Buckets and Blankets. Words and pictures by Malcolm Anderson.
Autumn arrived with a bit of a whimper in my little corner of Wiltshire. Not the hurricane that some doom-mongers in the media predicted but with a sort of terribly British understated and apologetic gustiness.
As the storm winds blew the TV filled with images of soggy haired reporters stood on Weston-super-Mare beachfront desperately seeking something stormy to film as the knee high rollers trickled ashore behind them. Drove Cottage stood as it has for centuries, chimneys swaying in the wind, doors and windows howling with childish glee as moist southwesterly fingers of air probed cracks and gaps for purchase. Like a gang of Longleat monkeys pulling at the window sealant on a Ford Cortina the wind looked to pull things out of place, to disorder and cause mischief. Every gust searching for the next loose window to bang or bin to knock over.
A new sound invades my consciousness as I sit in front of the fire scribbling in my notebook. Somewhere beyond the rice kriskpie hiss and crackle of the ash as it sends curling snake tongues of fire up the chimney; somewhere in-between the scritch and the scratch of pen on square lined notepaper. There at the corner of my awareness lies a new something.
Used to the creaks and groans of the old shell around me it takes a while for me to mobilise, and longer still for me to locate the source of the intrusion. A small line of water is proceeding down the slope of the roof in the kitchen. An aquatic line of water molecules made ants, ants coated in mother of pearl, glistening as they roll inexorably down the hill until finally they reach the window opening, turn right for a second and then fall gracefully one by one. Plip. Plip. Plop. In a last burst of glory they explode into fragments and spread across the windowsill, spent like yesterdays boyfriend.
Standing in the rain wearing waterproofs pyjamas and a head torch I’m glad that there are no neighbours to witness me clambering about on a stepladder looking for the source of the leak. Unable to find anywhere obvious I resign myself to having a decorative yellow bucket to catch the drops on rainy days, at least until the landlord fixes the leak. In reality that of course means the bucket may be a semi-permanent fixture, next to the chilli plant and the washing up liquid.
As October flows into November the landscape around the cottage changes. The naked fields take on a caramac colour, the bones of the chalk poking through the thin soil. The droveways have somewhat lost their hidden nature now the beech and ash leaves now lie underfoot, mingling with Septembers forgotten wild apples. The plus side is that I’m now seeing views across grassy bowls that previously have remained secret and that it gets dark more slowly under the witchy limbs, the down side is that the weather now has a tendency to come in to my tunneled walkways and I feel a little more exposed.
The late autumn sunshine brings me out of my den, away from the keyboard, washing up machine and an overfull sink, out into air that smells of wood smoke, rotting apples and mushrooms. Corn buntings hunt through the field edges, which still cling to their scraggly coat of stubble, taking off in with a fluttering commotion as I climb the stile out of the drove and emerge onto the open plain. The sun also brings out the skylarks who have been in fine form, their songs filling my ears as I run and walk over the raised bed of the roman road which runs diagonally across the high confectionary coloured fields.
Along with the changes outdoors the slipping of the seasons has brought changes inside Drove Cottage. Mostly it’s getting cold.
I always knew the cottage would be expensive to heat, well with a day job looking at energy efficiency in old buildings for the National Trust I really ought to have had an inkling about how the building would perform. Turns out I was right, the place is a bit of a bugger. Sure there’s an oil central heating system but on a charities salary and without having found a way for these written mutterings to earn me a crust the boiler stays off for all but two hours a day to take the edge off. The boiler heats the house up really quickly but with the rubbish construction, the countless thermal bridges from poor patch up jobs and filled in old doors and windows, the wonky single glazed windows and the open chimney in the dining room that I can’t use because of a colony of bats, the house loses it’s heat as quickly as it gains it.
It’s rather frustrating to have the technical know-how to fix the house, to make it comfortable, to get it off oil, to make it ‘greener’ but as it’s not my house I can’t go crazy and make significant changes. I’ve got heavy curtains lined with old fleece hung over doors and windows. I’ve got hand made sausage dogs lying across the back doors. The loft is now insulated and I’ve plugged the worst of the gaps around opening windows. Mostly though I rely on the fire in the lounge, which is fired up most evenings, the ritual of it’s lighting acting as a bridge between the working daytime and the evening free time. The lean-to is stuffed full of rounds of ash supplied by Luke from his work alongside Wiltshire’s rivers and the smell of moss on my hands and the slight tang of soot in the air is now a permanent companion.
Along with a small mountain of logs the other mainstays of keeping warm as we head towards a Drove Cottage Christmas include fingerless gloves and slipper socks whilst working at home. Extra jumpers are the required dress code at breakfast and for bedtime two duvets and hot water bottles are the new black for each bed. Sure by the morning my nose resembles Rudolf on a foggy Christmas Eve, but there’s something quite satisfying about sleeping in a really cold room inside a nice toasty bed.
I look forward to the deeper days of winter when Frost plays etch-a-sketch on the inside of my windows at night; where I eat breakfast hugging the raked over embers of last nights fire for warmth, and for now, I wouldn’t change a thing.