Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Afternoon tea

'I've been sorting things out' says Dr N. pointing to a bulging bin bag in the corner. 'No point in keeping bits of correspondence - no interest to any one - African days, old friends. They've all passed on. I'm 86. I've not got much longer. It can all go.' The silence of the room is broken by the ticking of a clock and the roar of some agricultural machine on the hill beyond. 'Now he,' Dr N continues, nodding to the door though which his brother has ventured in search of some artifact or other, 'is a different matter. Everything. He keeps everything.'

In our quest for reminiscences Doreen and I have come to talk and take tea with these two elderly brothers. We present ourselves at the back door. Now 'Mother' is no longer here, the front door and best rooms are locked and barred and we are shown, through the scullery, into what we might best describe as the kitchen. It's grimy - the dishcloth defies description and odd boxes of 'things used' stand around. There is much strange plumbing and pipework, a tap bears the urgent label: 'DO NOT USE, bells to summon the ghosts of servants past are still in place and calendars of years gone by line the walls. However, we are obviously expected - 4 chipped, mix-matched cups and saucers are on the table which has a cover of newspaper. I didn't think to get its date. The room is warm, almost uncomfortably so. We sit and we wait for the stories to creep out and tell themselves. Doreen's hand edges towards her notebook and mine towards the camera.

From the papers and directories come faces and places and things. 'Mother' came from hereabouts, married and raised these boys in South Africa. TB or the War brought them home to Bristol. Then, widowed and her sons independent, she returned to the county of her birth and to this old vicarage which they named, obliquely, after a township on the West Cape. Dr N joined his mother here nearly 30 years ago leaving medical practice in the bush for a garden on a south facing Shropshire hillside.

His brother returns from behind the closed door. He brings a newspaper which we are not allowed to touch. 'Fragile, so fragile.' It is a copy of the Shrewsbury Chronicle from August 1865. His long and once elegant fingers judderingly trace some detail or other and I think both he and it are slowly decaying in this place. His once acute and legal mind struggles to come up with the reason for bringing the newspaper into the room and finds only a flaky blur. He does keep everything, in trunks and drawers, files and boxes. The rooms behind that door, which we are not to allowed to enter, must be a treasure trove for anyone with a nose for the past.

The paper carried a report of a proposed railway, which like a proposed dam, was never built. The flat Rea valley remains an unspoiled vista from the drawing room they never use.

Just before the clock strikes 5 we leave, all talked out. Our hosts, as if reluctant to lose us, unlock outbuildings and stables for our perusal. The glory days of the Anglican clergy have unfolded before our eyes this afternoon; 4 acres of glebe, a living of £45 per annum, a vicarage, stable with hayloft, wash house - and these are only the earthly delights.......

'What did you make of those two?' Doreen asks me as we drive away down the lane, steering cautiously to avoid the ruts that threatened the axles on the way up.

I don't know. I really don't know. Shadows and echoes?


Pondside said...

Oh my, Mountainear, what an eerily beautiful visit. I've never been in an old vicarage, but you put me right in the picture.
Thank heavens you're taking the time to record these village memories/characters, as they are quickly disappearing. What will happen to all the papers when the two old men go?

Char said...

I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. I don't undestand some of it because I'm in Canada and you use different terms, but I enjoy it none the less. I've posted a link on my blog to yours under "Blogs I Read". Hoping that is alright with you. Thanks for the pleasant reading material. You're a talented writer.

toady said...

Lovely blog. What stories some of these oldies could tell. When I worked at the posh nursing home there was a very old and frail lady who had this wonderful B&W photo on her dressing table of a beautiful young flaxen haired women dressed in a safari suit and cuddling a lion club. I'd love to have known the background to that photo. Toady

Anonymous said...

I can well relate to your blog! We have hoards of items and an awful lot of what I would call rubbish, yet what my husbands father would have called "it'll come in useful one day."

Thank you, that was very interesting. Crystal xx

Suffolkmum said...

What a great post, yes you do write very well. Loved the shadows and echoes. Perfect description of a world teetering on the brink of extinction.