A Work of Fiction

Martin and his girlfriend Steff have moved into the cottage of their dreams in deepest, rural Wiltshire.
Read her diary and live the life.

Rundown and Romantic

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Burning Question

It was while we were tending our little veg patch that Joe finally opened up about it.

'I want a new dog, Mum. I've asked Bertie, and he doesn't mind.'

I lost complete sight of the baby leaves in front of me for a moment; all I saw was an unfamiliar bundle of fluff and energy racing across the field, barking at the sheep, thundering down the stairs and gruffling in his sleep at the foot of Joey's bed. The image faded and I dug my trowel into the soft earth again.

'What sort would you want?' I asked him, careful how I chose my words.

'The sort that stays for a while,' he replied.

The radish leaves went misty again, but for a different reason this time. I tossed the trowel down and hugged my son. 'Daddy and I'll see what we can do,' I promised. Suddenly it seemed like the most important thing in the world. And Bertie would understand. Bertie, who had died so young.

Joey smiled. Really smiled. And I realised for the first time that the gap between his front teeth was finally being replaced by a brand new sliver of white. He picked up my trowel and began to tickle the carrot tufts.

'And Rufus says he'll give me one of his kittens if we take him with us on the next steam train ride.'

Oh did he? 'That's generous of him,' I mused, with a half smile. 'A cat and a dog now, is it?'

But inside I was thinking, I wonder if any of the kittens are grey...?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Party Animals

The rain stopped - yay!

Joe and I ventured across the field to see the sheep, and were confronted by a mass of slimy straw, oozing mud and all manner of other knee-high crap. Not that Joe cared one iota; he was straight in there, bucket in hand, parcelling out chunks of parsnip and carrot from yesterday's dinner and trying to keep his fingers from being gnawed in the process. God bless the man who invented Wellington boots!

It was also kind of obvious the animals had been busy partying at the far end of the field since the last time we had seen them. I had to laugh; their faces were filthy, and their bodies - still unshorn both because of the weather and the fact that the shearer hopped it to France when we were last expecting him - were strewn from head to hoof in weeds and odd bits of fruit blossom from the damson trees. They looked like they'd just returned from a wild night out. They were fairly easy to clean up, but the stables were a complete disaster area. Joey and I got raking, which took us over two hours (with a tea and Mars Bar break in between, naturally), and now their home is cleaner than my front room.

Oh, and we have more wonderful manure for our vegetable patch. Two guesses what we'll be doing tomorrow...

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Bertie's in Heaven, and so were we...

So, after the driest April on record, we were confronted by the wettest May, and, so far, June is a continuation of the same. Joe and I got fed up staring out at the grey skies and dank grass, so we decided to go check out our secret stream, which, whatever the weather, would, I'm sure, take us straight into Heaven if we only cared to follow it far enough.

And there it was, choked and spluttering, stumbling over the rocks and semi-submerged logs, gathering what debris it could as it floundered past us, swirling round Joe's wellie as he dug his toe into the stream-bed, sending up a small cloud of dust and silt that got washed away in the foamy waters. His mind was far away. I knew where he had gone, only it was somewhere so intensely private I knew I could not follow. He was remembering Bertie, and how that animal used to adore splashing in these shallows, his coat sparkling with sunlit drops of water. Bertie, who died so suddenly.

Later, trudging through the woods, we found trees covered in fans of fungus that gave them funny faces like old men. The Old Men of the Woods, we called them. I took this picture to show Martin while Joe stuffed his pockets with bits of bark, stones, feathers and moss. He even snatched up half a bird's egg, saving it from the crushing fate of my undiscerning wellie.

I can't remember a more bitter-sweet time spent with my son. He tries to smile, and won't admit that he's missing his dog, trying to be the happy boy we all expect him to be. Is it time to get a new dog, I wonder? A cat? Why not both? God knows I would buy a herd of cows if it meant seeing Joey smile again.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Donkeys and Chips

It seemed we were doomed to a quiet and uneventful Saturday, what with Martin working overtime, so imagine how chuffed we were when we received a phone call from Joe's friend, Rufus's mum, asking us if we would like to accompany her and her two children to the seaside for the day! Turns out it was Rufus's birthday, and he was adamant that, of all his school chums, it was Joe he wanted to take with him on the train.

