survived being stabbed at 18, contracted scarlet fever a year later and walked away from being knocked down by a lorry aged 23. During the war she cycled to and from work in the blackout with bombs landing each side of her, laughed in the face of cancer aged 66 and went on to recover from near-death experiences until her death in 2013.
One of her earliest memories was of her aunt dancing her around the room to the Charleston playing on the gramophone. This was the beginning of her love of dancing which led her to take part in a concert for the NAAFI during the war, and in 1946 at the Embassy ballroom in Welling, she met Leslie, my father. After a six-month courtship they were married in December and enjoyed a honeymoon in foggy Brighton.
Like many of her generation her motto was ‘keep calm and carry on’. Rationing meant that when I was born in the winter of 1949 she swallowed her pride and went knocking on doors begging for coal to keep me warm.
1950 saw the dawn of a new era. Leslie’s mother moved down from Leeds to open a boarding house with us in Bexley. This Victorian house was to be our busy home for the next 20 years. She always found time to make my party dresses and knit my boleros and joked that I was better dressed than Princess Anne! My birthday parties were glamorous affairs – a dozen children round the table and a snowman cake, a clock cake and a birthday cake, all made by Mum.
When my grandmother died in 1962 the business took a dive but Joyce turned her hand to other work including cooking in a staff canteen and selling Betterware door-to-door. In amongst all this she cared for me, my sister and brother, and found time to take us out in the school holidays. But although she was always busy she never neglected her appearance, always had her hair done and never left the house without her make-up expertly applied.
My father’s job came to an end which meant moving to a smaller house and finally my parents and brother moved to Margate in 1971 where she worked at the Sea-Bathing hospital, British Home Stores, and various school kitchens, never fazed by all this work. In later years she took on cleaning jobs well into her 80s. When asked by my brother if she should give them up she replied, ‘Oh, do you think so? But what would I do? I’d get bored.’ She was well known for her sense of humour and love of music and brightened up all our lives when trouble lay ahead.
HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY Mum. I’m sure you’re having a ball ‘up there’. xxx
I’m sure that many of us, since the lockdown, have become more aware of the natural beauty that surrounds us. With the reduction in traffic noise it’s been uplifting to sit in the sun-drenched garden and listen to the birdsong. I for one felt it was almost like being on holiday.
But I have not been idle. I have written another novel, the sequel to my rom com Where There’s a Will, which I hope to publish later this year. I found having a daily routine helped to keep me focused on my writing and to block out some of the worry that goes with a pandemic. After breakfast I took a walk around the village, keeping to the social distancing guidelines of course, and came back to enjoy a cup of coffee in the garden. I wrote until lunchtime then continued writing in the afternoon until I broke for an afternoon cuppa whilst watching the daily Coronavirus update. This was followed by a glass of wine in the garden, listening to Mr Blackbird chattering away high up on a chimney pot, while the dinner was cooking.
One of the most entertaining pastimes has been watching the blackbirds foraging for food to feed their young which seems to be a full time job. The male blackbird in particular has been very active, gathering bugs and worms all day to take back to the nest in the laurel. Every time the soil was newly dug the blackbird was there, eager to see what had been unearthed. We followed the blackbirds’ progress daily, wondering when the juveniles would leave home, and came to the conclusion that the bird world has certain similarities to our own! Lately we have noticed the red kite winging its way across the sky; we are delighted because we haven’t seen it since last year. We’ve also enjoyed watching a pair of buzzards occasionally circling high above in the thermals until they disappear into the clouds. Another glorious sight is the swans and geese flying over in formation, squawking happily, the sun catching their wings.
Being prevented from visiting our family and friends has been one of the worst restrictions placed upon us. Our sons and daughters who have planned to get married this year must see some similarities with their grandparents’ weddings immediately after the Second World War. Hopefully the ones who are getting married later this year will be able to go ahead with her plans, unlike others whose celebrations have had to be watered down or postponed.
Similarities to wartime include the food shortages, fearing for our loved ones and having to make do, but we are now fighting an invisible enemy which, in some respects, is even more difficult to overcome. We find ourselves in limbo waiting for a light at the end of the Coronavirus tunnel, and although our lives may never be the same again, we will look to the future and the New Normal.
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Being forced to live in isolation makes us more aware of the beauty that surrounds us. Although our freedom is restricted those of us who are lucky enough to have a garden are able to enjoy the wonderful weather whilst watching the wildlife.
