Monday, 6 February 2017

Where Are You From? (A Rewind From Waaay Back)

Something go me thinking about the place where I grew up earlier.  I'm not sure what it was, maybe another blog post I was reading, I'm not sure.

I remembered this post that I wrote many years ago, probably in the first year I started blogging and I thought I'd share it here again ... 

Where Are You From?

When I’m asked this question I pause, where am I from? I've lived in many places but only really felt I belonged in one.

 My formative years were spent in a variety of places from Scotland to Australia but if home really is where the heart is, then I’m from South Devon.

I spent much of my childhood on and off in a small seaside village in South Devon. This is the village where my Grandparents lived, the village in which my Mother grew up.

It was our base, our security. When everything else fell apart around us (as it frequently did) this is where we would run.  Sometimes it was in between moves (My Father was in the Navy), sometimes for holidays and when I was 9 and my parents marriage broke up we moved back there to live.

The village  is split into 3 parts.  The start of the village is called St Anns Chapel, I'm not sure why.  Maybe there was a chapel there at some point but if so, it's long gone. There is a Pub, the Pickwick Inn although I believe the name has been changed in recent years, a  shop where you could buy just about everything and a small group of houses.  There used to be a small gift shop selling little ornaments with 'A Gift from Devon' stamped on them and sticks of Rock with Devon right through the center.

 A little further down the road, before you get to the village proper was the small group of mismatched houses where we lived.

My Grandparents had  built a long low bungalow on a large plot of land  they bought when they first married.

The bungalow was split into two  parts. The main house from which my Grandmother ran their Bed and Breakfast business during the Summer months and a small annex with one bedroom.  This annex they used to rent out to a gentleman, Mr Price, I never did know his story.  He was always smartly dressed and very proper. He used to buy us liquorice stick sometimess, not the black sticky commercial kind but real twigs that when you chewed them had a strong liquorice taste.

There were 4 houses on our side of the road.  Next door lived an elderly lady, Mrs Warren who used to be the village midwife. Her son reputedly lived with her but in all the years I lived there I never saw him.  She was very much a loaner but sometimes she used to stop and talk to me  and once she gave me a painted wooden train that had belonged to her son.  In return I picked her a bunch of Sweet William from my Grandmothers garden and left them on her doorstep.

Across the road  in the old police house lived Uncle Max and Auntie Mary. The police house was a large imposing building with a beautiful garden.  They weren’t really our Aunt and Uncle but as in the familiar way of country life we had many ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncles’ in the village.

Not actually Auntie Mary but very reminiscent of her
They were an extremely dashing pair. The epitome of 1940’s chic, an era they had obviously decided so suited them that they chose not to leave it.  Auntie Mary wore beautifully tailored linen slacks and crisp blouses and a scarf tied around her head and wrapped around her slender throat Grace Kelly style.  Uncle Max smoothed his abundant jet black hair back with Bay Rum Pomade and belted around the country lanes in his little red sports car with his golf clubs in the back.  they always seemed so happy, so in love, so full of fun and life.

Also not the actual kissing gates but similar
A little further down the road was the church.  You could get  to get to it, either by road, or take the shortcut through the kissing gates and across the cornfield.  The corn of my youth was so much taller than today.  I may have been a lot smaller then but the corn reached my shoulders, waving its golden ears gently in the breeze alive with butterflies and ladybirds.

St Lawrence's Church Bigbury
I spent a lot of time at and around the church as a child.  Granddad was a bell ringer and sometimes used to take me up to the bell tower, this was reached by a narrow staircase up the side of the building, he would let me pull on the ropes and laugh when I couldn't elicit a sound from them.

Every Sunday after Church he would go to the other pub in the village, The Royal Oak, for two halves of mild and a game of domino's. .  I don’t know why he never drank pints but it was always two halves

My Grandmother  the driving force in their marriage as so many women of her era were was a stickler for tradition.  Sunday lunch was served at one pm, never mind that Granddad was never home on a Sunday until 1:15.  One o’clock was lunchtime every other day of the week and so it was on a Sunday too. We would sit there waiting while our food cooled until Granddad, on the dot of the quarter hour made his appearance.

