It is said that life is not waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain, which we all have to do with COVID 19 knocking at the door. With the lockdown, the house and garden are silent, with no visitors and no income to carry mother through the dark winter months; our dedicated team of gardeners and guides have been laid off for the foreseeable future. The grass grows high, the plants-for-sale wilting away and the weeds taking over, dust and cobwebs gathering in the old house; the only sounds, the hum of the bees and the singing of the birds. Will we ever recover? Nature seems to be taking over.
With the help of Mother’s middle-aged son, cataloguing her worldly possessions has begun, and there has been much ruminating on why the government should yet again tax her precious belongings, collected over a lifetime much longer than mine, together with old family objects which have been passed down through many generations, undoubtedly many to be sold to pay a second tax. As the shadow of death beckons either by COVID19 or decrepitude, Mother’s thoughts have been drifting to the gifts and acquisitions that make our home loved by us and so many of the people who come to visit this ancient domain, time and time again. Those precious antiques collected or given with love, by lovers and family past that will not be able to be passed on, will vanish like the ghosts at cockcrow.
A great sadness overwhelms us when we consider the winnowing that will shortly take place, and like Keates in his Ode to a Nightingale, “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk.” This small manor is no ordinary house; it is a national treasure, said by Christopher Hussey, the historian writing for Country Life nearly a hundred years ago, to be the most perfect small unaltered medieval manor house left in the kingdom. As time draws on, I wonder who will be the future chatelaine. Will she see the evanescent ghost at dusk who comes to call or pass the ancient dogs who sit by the dying embers of the fire in the great hall on cold winter nights? Those precious moments when the glorious summer days so fleetingly remain in your memory, like childhood dreams – will she, like mother, climb the old stone steps in the gate house tower and look out on the browns and greens of our England, unchanged for hundreds of years and say, “Here let me live and die.”