Lately we have noticed a pair of blackbirds foraging for food to feed their young. This seems to be a full time job. The male blackbird in particular has been very active, gathering bugs and worms to take back to the nest in the laurel. Every time my husband digs over a patch in the flower bed the blackbird is there, eager to see what’s been unearthed.
I am often awake before sunrise, listening to the dawn chorus; the blackbird’s song being the most prominent. My mother always maintained the blackbirds were the first to get up in the morning and the last to go to bed. I think she was probably right. My father was an early riser – he would make a pot of tea, take one in to my mother then pour himself a cup, take it outside and walk round the garden in his pyjamas and dressing gown. He would check to see which plants had sprouted new growth whilst listening to the birdsong and watching the sunrise. He did this every morning in the spring.
When I was a child I often had a friend to tea in the summer and we’d sit in the garden eating our banana or jam sandwiches and cakes, throwing the last of the crusts to the birds. She didn’t have a garden but at six years old I knew I was very fortunate. My mother felt sorry for her and encouraged her to run home and ask her mum if she could stay for lunch and do the same in the afternoon for tea. In those days our regular visitors were blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, blue tits and sparrows; starlings and sparrows being the most common. It was very rare to see a wood pigeon. Nowadays it’s rare to see a thrush and even the thuggish starlings are dying out. The pigeons are the new thugs of the birdworld – forever multiplying and scaring off the smaller birds.
Lately we have noticed the red kite is back, circling above. We are pleased because we haven’t seen it since last year and we miss seeing the buzzards since moving from Cornwall. Another glorious sight is the swans or geese flying over in formation and squawking happily, the sun catching their wings.
We count ourselves very lucky to live in the country, especially at this difficult time of lockdown. It must be terrible for the people who are cooped up in flats with no outdoor space or a balcony, wondering when the restrictions will be lifted. But whether we live in the town or the country I’m sure we’ll never take our freedom for granted again.
Every time we move house, the amount of clutter we accumulate never ceases to amaze me. We had many trips to the dump and the charity shops and began visualising where our furniture would sit in the new house. Our buyer didn’t want our large sliding-door wardrobe in the second bedroom so we had to dismantle it to take it with us. This was quite a struggle as the men who delivered it and put it together would testify. It was heavy, one door all mirror, rather worrying in case we broke it but we managed. As we didn’t need this wardrobe we hoped to advertise it and sell it in the future.
Having packed frantically over the past fortnight, we got up very early on the morning of 18th February 2015, and packed the remainder of our kitchen utensils, food and other bits and pieces before Plymouth Removals arrived at 8.50 am with a huge lorry. The three guys marched into the bungalow, raring to go, and remarked that we had done an excellent job of packing – no clutter – making it easier for them. Two of them were very young (I thought) but totally professional. They were full of energy, very quick and ensured the carpets were kept clean with large felts runners. I made them tea and coffee three times but they hardly stopped. As they worked we learned that one of them, Taylor, was only 21, married with one little boy and another on the way! My neighbour came round with a lemon cake she’d made, to take with us; a nice thought. She got quite emotional at the thought of us leaving. Everything was on the lorry by noon. We waved our furniture goodbye and looked forward to seeing the removal lorry at Watlington the next day. The empty rooms echoed as we went around doing last minute hoovering and wet-wiping the skirting boards. The empty bungalow felt very strange and looked huge. I swallowed down the lump in my throat – I remembered entertaining one of my writing groups in the kitchen diner on a sunny day and they all remarked on the view. One member had said, ‘You’ll never leave here, will you Julie?’
Our neighbours in the old farmhouse invited us in for a cup of tea and biscuits. I was going to leave my Parisian kitchen clock behind but she took it and she said she would think of me every time she looked at it. We hugged. Neither of them wanted us to go. Everything in the village was changing. Their neighbour the other side had died and there were new people in that house ripping it apart and refurbishing it.
But time was pressing. We said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch and left at 1.30pm.
Fortunately it was a dry day for our journey but it was slow. We stopped at Exeter services at 3.30 where we bought sandwiches and tea. Seven and a half hours to get to Littleport – so many 50 MPH restrictions on the motorways. We’d rung our son-in-law, on the way, to get us some fish and chips. Thank goodness it was waiting for us when we arrived – we were starving. Our son-in-law had been to pick up the keys to our Watlington house but the estate agent was confused when he asked for them that afternoon and wouldn’t give them to him. Luckily our new neighbours in the house next door had been left a set. We knocked at 9.45pm and the man gave us the keys without saying very much, shut the door and turned off the lights. Not a good introduction to our new neighbours!
