Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cottages and Kind

I must tell you a little about this little cottage I'm renting: it's beautiful, old and rickety, and plopped on the green away from the road, diagonally opposite the cricket pitch. Summer nights are enhanced by glimpses of men and boys in white running around and cheering gently. This is the blowsy time of the year. The bluebells are disappearing, but the cow parsley and buttercups are rioting outside in the long grass, the other side of our garden wall. Reluctant DofE hikers and dog walkers amble past and the dogs rush the five-bar gate without fail, protecting their kingdom. The house dates back to the  17th century. It's a Grade II listed cottage (which means, essentially, you can't pull it down or do much to it without a lot of permission). The doorways are about 5 foot 2, and the ceilings just a little bit higher than that. (If DM stands upright in the bathroom, for example, he hits his head. He is 6 foot 3.) In the kitchen and in the sitting room there are big old brick inglenooks, frame in heavy oak beams. I rather suspect that the rats have there houses there, where it's warm. There are two extremely narrow and winding staircases which we have all fallen down, at least twice, including the dogs. The floor in the bedroom is at 45 degree angle and the bed frequently slides towards the window. All of the window frames are rotting and there is peeling paint in a jaunty shade of racing green on the doors. The inside doors have old-fashioned latches and there is a hole the size of a fifty pence piece on each of them (which answers the question, where do the mice come in?). Despite the fact that the solid old walls are filled with two-hundred year old rodent poo, and that there a small insects eating holes in the ceilings, and it's hard to drive in a nail to hang a picture, despite the fact that the kitchen is dark and you have to walk outside in the dead of winter to get to the large fridge, it's a very happy house, a very charming house, a house, to be honest, I've fallen in love with.

From the kitchen door, there is a path that leads straight out to the small garden gate, which is covered with so many layers of peeling green paint, that it no longer shuts. The path is flanked by wild pink roses, blue irises from Cornwall, orange poppies, and cow parsley. But there are signs of peonies and aquilegia and allium popping up. It's impossibly beautiful. After months and months of greyness and low-slung skies, there is sunshine and that impossible, chlorophyl-filled green everywhere, layer upon layer of it, punctuated by the snow-like hawthorne blossom.

Outside the backdoor, apart from the wild, wild grass, there is a huge bay tree, a huge hazel tree and a rather nice slab of old concrete where there must be a well, but it has become the sunning place of choice for the dogs.

The truth is, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to live here. I am a hybrid. I am other. I am neither one nor t'other. I just don't know how this country works or what the secret codes are, or what group I'm meant to attach myself to. I don't know if this bleeding heart liberal who has LA in her heart is going to be embraced here by the Brits.

So, here's the thing, when I was in LA, pining for the Chilterns (apparently that's my thing: living in a state of longing) I had so many British friends who would come to stay or want to hook up when they were over, who would send children to stay (all delightful, let me say), but now that I'm here, apparently I'm less appealing. It's quite strange. It's a little bewildering. I'm not one to feel sorry for myself, but I'm just not sure if this is where I can be. Or perhaps I am too impatient. Perhaps it does take years. Perhaps all the years and experience and success in business and being ballsy and out there and in charge and shouting about feminism from the rafters isn't in fact what sells you here in Blighty. They just don't care.

And so I am writing about my cottage, which I love. And showing pictures of my happy dog and my fat bay mare on Instagram. And then I think about Vonnegut and kindness and hope that if I continue to try to be kind, things will change. Who knows?

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”
― Kurt Vonnegut


tedsmum said...

It is what it is......accept all the kindnesses offered you, breathe deeply and do the things that make you happy. It will come when you're not trying, recognise it. Belonging isn't always what you expected. Sleep well x

LPC said...

I have family in Great Britain. They are warm, funny, clever, elegant people. But at a certain point in every conversation I find myself wanting to yell, 'But just what are we talking aBOUT!!!" Because the content is so far from the medium, the function so far from the form.

I can imagine it would be quite tricky to feel at home there unless you'd never left. xoxox.

Lou said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head, in terms of that elusive thing about which makes something interesting to one person, and not to another. I'm British, and similarly live in a 16th century farmhouse surrounded by fields, and I often revel in the charm of it. This time of year is divine. But if I could, just for an hour, be somewhere more glamorous, more chic, more full of life, then I would, in a heartbeat. Somewhere where mud doesn't feature and there's guaranteed warmth. I used to read your descriptions of the Californian canyons and yearn for that dry, vaporous heat and imagine what it would be like. Now I am sure there are those in America reading your words about Blighty and thinking it sounds equally as bewitching. Kindness is king, but I am learning that so too is perspective. I just depends what lens you're using to look.
Lou x

Marcheline said...

Lou hit the nail on the head, but let me add my two cents' worth. Your cottage sounds absolutely wonderful. I, too, live in a cottage. Not as old as yours, but with all the quirks and oddities of any dwelling built very nearly 100 years ago (2025 will be my cottage's hundredth birthday). I have learned to view the foibles of my space with the lens of "really wonderful things are a lot of work". When I find myself yearning for the moneyed life, I just open my ears and listen to the people around me who have money. They're all fairly miserable. They go on cruises and then spend the next month complaining about the food and the service. They buy a new thing, only to yearn for the next model. More, more, shinier, bigger, more... never happy.

I have found my happiness by going backward in time. The vintage, the antique, the patina, the sound of a phonograph needle on a 78RPM record... these are the things that make my heart hum. Billie Holiday singing, Baroque music, writing with a quill pen that I made myself... these are a few of my favorite things.

New and shiny gets old and crappy fairly soon, but things of quality acquire a glow with time.

I know what you mean about "belonging"... I have lived here my whole life (minus 8 years when I traveled for a living) and yet all my dearest friends are in the UK. I don't seem to be able to meet any kindred souls in New York, as much as I would like to. My husband is a wonderful exception to that, but he is as odd as I am and not "from here" either, which explains our connection.

If I could indulge in a wish, it would be that getting from NY to the UK would take only an hour, and cost no more than bus fare. If life was truly fair, I would be living in Scotland right now. C'est la vie!

Lynn said...

Oh my, I've lived in Florida for 25 years (came for work), and it's never seemed like home. There's no sense of "here" here; people come and go and talk about where they are from. I long for a place with a sense of history (50 years is an eon here), real seasons and character. I could also ask for leadership that doesn't want to sell out the only reason people come here -- beaches, rivers, sun, etc. -- but that is probably too much.