Cotswold memories & 100 years later - Living Between the Lines
When Dave and I first married, in November 1979, (not 100 years ago) we lived an idyllic life in the Cotswolds, in a two up, two down, cottage. We had no car, no TV and no furniture to speak of bar a bed, two dining chairs and an old, formica topped kitchen table. Nor did we have any form of heating except an open fire. One carpet remnant furnished the living room, cut offs were laid around the upstairs landing and two bedrooms providing a pathway on cold wooden boards. The cottage nestled near the end of a terrace on an unmade track. There were no street lights. At night you could not see your hand in front of your face. Dave had been relocated to this country village by his firm when he graduated and he walked across the fields to work every day. I found a temporary job in the finance office of a local factory. I had to be up and out long before him, to walk to the bus stop, to catch the bus that took me within a mile of the factory. We headed back to our home town for Christmas that year. The centrally heated homes of our parents, felt stifling. The light that penetrated the curtains at night, blinding. We had heard that the weather where we lived had worsened. We jokingly said we hoped our cottage had not been flooded. We returned home to find a flood warning in place. Our terraced cottage, one up from the end of seven, was a mere twenty feet from the river. We were advised to take all valuables upstairs with any furniture we could shift. If the sluice gates could not be opened, we were sure to be flooded as the river was rising by the hour. Why could they not be opened now? The person with the key was nowhere to be found, according to the policeman who knocked on our door. Another resident of the terrace, some houses along, and our friend and advisor, explained all this to our innocent ears as he handed us some sandbags. It had happened many times before apparently. “What are you going to do?” we asked. “Me? Put the sandbags down and go down the pub!” retorted Ron, “I advise you to do the same.” Thus, we waited that night out. Our living room now boasted a three piece suite, curtesy of money I had saved before our marriage. This was piled up in one corner to minimise any potential damage. We checked the water levels hourly. Dave shone his torch across the ink-black night. The water continued to rise. When morning broke and we peered out of the bedroom window at the field beyond our little cottage, we were met by ducks swimming across the field which had transformed into a giant pond. Water lapped at the top of the garden wall, where sandbags lay sodden by the rising tide. By some miracle, the water had not risen over the precipice. Our elderly neighbours’ garden was swimming, however, and their greenhouse was floating down the river even as we watched. Mrs R was attempting to grab it, still clad in her nightie, as the metal frame sailed past. Looking back, it was much like me trying to grab a suitcase from the carousel at an airport. Despite her best efforts, the wretched greenhouse got away from her. Her husband had no better luck. Naturally, Dave ran over to assist. The greenhouse was rescued though a little worse for wear. The low wall to the front of our cottage, capped with sandbags, had saved us. Thank you Ron. The following Christmas, I had just given birth to our first daughter. There were no flood warnings but we were pretty cold. Baby Elizabeth went to bed sporting a bonnet and woolly cardigan. Our breath hung in the air as we moved from room to room. Noses froze if they poked above the blankets, toes turned blue. We had graduated to having a two bar electric fire in the kitchen, making washing up a little less of an ordeal. It was the following winter that the snow hit. Great drifts blocked the roads, electric cables stretched between pylons in the field in front of our cottage, sagged under the weight, eventually snapping and arcing in a great aerial display of lightning. The lights flickered and went out. Snow filtered through the thinly glazed window frames overnight, forming mini snowdrifts on the inside sill. We had to dig our way out of the kitchen – the world was white. Dave took what were probably, some amazing photographs with his state of the art camera with its prized wide angled lens (an engagement present from me as I recall). We trudged miles with our daughter who could not stand in the snow, it was so deep. Magnificent hills stood clothed in white, snow drifted twelve feet deep in places. It was a landscape changed as Britain went through its coldest winter for decades. Alas, when opening the camera door to remove the treasured film some months later, Dave realised it had not wound on. I, who had once set up my own development studio in the spare room, would have closed the camera door and hoped for the best by re-winding the film, hoping to save at least some of the images. Dave decided all was lost and before I could protest, had pulled the entire film out and unravelled it before throwing it in the bin. We will never know what was lost. We lived in that idyllic corner of the world for three amazing years so it is no wonder that we return often to the Cotswolds, normally around my birthday, and love to visit some of our favourite places. This year was no exception and we have just returned from a pre-birthday weekend away. The weather turned colder just for us, winter coats and woolly hats were donned. It didn’t snow though there was some sleet in the air, I am sure. Here we are, enjoying the beautiful village of Great Rissington. Poignantly, this village was home to the Souls family, who lost five of their six sons in the first World War. We visited the 12th century, St. John the Baptist Church, where all the soldiers lost from that village are commemorated. The Souls brothers’ story is perhaps the most poignant of all. On this, the 100thanniversary of the conclusion of the Great War, it seems fitting to end with a mention of those brave young men and to insert a photograph of my Grandfather, Victor Gordon Faulder. He was in the Royal Artillery (Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery) throughout the war. We children found it a romantic notion that he rode a horse and pulled the great guns. What horrors he saw, on the Somme, at the Marne, I can only guess at but he did survive, though deafened from shell shock. He was one of those who vividly recalled the Christmas Day truce in Ypres, in 1914, when soldiers on both sides, lay down their weapons in their trenches and sang Christmas carols while swapping beer and stories with the enemy in no man’s land. Recreated more recently, in the guise of a Christmas Advert, this was a story he re-told many times to my eldest sister. To realise it really happened and was not an idealised fabrication, was amazing. To think of him there, makes me both proud and humble, feelings we all share, I am sure, when we remember all those who fought. My Grandfather survived the war, my very existence owing itself to that fact but sadly, my Great Uncle Donald, in the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, was killed in action in November 1917, in Egypt, aged 32, leaving his widow with their toddler son. She never remarried. 100 years later, we remember them all and as the blood red poppies are worn proudly and the aluminium silhouettes of soldiers, stand, pensive, at memorial sites across the country, bringing an emotional lump to the throat, we can only say, Thank you and Bless them all.