The porch light had been left on to welcome us. The solid fuel Rayburn was cold – the fire allowed to go out of course, but the central heating had been left on and the house was very warm. There were 3 new home cards: one from my sister, one from our neighbours who we had said goodbye to only hours before and one from the previous owners with a note saying there was a bottle of something cold in the fridge! I went round examining my new home while my husband pumped up the inflatable beds. The rooms looked huge without any furniture; the lounge/diner resembled a ballroom. We made tea and sat on camping chairs and ate some of Carol’s lemon cake. Phew! It had been a long day and there would be a lot to do tomorrow. 11pm bed. I lay awake, the inflatable bed uncomfortable, and tried to visualise where all the furniture was going. Unlike when we moved into Avalon, tonight we were boiling hot!
At 3.10am we were woken up by an almighty clank – the heating had come back on! It was difficult to get back to sleep. Dogs were barking, birds were tweeting as I watched the new dawn rise.
Day 1 at Glebe Avenue. I wrote in my diary – ‘A nice sunny morning. It’s got a nice feel to it, this house. I hope we’ll be happy here’.
At 8am Plymouth Removals pulled onto the drive, the guys jumped out and set to work. The garden plants and equipment were first to be unloaded. But they couldn’t get our two wardrobes up the stairs owing to the bulkhead overhang. We had to ask them to leave them in the garage. They left at 11.25. My husband tipped them then our hard work began – unpacking, erecting beds, arranging furniture…
We stopped for a pizza from the freezer for lunch.
My brother texted – ‘Hope the move went well’. I couldn’t get a signal anywhere, so I couldn’t reply. I have never had a problem obtaining a mobile phone signal before. Our landline wasn’t connected and so I had to go next door to the neighbours who gave had given us the key the previous evening to ask to use their phone. She shut the two dogs in the living room while I dialled. They barked continuously making it difficult to hear the person on the other end. I felt uncomfortable, especially as I had to go back indoors for another number and try again. I finally got through to someone who could help me and heaved a sigh of relief. Then we couldn’t get the TV to work. The previous owners had had Sky TV; something with which we were unfamiliar.
Our new neighbour from the bungalow next door came to say hello. That was nice. A brief chat with him, he didn’t come in, then back to the unpacking.
The two bar stools we’d ordered for the breakfast bar arrived and my husband put them together. Slowly our new home was taking shape. It felt homely. We walked down to the village shop and bought a frozen chicken pie. The previous owners had left us some oven chips in the freezer so pie and chips was our first meal with a glass of the prosecco that they’d left us, to celebrate. The pie was horrible. I read the packaging – chicken from Brazil and Thailand! We left it; rather be hungry than ill, just ate the chips and vowed to go food shopping the next day. I looked across at my father’s bust of Beethoven (acquired from my mother before she died) sitting on the bottom half of the dresser – he looked happy in his new home. We decided the top of the dresser didn’t look right in this house so we left it in the garage. More discussion on what furniture to buy. We plugged the TV in but it wouldn’t work. Realised it was the aerial – something else to look into.
Our daughter rang my mobile but I had to go upstairs to receive it. She was very excited for us and amazed at how much we’d achieved. 10.30pm fell into my own bed. Arhhh…
The next day dawned grey. I woke up and wondered where I was. Tried to get water out of the fridge dispenser but failed. The freezer kept making ice; I read in the manual that you could turn it off.
After breakfast we went to John Lewis at Peterborough to order a washing machine and a dishwasher. It was a long journey, 35 miles in heavy traffic; had we realised we would’ve gone to Norwich. Whilst in John Lewis we had carrot and coriander soup for lunch. We came back to Kings Lynn Sainsburys, had tea and cake first then stocked up on groceries and a ceramic frying pan for the induction hob. My brother and our daughter texted on our journey home to ask how we were getting on. Came in and roasted half a chicken and potatoes and cooked some fresh vegetables. We sat opposite each other at our farmhouse table, in front of the French doors, to eat our dinner. Another glass of prosecco, ‘Here’s to us and our new life’. We continued unpacking and finally went to bed exhausted at 11pm.
