It’s been 20 years and it’s time for the cottage to be re-thatched. This is the cottage that my grandparents bought when they first arrived in Dorset and the place where I spent all my holidays as a child. The windows are really high as it used to be the village school and the teachers didn’t want the children to be distracted by interesting goings on in the lane outside.
The thatcher and his assisant are doing a grand job as you can see. My mum mentioned ‘Mr R’ to John the thatcher and he was very enthusiastic and is bringing his wife and their book group to the launch. If only he could have helped Jack and Sadie with their leaky roof in chapter 10…
bundles for the thatch
And you need a good head for heights… I feel dizzy.
I love the bright colour of the new thatch. It fades so fast.
I’m not enjoying not writing. I am pining for Fred. Mr S is revising a screenplay where a writer’s fictional characters start to plague her in real life – they’re bored living in the novel when she’s not writing – and I’m haunted by visions of Mr Rivers and Kit and Elise stalking me. In fact they are stalking me. I might not be writing, but I can think of nothing but Fred.
Reading is good – I am munching my way through the towering stack of books on my desk and scribbling voracious notes as the route to the end becomes clear. I can feel Elise et al, hovering beside my elbow, or sitting on my shoulder, eager to return to Tyneford. While I am desperate to write, I also know that I’m not ready to carry on. I needed to take breaks in between drafts of ‘Mr R’ in order to put myself in the way of serendipity. I discovered the small blue pamphlet which Jack turns into his list on a research trip in the British Library somewhere between drafts three and four. There was an eureka moment with a coronation chicken sandwich (it’ll make sense when you read Mr R, I promise) and another when my mum found a picture of my grandmother’s famous golf swing.
So for now, I must try to ignore Fred calling me and the grumblings of Alice and Poppy, and turn back to James Lees-Milne and the The Countryman’s Diary 1939. But, if you see a girl tramping across the Dorset fields with a string of odd looking characters traipsing after her, feel free to wave.
This morning Mr S brought me a bouquet of cabbages. Well it is Halloween, and cabbages are a lot more seasonal at this time of year than roses. They are actually beautiful – green and pink and white – and are sitting proudly in a vase beside the fire.
I love this time of year. Rather like at bluebell time, Mr S and I go hunting round Dorset for the best crop of colours beneath the trees. In the morning we went to Duncliff, where we found a toadstool circle in the middle of the wood – surely a portent today of all days. Then, late in the afternoon we walked from our front door across the fields to a copse of beech and sycamore trees. The last of the evening light filtered through the leaves and turned the ground beneath gold – it was as if we crunched through sunlight.
Days like today are so English: the smell of woodsmoke as we return to the cottage, short autumn days, eating russet apples from my mother’s orchard. Mr R is such an English book, a celebration of days like these and as I tramp through Delcombe, Fifehead Wood or through Stourhead, I am amazed that Jack and Sadie have found friends so far away.
Jocasta sent me a gorgeous message from a bookseller in New Zealand, where my publishers held a tea for Jack. All I can say is that Jack, Englishman that he is, would marvel at having such wonderful foreign friends.
perfect autumn day in dorset
Isn’t this weather amazing? I’m not sure about an ‘Indian Summer’ – it seems peculiarly English to me: the best apple crop for years, trees drooping under red and green baubles, leaves turning scarlet and gold, and, in the evenings, the scent of wood-smoke.
Mr S and I have been out walking in the sunshine. He even has little bit of a tan, while I am, of course, pasty as ever (though rosy-apple cheeked, as is fitting for the season). After some delay, here are Mr S’s photos of Golden Cap.
looking toward Lyme Bay, this beach is Gabrielle's Mouth
And below is a witch stone. Fishermen believed that by looping one of these stones on the lines around their boats, that witches wouldn’t be able to leap aboard. Unfortunately, they often didn’t learn to swim. I would have thought that drowning was a greater danger than witches, but hey ho.
This is the Golden Cap itself – see the sandstone in the sunshine. It’s quite a hike to the pinnacle, but the National Trust has kindly put lots of benches at points along the way. It’s so beautiful at the top – you can see all the way to Lyme Bay in one direction and across Burton Bradstock and West Bay to Portland in the other. There were lots of people picnicking at the top. A uniquely British habit: climb to the top of big hill and then sit down and eat an apple. More walkers arrived and a minute later out would come the apples. The sound of the sea and the munching of apples…
Trust me. It's a big hill.
This is a good place to lie in the sunshine and think about Fred.