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the ghosts outside the cottage

When I was six, my parents moved to the country, to be nearer to ducks. I traded in friends, neighbours and sweet shops for hills, tadpoles and scary dogs, Mum got big arms from pushing the pram up hills (contents; Vic, flat on her back, Lennie, sitting up, and me stood on the back of the frame), and Dad got ducks. We kept them in old ceramic sinks sunk into the muddy bit of the garden, the big square armitage shanks ones. They got dirty really quickly.

From the smart modern bungalow in Ringwood, we'd gone to a 300-year old stone cottage squeezed into a thin strip of bad land next to a lane that went nowhere. Thatch on the roof, a few tiny windows set deep in 3-ft walls and frightening steep stairs we all kept falling down. Big stone fireplaces and ill-fitting doors, drafts and gloomy corners and rooms which opened straight into each other because the house predated the invention of the corridoor.

There were hills in every direction, streams, fields, hedges, all that. We couldn't even see our neighbours. The cottage sat at the bottom of a crease of land like a pebble in a crack; in the winter, the lane drifted across, and when it rained water came in where someone had feebly attempted to modernise the kitchen with a pair of glass doors.

You don't need to lock your doors here! said Dad, as if that were an achievement. Of course you didn't. Who would come down here? Beyond us there were the Bennetts and their scary dog, Enid and Willy in the big house and, just as the lane became a dirt track and then just a stony hill, the perpetually bankrupting Diaments' Farm.

The windows along the front of the house (there were no windows along the back) had no view; lane, hedge, steep grass field climbing up to blot out the sky behind. Not even a light to hint at neighbours. So we didn't look out of the windows much, day or night, and didn't pay them much mind, at first. Big families are always full of chores, so when Mum added, "Go and draw the curtains," to the list of evening jobs (between "check the ducks", and "lay the table") no-one paid much attention.

But the second window in the kitchen was small and oh-so-easy to forget, and high up and behind the sink so you had to climb up onto the stool to draw the curtain and then it was practically impossible to do it quickly, all in one movement, without looking out of the window, like we all did, so you didn't catch your reflection and think that someone else was outside the window. Oh, there were shoutings when that window was forgotten, or when we bottled out and let it stay open, so that the person doing the washing up had to do it. Do you think it's fair that the person doing the washing up has to close the curtain, too?

I wasn't old enough to do the washing up.

Eventually we moved to another house in the village, also thatched, also 300 years old, but with more room for the ducks, and this one had running water under (and occasionally through) the house to keep all the birdies clean and healthy. We got nicer curtains, but everyone was a lot less bothered about drawing them, even though here we had neighbours in both directions, and plenty of people (well, one or two, and maybe a dog) might walk past at night.

The farm (as we imaginatively called it) was routinely invaded by shrews, the thatch was sagging (and eventually collapsed), the stairs were even steeper (and the ceilings even lower) than the cottage, and the constant sound of running water was wildly distracting. But Mum still preferred it. "Better than the cottage," she said, "I didn't like living there. There were always ghosts, looking in the windows."

(following on from this post in mattcallow's journal)


( 17 worms — Feed the birds )
12th Mar, 2003 18:05 (UTC)
What a charming story! but tell me, are ducks less scary than geese? :-)
13th Mar, 2003 16:23 (UTC)
on a scale of least scary to terrifying
it goes:
ducks (ornamental)
ducks (domestic)
guinea fowl
the huge fuck-off Maran Cock
partridge chicks
13th Mar, 2003 16:24 (UTC)
Re: on a scale of least scary to terrifying
ahah! I was correct. Geese used to scare the bejeebers out of me as a kid. Jeez!
(Deleted comment)
13th Mar, 2003 16:49 (UTC)
Re: on a scale of least scary to terrifying
yes, they were and they really could get aggressive too!
13th Mar, 2003 16:39 (UTC)
Re: on a scale of least scary to terrifying
That's logical, really. I geese *are* bigger than children, at least ours were.
14th Mar, 2003 10:30 (UTC)
Perfectly understandable
One Easter, my mom brought back a cute little dyed chick in celebration. We kept it around and it grew into an utterly vicious fighting Rooster. Dangerous bloody claws! We had to keep it tethered and we threw food at it from a distance.

The thing was definitely twisted. We had given it rice, and the rabbit (loose in the backyard) carrots. Makes sense right? Well, those two came up with some sort of arrangement. The rabbit got the rice, the rooster his faux-hen carrot.

It suffices to say we were happy to be rid of the monster when our huge Burmese relative came for a visit and sold it in the local market (he apparently made a very fine soup that night).

I can only imagine what a Maran Cock must've been like!
14th Mar, 2003 10:32 (UTC)
Re: Perfectly understandable
Come to think of it, even now, as a much-taller adult, I wouldn't want to face a swarm of fowl without a good long broom, or a long T-formed stick.
14th Mar, 2003 18:19 (UTC)
Re: Perfectly understandable
The Maran cock stood almost 2 1/2 feet tall, with spurs as long and thick as my little finger (though considerably sharper). He had a fuck-off sharp beak, and wasn't shy of using it, and when he clapped his wings all the bantams would run and hide. His hens were good layers and fine broodies, and he himself wasn't an altogether bad thing; we reasoned that with him on the loose, we needn't worry about trouble with foxes (and we didn't, as it turned out).
14th Mar, 2003 22:29 (UTC)
Re: Perfectly understandable
Jeezus H Christ!

Where's my shotgun?!

17th Mar, 2003 11:59 (UTC)
you're safe
he has long ago gone to chicken heaven

or possibly hell
13th Mar, 2003 01:21 (UTC)
I've been scared by ducks on more than one occasion. They can be pretty intimidating en masse.
13th Mar, 2003 16:16 (UTC)
scary ducks
Ah, they're OK. Wimps, really. Geese, now, they can be tricksy. And Guinea Fowl, they're evil little buggers.
13th Mar, 2003 23:32 (UTC)
Re: scary ducks
I've been chased by geese, ducks, a mixtures of ducks and geese and swans, goats and all kinds of stuff. Also, birds steal sandwiches. I once had half a sandwich stolen by a duck, and another time I had half a sandwich stolen by a seagull. Bloody birds.
13th Mar, 2003 12:07 (UTC)
What a lovely insight into your history
A bit of Peter Maile, without the 'rustic charm' of Southern France, and a dashing of past bitterness accepted instead of biting situtational comedy.

Thank you.
13th Mar, 2003 16:27 (UTC)
Re: What a lovely insight into your history
Is that Mr Toujours Provence? Do you know we always have at least three copies of that book in the Oxfam Bookshop.

I'm trying as hard as I can to *avoid* writing jolly situational comedy about the rustic charm of my rural upbringing.

Perhaps failing.
13th Mar, 2003 18:03 (UTC)
Re: What a lovely insight into your history
Me oui mon ami, c'est Mousieur 'Toujours Provence.'

I'm not surprised you've 3 copies in Oxfam at any given time. He's a bit crap really, but was refreshing when he came out - and was actually considered 'original' in the vast vapid American market. ;-)

re: failing

No quite the opposite.

Since you were so kind to share a tale from your past, I'll do like on my LJ very soon ... right after din-din.



14th Mar, 2003 01:03 (UTC)
Scary Birds
I was once mugged by sarnie-crazed pigeons in St Paul's Covent Garden churchyard. Absolutely terrifying.
Also, a big goose once (not that long ago-) charged at me hissing. I squealed like a girlie and got tangled up in my own feet, trying to back away. I thought it might beat me to death with its neck or something...
( 17 worms — Feed the birds )