In the days that followed we hung our pictures and gradually emptied the garage of boxes but there was a distressing amount of furniture still in the garage, mainly two wardrobes and the dismantled one. (Over time we reduced this and managed to get our two cars in the garage.) The shower room had been painted an acid yellow and this was the first to be redecorated with a pale neutral colour, far more in keeping with the beige wall and floor tiles. The study had been used, during the day, for the previous owners’ two dogs while they were at work. Consequently, the carpet was rather smelly and no amount of hoovering helped. We moved the study upstairs to the smallest bedroom, redecorated the downstairs room with Dusted Fondant walls and a Light Nutmeg carpet and turned it into a bedroom. I discarded the dusty Venetian blinds and bought Roman blinds with a faint purple stripe. The flowery bed linen echoed the garden viewed from the window and resembled my bedroom at Parkhurst Road all those years ago. It felt like a warm hug. Our burgundy sofas didn’t really look right against the dark feature wall, which we thought was black, but now realised was a very dark green. But we decided we could live with that and the remaining décor in the rest of the house for a while. There were umpteen boxes of books, mainly belonging to our daughter, for which my husband gradually built a wall of shelves in the second bedroom. We had another bookcase in the living room. The solid fuel Rayburn was another thing to get our heads around, but we gradually got to grips with this hungry monster that demands fuelling twice a day. (This is allowed to go out through the summer months.)
We slowly acquainted ourselves with the area. Kings Lynn retail park, ten minutes away, has a huge Tesco Extra and an equally large Sainsburys, where not only can you buy food but home-ware and clothing. There is a B&Q, The Range, PC World and other retail outlets. In the other direction Downham Market has a fresh produce market on a Friday and Saturday, a butcher and two supermarkets along with some independent shops. This was a refreshing change as Cornwall has very little in the way of outdoor markets. But we missed Trago Mills, the huge discount store in the Glynn Valley! We needed curtains in the lounge/diner but couldn’t find a suitable shop. However, all the windows had either Venetian blinds or roller blinds so there was no immediate need.
Next I had to find a writers’ group. This proved more difficult than in Cornwall where I had belonged to four at one point. Whilst in Ely library, about 35 minutes by car, I saw an advert for the Ely Writers’ Day and rang the number. The lady sounded cheerful and welcoming and when I attended the day proved to be inspiring. But there were no writers’ groups in the area. Disappointing. I decided to put a notice in our local parish magazine asking for like-minded people to get in touch. Two people replied – a man and a woman. I invited them to a meeting at home and we arranged to meet monthly. But the man eventually decided it wasn’t for him. However, the woman and I became good friends – I found out later that she had moved from Cornwall the week before us! Since then, I have found a group that meets monthly at Downham Market library and have taken part in two courses of Writing for Radio. These have been very enjoyable and we have attended BBC Radio Norfolk to record our stories. Hopefully, they will broadcast them at a later date.
Wanting to make friends, I decided to visit the monthly pop-up cafe in the village hall one Friday. I was invited to sit with two elderly ladies who were quite friendly and gave me a few ideas on where to buy curtains etc. but I didn’t find anyone my own age. Then one evening I toddled along to the Watlington W.I. I had belonged to the Haddenham branch for a number of years but this one had fewer members. However, I was put on a table with two other women, one being very easy to talk to and we hit it off straight away. We go out regularly for coffee and a chat and as a foursome with our partners for days out; something we never did in Cornwall. I have since made friends with two other local authors and we regularly meet up for tea and cake.
I have mentioned the small development of houses being built at the end of our road. Every time someone moved in we would have a power cut; usually on a Friday. This was very annoying to say the least. We put it down to an overload on the power supply and hoped it would soon be rectified. Then in July 2015 there was a storm and a massive power cut that knocked out my Outlook email system, something I have never been able to regain. Eventually these power cuts lessened and finally stopped.
When we came to view the house we thought it was in a quiet area. However, a dog in one of the houses opposite now barked continually for no reason, the owner being out at work every day. Neither of us has been used to living on an estate with all the noise that brings and we miss the peace and tranquillity of Rilla Mill. We also miss the wonderful views from our back garden, the buzzards circling above and the walks from our front door. To take advantage of Hunstanton, our nearest coastal resort, we often have to queue in traffic to get there. In the height of summer it can take us over an hour, whereas Looe was only twenty minutes away from Rilla Mill. The A10 trunk road is very busy, even out of season, something we never took into consideration before we moved. We have learned that there are more houses due to be built in the village and this will only make matters worse. The doctor’s surgery is already over-loaded having patients on their books from twenty surrounding villages and the junior school is under a similar strain.
However, the proximity of family makes up for a great deal of the misgivings. My sister and brother-in-law live the other side of Norwich, a seventy-five minute journey. They were our first visitors. We provided lunch for them and they thought the house was impressive. Although they had lived in their house nearly three years we had never seen it. This is a single-storey property in the village of Upton, close to the Norfolk Broads.
