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)