FROM THE BLACKSMITH’S COTTAGE
Returning to help her ageing parents move out of her childhood home, OCTAVIA LILLYWHITE discovers that when it comes to life in an English village, some things never change
Returning to help her ageing parents move out of her childhood home, columnist Octavia Lillywhite discovers that when it comes to life in an English village, some things never change
One couple were relegated to the ‘bampot’ category by arriving two days early
My father is in a black mood. Having made the difficult decision to put our family home of 40 years on the market, he has identified a flaw in his grand moving plan: no one will ever buy it. “We’ll come,” I say. “We’ll clean up.” “It doesn’t need cleaning,” he seethes. “Anyone who buys it will gut the place and start over.” But I’m persistent. He comes from a generation that looked at a house and saw potential, but these days people are all about first impressions. My husband, the Lawyer, and I spent 30 minutes at a viewing in the Home Counties recently. While I was gauging how old the cooker was and surreptitiously turning on upstairs taps to check water pressure, he spent ages in the study. I came out impressed, but he was already shaking his head. “The guy had an awful record collection,” was all I could get from him.
My father says he wouldn’t want to sell to a ‘bampot’ like that anyway (he’s Glaswegian, so his choice of insults can be a little esoteric). But I think when it comes to it, he’ll sell to whoever offers something akin to the asking price, so we head down for a weekend of cleaning.
The mood is brighter. Three people are booked for viewings on Monday. One couple unfortunately relegated themselves to the ‘bampot’ category by turning up two days early since they were ‘just passing’. As my father tried to look nonchalant while wearing a boiler suit in the hope that they wouldn’t (correctly) surmise that he was repainting the outhouse, Mama, whose memory isn’t great (hence the need to downsize), misread the situation and cried, “What are you wearing? Have you been painting?” The couple didn’t come back. Those first impressions, eh?
When you’ve lived in a house so long, nothing strikes you as strange – it’s just how it has always been. No lock on the downstairs cloakroom? I never thought to question it until the Lawyer’s first visit. “I just walked in on your brother in the loo.” “Why did you go in if the door was shut?” “I thought it would be locked if someone was in it, like every other loo I’ve ever used.” “Seems reasonable, now you mention it.” In fact, with a critical eye, this old cottage is full of oddities. It’s not even a single building for a start – but a row of two cottages and a barn, hence three staircases for only four downstairs rooms. It’s more like a train, with one carriage leading off the next. Between carriage two and three is a link-room with bookshelves, which Mama is currently painting in Farrow & Ball’s Arsenic: appropriate as my father is looking somewhat murderous. I grab boxes and start collecting up paraphernalia that’s surplus to viewing requirement.
“Do we have to get rid of everything?” Mama asks. No, I say, just clutter. And things other people might think weird. Like our World’s Ugliest Postcard competition (congratulations, Netherlands), or SUPERMUM BY OCTAVIA, AGE 6. I’ve cleared the kitchen and Mama has daubed one patchy coat of Arsenic when the phone rings and a delighted estate agent informs us we have an extra viewing. “Fab!” says my father. “On Monday?” No – in an hour.
In the ensuing pandemonium, the books are sacrificed to the shelves, leaving our entire fiction collection with attractively green fore-edges from the paint, the heating is cranked up to max to ease the edge off the cold, and the dog, overcome with excitement, relieves himself on the floor.
With seconds to spare, we shuffle the whole family-plus-dog out of the back door with instructions to take up residence in the pub until further notice, just as excited viewers come in the front. Lingering behind, I hear someone exclaim, “Oh dear, what’s this wet stuff?” and my heart sinks. At least we’ve got two more viewings lined up for tomorrow.
Read next month’s issue of Country Living for more true-life village tales