Granddad  also sometimes filled in for the local gravedigger (excuse the pun).  I would sit on a nearby grave and watch him first carefully remove the layer of grass exposing the rich soil underneath and then digging down, the earth in a neat pile beside him. I was fascinated by the way he seeming disappeared into the earth, almost as though he were being absorbed until only his flat cap was visible.

This could be the same window
My Grandmother was in the privileged position of having a church window of her own.  This was a much coveted honour.  Every Harvest Festival, Christmas and Easter the church was decorated.  There was an unspoken rivalry between the ladies of the village to have the most spectacular window display.  Great boughs of holly and Ivy would be gathered at Christmas, offerings of  giant pumpkins, russet apples and sheaves of corn at harvest time.  Delicate bunches of primroses and daffodils filled the deep stone sills at Easter filling the dusty air with their perfume.

Next to the church was a house that always stood empty.  It was a three stories high, made of dark grey brick and stood in its own grounds.  At one time it had been a very grand manor  house but now it was neglected, empty and rather run down.  It had its own little stone stairway up to the church.  At the top of the stairway tucked under the hedge grew Violets, purple and white, tiny delicate flowers with a delicate scent.  But the best thing of all was hidden from view.  There was secret garden!  At one time it must have been magnificent but now it was overgrown and had fallen into decay. But to us it was a wonderland of small stone walls and bushes to play hide and seek.

Behind the garden was an orchard where, despite not having been tended for many years the small gnarled trees still bore an abundance of sweet rosy apples in the Autumn and we used to fill our pockets with them as fuel when we went exploring.

The second part of the village boasted the another pub, this was where Granddad would sup his ale on a Sunday after church.  There was also the local village shop and Post Office where they weighed out sweets by the ounce and broke up toffee with a hammer.  There was a garage attached to the shop where self service had never been heard of and Mr Bardons clad in his oily overalls would fill up your tank for you while discussing the weather or the price of fish or just about anything else you wanted to chat about.

The prettiest houses were in this part of the village. Proper chocolate box houses with thatched roofs and roses around the door.

Here, down a small winding lane lived Miss Pierce and Miss Burrows, the founders of the BCC, Bigbury Cheery Christians.  This was in the days before computers, games consoles or even morning television. When children were encouraged to be out all day everyday. They were well travelled ladies and their house was crammed with memorabilia from all over the world.  At Christmas the postman was laden with cards with exotic stamps from every corner of the globe.
Theirs was like this but in a dark green

These ladies drove around in a Morris Minor Woodie. This set them apart from the bread baking, flower arranging WI women of the village as most ladies of their age didn't drive.

The BCC was designed to encourage children to think of others. They told us tales of their travels, about the hunger and difficulties faces by many children in other countries.  They showed us how to be grateful for the things we took for granted. We used to go Primrose picking in the Spring and then deliver the bunches of flowers around the village.  To the elderly, the ill, new mothers, whoever these lovely ladies felt could do with a bit of cheering up or joy in their lives.

They used to provide our little mixed band of half a dozen children with squash and biscuits and devise treasure hunts in their garden which was full of little streams and waterfalls with winding pebble paths.

Our parents trusted us with these ladies and were no doubt, in part, grateful for the free babysitting service.  The ladies had an air of peace and contentment, a happiness that comes of a life well lived and no regrets.  They didn’t participate in the mainstream of village life, they were ‘different’ maybe slightly exotic although they were English to the core.  They had been to places and seen things which set them aside from the average villager but they were well liked and very much respected.

The third part of the village was about two miles further on down a long road with a very steep hill.

This part of the village has a story of its very own which I will share in its own post another time.

But here's a sneak preview ...

And, if you have a few minutes to spare and you would like to hear about Edward and Mrs Simpson - Agatha Christie - Lord Mountbatten - Noel Coward and many more who visited this place - check out the video below.


Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Loved that, Sarah. Slightly wistfull - inevitably, perhaps. Now write the rest of the book. Seriously.

Sarah said...

Absolutely Mike, it IS wistful :-) I might write that book one day once I get myself organised.

Polly said...

Oh Sarah this is just delightful, a brilliant piece of nostalgia. I like the Sweet Williams left on the doorstep. My father had one of those Morris Minors, his was green. I remember the sea tractor and the hotel on Burgh Island from a Poirot episode I think, or it may have been an Agatha Christie one. Thank you for such a lovely read, and I agree with Mike x