Our daughter and son-in-law are the closest at Littleport and we often have them to dinner. My stepson lives in Leicester, a comfortable train ride away for him. My eldest daughter and my granddaughters live near Woburn which is reached by car in under two hours. My brother, being the furthest away, has a flat and his own shop in Margate which is easily reached by train in three hours. And our youngest daughter finds the train journey from York to Watlington less stressful than when we lived in Cornwall. (She has since graduated and now lives in Rickmansworth, doing a PhD.) Previously, all these journeys meant planning a few days away in a B&B, so all in all we manage to see the family far more often.
Our neighbours in Cornwall had put their house on the market shortly after we moved to be closer to her daughter at Northampton. They told us that the woman who moved into Avalon had the greenhouse removed (she has dogs and was anxious they would cut themselves on the glass) and gave it to the woman in the house adjoining the field at the bottom of the garden. My husband was sad to hear this after all the hard work that went into putting it together and the enjoyment he gained from growing his own plants.
My husband is in the garden most days, weather permitting, and he was pleased that there was a greenhouse already here. He makes full use of this, growing plants from seeds and cuttings. We have made improvements, digging out a larger bed for the different species of grasses we brought with us and have since added to these. We dug out an oval bed in the centre for herbaceous plants. My husband has taken out three trees – a plum, an apple and a medlar, all diseased, and/or planted in the wrong places. The shed has had a coat of grey/green paint and the log store has been improved. There is a raised bed of strawberries that have been very abundant and succulent recently. On the wall of the extension is a young wisteria which has flowered for the first time this year. (2016) We planned to train this over a larger area. In the far corner of the garden was an old sculptured plaque leaning against the fence. I wanted to move this to another part of the garden to try and make a feature but I gave up on the idea as the plaque was in a dilapidated state. I would like an urn on a plinth in the far corner but these are rather expensive, unless sourced from a reclamation yard or the internet. Leading to this, where there is less light, we plan to have a timber arch with honeysuckle growing up it. In the garden beyond ours, the owner has let their conifers grow to over thirty feet which make the top end of our garden cold and dark. They are unsightly because the lower branches have been thinned causing them to die back. With a bit of luck we hope these will eventually be lowered thus opening up our garden to more light.
The patio was another area for concern, being uneven and too small, but this summer (2016) my husband has re-laid it, made it bigger and a more interesting shape. Having already done this at Avalon, my husband was reluctant to do it by himself – as he gets older he finds manual jobs take him a lot longer – but he took his time and went about it in a methodical way. However, he encountered a problem – he uncovered a manhole under the existing paving slabs! The whole patio had to be lowered to accommodate the manhole within the new paving. It is now a usable space and looks as though it has always been there.
The front garden needs attention: there is a square patch of grass in poor condition and flower borders on three sides. The concrete path is showing signs of wear, puddles when it rains and the gravel drive needs replenishing. Front gardens seem to pose a problem; there are very few examples in the village from which to gain any inspiration. Most houses in Watlington favour our old enemy the gravel, resembling a pebble beach. We don’t want to pave it all, feeling block paving is better suited to urban areas. We don’t want to re-turf it either. I look back at all the houses I have lived in but to no avail. Modern living means there has to be somewhere to park the car but I’m reluctant to make the front garden into a car park. (There is enough room for three cars on the drive anyway.) We often visit open gardens for ideas, but as yet, none are forthcoming.
We don’t know if this will be our last move. Perhaps in the years to come we might find the stairs difficult to climb, who knows? We are already looking at peaceful, non-estate properties, but as we get older we need access to amenities. Also no one can guarantee a good doctor or dentist will be available, or short queues for hospital appointments. Like the old saying – better the devil you know…
Looking back at the other twelve houses, Parkhurst Road remains my favourite, where I grew up in gentler times with wonderful parents who understood the importance of home.
UPDATE on the garden:
My husband has made a wooden arch and we bought a honeysuckle and a jasmine to trail up it. This is now established and makes the garden look bigger as the eye is led through to the urn. I spotted this at one of our garden centres whilst having coffee with a friend. It was ideal! I took my husband back to see it, he agreed it was just right and we brought it home. I use different plants in it depending on the season. Last year we planted a large bright yellow begonia that brightened up that dark part of the garden. The overly tall conifers are still there. We are still hoping that the owners will reduce them by at least twenty feet. The raised bed of strawberries has been removed to make way for more plants. The front garden is still posing a problem but we have reduced the amount of poor grass by creating a large flower bed and adding some shrubs. This year we plan to improve the remaining grass, skim the path with concrete and top up the gravel drive.
Where to next?
Julie Ann Newman. 2020.