More train rides! But just your everyday diesel from town this time, although Joe couldn't have been happier in light of recent events. I haven't been to Weston-Super-Mare since I was a teenager, but very little had changed. Three-year-old Ottilie was scared stiff of the donkeys, but was successfully diverted by a plastic windmill and a wisp of candyfloss while the boys trotted up and down the sand at least three times on Caroline and Bootsie. It was about then that Laura and I began to feel chilly as the wind was picking up from the sea, but it didn't stop the boys from stuffing chips and ice cream, and feeding the seagulls that drifted in like a tidal wave.

And would you believe it ... the tide was in!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Young and Old, Now and Never Gone

There's an old chap who lives up the lane from us, who we used to see occasionally leaning over his gate when we took Bertie for long rambles. We were only ever on waving terms (which is more than we were with any of the other neighbours) and never knew a thing about him until Seb (who knows everyone) told us that Old Bob Tollit, over at The Cabbage House, used to be a train manager many years ago on the old Dorset railways. The next thing we knew, Joe and I were ushered into a small and slightly stuffy sitting room, crawling with chintz and paintings of the sea, to view Mr Tollit's memorabilia from those bygone days.

If I suspected Joe of falling under the magic spell of steam before, I saw him well and truly bewitched today as he knelt on the floor surrounded by brown and curling tickets, timetables, fliers and photographs, each one with a particular odour of their own; the scent of age, and dust, and memories. Old Mr Tollit seemed to regress for an hour, taking my son with him into a time I couldn't quite share, but just to watch them - young and old - sharing the same dream, was good enough for me.

I've always loved this village, but I'm just beginning to realise there is still so much I don't know about its residents. I never used to care; well, people don't, do they? But, like Joe with his trains, I think I have caught the bug to find out more.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Moth Magic

It's always hard to follow up a really good day out with anything remotely decent, but I think Joe and I managed it today.

While hanging out a couple of freshly laundered sheets, I heard a shriek of delight, only to discover Joe bent over double at the bottom of the house wall, his stubby fingers itching to pick and pull at something attached there, but with the overiding good sense to leave it well alone. With a peg still gripped between my teeth, I bent down beside him to find a broken cocoon, the butterfly having emerged neatly from it and now residing magestically next to it, drying its wings in the sun.

We found it again an hour later. Joe tried to sketch it while I took the sheets off the line and folded them into the laundry basket. It was quicker to take a photo, which I did while he wasn't looking.

I'll show it to him later, only I'm sure his sketch will be far better.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

I Often Dream of Trains...

Oh God, it's beautiful here! We arrived to the sound of bells from the village , and light splots of rain soaking quickly into the dust on my shoes as we approached the station house, where a huge locomotive presided over the scene like some mechanical matriarch from the 1800s. Joe doesn't know which way to look first. His little face is bemused and awestruck, loving the acrid billows of steam but not understanding them.

We managed to find a coach all to ourselves, and slammed the door on the outside world. Nestled into our seats, Martin and I, with Seb and Joe opposite, grinned inanely at each other as the haunting, flutey voice of the train floated over the carriage and the guard blew his whistle to begin our journey.

The train monopolized all conversation. We sat there, jolting and bouncing, hypnotized by the chugs and clangs, the rumbles and rattles, imagining a world not too long ago when life was always this perfect - as near as dammit, before people wrecked it with cars and Thomas the Tank Engine. A time when trees and bushes and cows were all there was. When women's dresses rustled aainst the narrow doorframes. When men pulled their bicycles out from beneath a hedge and wobbled their way home.

I think Joe has caught the disease. His eyes were dancing as he drank his hot chocolate later in the cafe. Seb bought him a flag, and Martin took some great pictures. I think today has been one of the happiest I can remember for a very long time. I want more.

The promise of steam

You'll be relieved to know I didn't burn the dinner, although I did chuck more wine into the Bourgignon than I should have. I figured it would calm my nerves while I ate. That's debatable, of course, but it certainly gave the beef an indescribable colour.

I was so nervous, I let the men do the talking while I concentrated all my efforts into serving the food without tipping half of it over the cloth (or down myself), but quite honestly, nobody was watching anything I did, as it soon transpired that our good friend and neighbour, Seb Lancashire, had a passion for trains that could only be equalled by my dear Martin's; a subject that bewitched the pair of them and kept their focus away from me and firmly fixed on ashpans and bogies for the rest of the evening.

Before we knew it, we were sitting on garden chairs outside the back door, watching the bats swooping in from the trees and listening to the gurgling of the stream, while we cooked up our own plans for a turn 'on the chuffers'.

As the boys continued in their animated style, I sat back with a glass of wine, feeling the lightest of breezes on my face, and smiled happily into the gloaming.