Friday, 13 March 2009

Hartsgrove Remembered

That summer at Hartsgrove; you brought us tumbling through the brooding rhododendron down the flanks of the ravine, to show us the ice house mossy and dun, said to be by Adam though there’s no record of that, where in 1941 while London awoke to find the Duveen galleries the least of its casualties, James Lees-Milne took tea here with your grandparents seated on milk stools but never wrote it down, and the finances of the family was moved into children’s confectionary; a site acquired on the edge of a northern council estate that had swelled like a dormer-windowed tumour on the neck of a sleepy village by a stream, fed by Lord Reith and the 1946 New Towns Act, there on an inauspicious piece of scrub and concrete, next to a cattle market that had been there since the sixteenth century, your grandfather, realising that the world was on the cusp of change, yet trusting always in sugar as his grandfather had done – though, he would point out to you, his breath a fog of whisky and pipe shag, this was not the same sugar, this was not the same – he invested in a man named Ostler who had been a pharmacist before the war and together they set about employing the people of the council estate making bright pink sherbets and packing them into jars, and the sickly scent of the baking sugar hung with sickly scent of the drying pig shit in the market opposite, and all worked together and all was a happy world, and you said it was a shame that we did not commemorate our nation’s confectioners the way that we do our generals and politicians, and you pointed out to us the spot where Constant Lambert lost his wristwatch tickling for trout, though there were none, and the place where Nash is said to have set his easel though the accounts of it are vague, and you brought us to the end of the ravine where a Victorian gardener had envisaged a grotto should be built, but never was, furnished with sea-shells and lit at night by candled lanterns, and here we met that dog with the orange glass eyes who told us that the ravine had originally been scoured by unemployed Welsh miners, an act of family philanthropy that had resulted in unusual Welsh influences in the local crafts and vernacular furniture around Hartsgrove, and the dog, which was balding and not altogether there and mounted on a plinth that wrongly attributed it to be a Field Vole, invited us back to meet his family, but you politely declined and later told me you were tired of conversing with the taxidermy of the estate, as indeed you had done for most of your childhood, your nanny it seems having been stuffed with shredded music manuscript, which was widely supposed to be a lost plate-engraving of something by Mendelssohn, though when she was cremated, a controversial act amid the largely catholic staff, it seemed she would not burn and upon removal from the oven was found to be mostly of clockwork, and you showed us her grave which was uncommonly positioned in the centre of the drawing room, and your mother had taken to using her cruciform, marble stone as a whatnot for the display of miniature porcelain windmills, which you allowed me to play with and I justly did spinning the moulded sails about on their tiny brass nails, and you told me she had never been to Holland, and I said they had windmills in Norfolk too, but you wouldn’t believe me, and you went off to ask her, and you never came back. I let myself out.