I would never class myself as well off in monetary terms, it is an aspiration yet to be reached. However outside the world of filthy lucre I feel I have been richly rewarded; my ever enduring Sexy Sporty Dad, three brave and beautiful boys, five loquacious siblings and two enterprising parents not to mention a strong network of faithful friends and relatives.
Many years ago my royal marine father decided to escape the world of regimented rules to bring up his burgeoning brood; I was just four years of age. Taking an enormous risk he mortgaged his life and bought a very run down village rectory. “Lawrence of Clyst st Lawrence” had resonance that money could not purchase. With no income coming in to speak of, he went to teacher training college and obtained a civvy qualification as numbers five and six of his children made their appearance on the world.
The cold, dark, haunted historic house became the most beloved childhood home anyone could wish for. From the word go, the house had to pay its own way and so developed a long list of enterprising endeavours for my mother. Initially taking in lodgers in one wing of the house kept us from poverty while my father trained. Later homing a small number of foreign students during the holidays led to a sustained period of the house become a locally renowned international school with pupils as young as 6 being left with us to avoid kidnap or worse at home. It was not an unusual site to arrive home to a diplomatic limousine parked in our drive; the body guards with bulging lapels ready to shoot at any perceived threat. My mother would receive a brown envelope with thousands of pounds in Stirling, American dollars or other untraceable cash to cover their board, lodgings and education for the year to come before a parent might spare the time to see these poor children again.
The school funded the construction of a small but well used swimming pool which led to years of fun filled frolics along with a hand painted tennis court. Finally there was enough money in the pot to revolutionise part of the house with an antiquated central heating system. With the numbers of growing children requiring food, sustainability became a necessity and we acquired the beautiful big eyed Susie; a jersey milking cow who provided us with milk, cream and often butter a plenty. A series of runt piglets passed through our garden saved from an early death; brought up on rich jersey milk and copious peelings to develop a flavour uniquely ours when their time finally came. Chickens too provided eggs and Sunday lunch and most of our summer vegetables together with the copious strawberries all came from the walled kitchen garden, bigger and better kept than most modern day allotments.
There were not many things that came into the house that did not pay their way in some form,and Tiggy was no exception. A pedigree golden Labrador arrived; no more than a puppy saved from a dubious existence, who became my father’s constant companion, not only did he sire two offspring which we kept he also sired 90% of the puppies born in a 10 mile radius of the house. He also became known as a ferocious guard dog protecting the house and all children who played within, as the postman and other tradesmen found out on more than one occasion. Now long since buried in the rose garden of the house he called home he gave me my pen name and will live on in my writing forever.
The school came to an end as less and less foreign children were requiring an education from such a young age so the house became a bed, breakfast and evening meal accommodation. The clientele were executives wanting a particularly luxurious weekly accommodation with quality home cooked food and stimulating conversation as they were parted from their loved ones. Regular clients became lifelong friends as they returned time and time again long after the house became a base for growing teenagers and a mother who ventured into the retail business creating one of the first co-operative craft centres with cream teas on tap in the market town of Exeter.
My parents were renowned hosts and the house was always filled with laughter and fun times. Parties were well attended and remembered long after the event. Unfortunately times change and we grew up and my parents reluctantly sold our childhood home. They moved several times in the intervening years prior to my father’s death. So too has the home we all loved metamorphosed through yet another happy family home with the addition of a stable block before now becoming a luxury self-catering holiday home; Old Rectory
Birthdays come and go and every now and again we celebrate a significant one; some we look forward to but more and more now we dread. My mother has just reached the grand age of 80. It is difficult to find a suitable present to celebrate such a milestone. She was never going to learn to paraglide or parachute over the Wiltshire countryside. Sending her on a cruise or the Orient Express without my father would not have given her the pleasure we would have wanted to gift her. It turned out to be the other way round; she presented us all with an invitation some months back.
For a similar price to what my father had paid in 1967 she was able to hire our home for her birthday weekend. Calling back her six children now with partners and children of their own the house once again rang with children laughing and playing. The rooms housed clothes strewn about them while mattresses moved and children slept altogether in the snug that had overseen many a sleeping child in the past. Saturday night the house rang with champagne and drinks as old friends and relatives again made the trip out for a party. Memories flooded back as every guest savoured their own sweet reminiscence. I suspect a few Sunday morning heads were also recalling past parties. The ghosts of the past hiding in every secret cupboard as the modern children re-created our own hiding places.
With a labour saving change to our original living conditions we used the opportunity to bring in caterers to feed us all; our contribution to the weekend’s celebration. Kate and her lovely staff from Kennford Kitchen laid on the most wonderful meals all weekend. She was there for a wonderful three course meal on Friday as we all arrived and she provided a fitting array of dishes for Saturday’s party. She sent our partners and most offspring off on Sunday following a scrumptious roast dinner with sumptuous side dishes and perfect puddings to keep even the hungriest teenager full. She arrived early each morning and breakfast was cooked and laid out before most people even woke.
It was sentimental stepping out into the driveway that I once had known so well. A turbulent turmoil of emotions collided as I walked to the door. Slipping the latch and
holding the unchanged dated key in my now grown up hand catapulted a cacophony of conflicting feelings. The house now very luxurious with additional current touches had changed and modernised immensely but the presences of a previous period still pervaded each room. Laughter lingered from a lost youth while a new generation created their own memories as happiness and hilarity radiated from the hot tub and the soft play room. Enough cousins to make a competition on the multi-games court I once began my non-existent Wimbledon career. Watching my 17 year old son driving in and around my old haunting ground replicating my own initiation to the world of driving in the same make of car left me with a blow to the solar plexus of emotions.
We raised a large toast to missing friends and relations who had not been able to make the party; some through snow, some because of their own fragile health and some whose mortality had moved on. Absent they may have been in physicality but omni-present among the ghosts of the past.
Overseeing the whole affair was my father, still in pride of place in front of the fire where I remember him pontificating, presiding and saluting friends and relatives over the years as he hosted many a party. His story of our childhood was immortalised when his book was published, copies of which are still available through Amazon or requestable at the library; Our Grass Was Greener by Peter G Lawrence.
Returning home to the present day and making my own memories for my children I continue to carry the past not only in my mind but through who I am and what I write. One day my book Memories will be published and sit alongside my father’s on the bookshelf; maybe! I of course wish my mother a very happy birthday and hope the memories of the past colliding headlong into the present give her the stamina and strength to embrace the future. Who knows when we will make it back there again, her 100th?
Check out my cooking blog at Teatime Treats with Tiggy