Life’s Like That, and Memory Can Be A Funny Thing Too

You may recall that earlier this year we indulged and spent some of my retirement lump sum on a new-to-us car. The idea was to have a vehicle that would MOT easily and that we could readily go to town in. Mr L is on leave for the last two weeks in August and we are planning a shopping trip to stock up the store cupboards.

Yesterday Mr L asked if I fancied getting an early start on the weekend. He promised to come out of his cupboard after the paid work was done and spend the evening with me. I voted for a stroll along Sty Wick but he thought beer and nibbles in front of the new Lost DVDs would be the most relaxing. We needed a quick trip to Lady for some beer supplies. He went to turn the car around and I went in search of some shoes. By the time that I was ready, he was backing the car into it’s space with a grim look on his face.

The car was making strange grumbling noises in it’s left forequarter. We both agreed that it was the kind of noise that meant we should not be taking the car anywhere at all. I stuck my head under the wheel arch and had a look and there was a large spring at what appeared to be an odd angle. I went around the other side and the spring there was looking far more sensible and… well, perkier.

Sure enough, the spring is broken and is rubbing on the wheel. It needs a replacement, though the mechanic of the household reckons that if the old spring were to be removed, the car could still go places if driven carefully. What it comes down to now is that either Mr L sends for new springs and fits them on his holiday, when he should be fitting doors and windows – or we take the car in for repair and an MOT. Either way, we don’t get to take it for a shopping trip, which means that I must venture forth this coming week.

Well, we shrugged  shoulders and winced at probable costs and then we swapped over to the Land Rover… which would not be put into gear!

It was a  beer-free night and I had to give Gill a call to let her know that I had no transport today, when I was supposed to be looking in on Tan whilst Gill is at the County Show in Kirkwall. There ensued a great deal of shouting and swearing and of dogs hiding under beds and tables (me too!) before Mr L could be persuaded indoors and soothed. We watched Lost and drank wine and consumed home-made nibbles instead (cheese straws… mmmmmm.)

Thankfully, the Land Rover has turned out not to be a big problem – the clutch plates had seized from prolonged lack of use. Mr L freed them and we have been able to get some weekend shopping done. This is good because although I was happy to walk to the shop with my backpack on, it is a little dreich today and keeping dry is so much better.

Maybe dreich is the wrong word, though the day is worsening now. There was a drizzle but it was warm and there was virtually no wind so not at all unpleasant. We had the unusual experience of seeing rain fall straight down in Orkney. I was able to stand and stare for a while at the big seal in the water by the Butcher’s Shop. My, he was a big chap – I think the largest seal I have seen here. Naturally I had left my camera at home but, as the cars prove, life’s like that.

Sod’s Law applies at all times.

The other funny thing is memory. Quite apart from the way that memory tends to bend truth in the selective way that it renders to us the past, it can also return us with astounding clarity and accuracy to the past with the most bizarre or even the simplest of triggers.

This morning I rose and on the way to my shower I opened the curtains as I passed by. Something in my brain registered the way in which I drew the curtains back with the flat of my palm and I recalled childhood instructions regarding not tugging on curtains.

Suddenly I was transported to a country house in Yorkshire, one of several houses I have been familiar with over the years. Dad worked as the Chauffeur and my mother was required to work in the house. One of her duties was to go in each evening and to close all the curtains throughout the house, even in rooms that were not in use, and to turn down the beds that were. Often, if his Lordship was out for the evening, I would accompany her and do the curtain pulling – always with precise instruction on the correct way to draw the curtains to avoid damage or marking. I was not permitted to turn down the bed, place the hot water bottles or lay out the silk pyjamas… all of which had to be done with remarkable precision.

I was right there this morning; in the deep warmth, with all that house’s own particular smells of roast grouse, furniture polish, bespoke Floris perfume and bowls of pot pourri, and the lush carpet that was so deeply-piled that every imprint of each foot showed quite clearly where its owner had silently trod. I had never known warmth such as that in my own homes and it felt rich and sensuous and decadent. Nobody in that house would ever require a vest or a sweater! In our tied cottage, heated by the one coal fire downstairs, we needed both.

Two worlds, just yards apart.

I loved that house; it was a real home, quietly understated in its opulence and not in the least bit self-consciously Grand.  Every last item in the house was hugely expensive but tasteful. Nothing jarred and every decorative item looked perfectly at home in its place. Nothing was overdone. There was no flash. The same was true outside in the wonderful garden in which the house nestled.  Even the Bentley was of a suitable age, not too new, nor too old, and not as flash as a Roller.

It helped to form many of my childhood notions of how I would live when I was one day “rich” and almost certainly accounts for why I now live, with just one other in the household, in such a large and rambling property as we do – we both love space around us. We are not rich by any means and never will be, but by the yardstick of my childhood we are now in a position that I could never have dreamed of.

His Lordship’s taste was impeccable and much of that left an impression on me. I’m happy to say that I never felt a genuine envy of him, or others that my parents and later landowners that I worked for – but I do believe that I absorbed by observation many lessons regarding quality and good taste and some of those I have taken in to my life as I have grown older, others I still yen for from time to time – like a carpet that stifles sound and takes the imprint of feet. It’s my idea of absolute, definitive, luxury – that and a continuously-heated house!

It’s easily explained when you know that I first grew up in a two-up-two-down-back-to-back-toilet-down-the-yard terrace in one of the less good parts of a Northern gritty city. It’s easy to admire nice things – maybe not so easy to keep envy at bay. I hope that I have managed that. I like nice things and will always buy the best quality that I can afford. I’ve just never been able to afford very much.

Would I have a lady to come in and draw my curtains each night to save me the effort if I were both privileged and stinking rich?  I’d like to think not, but how can I ever really know. I shall never be in that position. I doubt that many folk are these days. It is a sobering realisation that I’m speaking of History here and that house and His Lordship are almost fifty years distant. Not many people had house servants then and I think probably even fewer do now.

There has been much knitting this week but very little photography or baking action. The posting action has all been over at Sanday Spinners. I imagine little will change in the coming days. Things ought to perk up here once the doors and windows arrive. Today sees Mr L removing more of the cork tiles from the old kitchen floor. Really, it’s not a photogenic activity.

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