I wrote these tales for my radio show:
Once, in a time that was, and was not a time of transition there was a tiny wee village, on a red, red hill, with an old, old inn on the top, and an old, old church by its side.
There was in this village a fair headed beauty, fair of face and fair in deed, whose smile greeted all who walked in that place.
And in that village, the people were uncommonly good to all who resided in their midst, so the fair headed beauty was in good company, and even so her smile warmed all whom she gazed upon.
In the village hall where those good folk gathered on a morning early in the week to share their home grown, homemade, and home baked produce, and to meet and share their news, it was the smiling beauty’s face who greeted newcomers and told them of the ways of the village, and who did what, and how it was that life in the village was organised for the well being of each and every resident.
Of soup evenings and curry nights, of village hall rental, of snow warden duty, and Post Office hours told she, and of the folk who lived along the row and each of them by their name she described to the newest of residents there on the end.
And when the logs were ordered and delivered to keep the winter cold at bay, she of fair beauty was there with a willing pair of hands in the mini chain to distribute the seasoned logs from trailer to garden path to log pile.
And on the occasion of the housewarming party armed with partner and bottle of bubbly did she come. Welcomed indeed did the newcomer feel, and grateful for the friendship of the fair beauty, whose half a century had equipped her well for the task of spreading the good will which exuded out far and wide all around her.
On a night that was dark and wet an all had WynnAlice come to the Little Red Hill and struggled in vain with a very large sofa till rescued was she a damsel in distress by the folk in the Court who mid dinner party did out in the rain to carry a heavy load into a new home.
In Honeysuckle cottage there is a woodburner to end all woodburners, it heats with a passion the most ardent lover would have trouble matching, and lives off wood planted 500 yards along the lane in a small planted woodland burial ground which also serves local people with their fuel, and a place in which to walk and wander. Besides the blazing woodburner, over the winter, sat a wooden bowl full of chestnuts for a-roasting.
The chestnuts were piled high in the wooden bowl and night after night they did not get roasted, in a cottage with cupboards full of food from a village hall down the lane where the inhabitants of the little village sell large bags of their freshly picked locally grown organic produce for 50 pennies a bag, each second day of the working week, and where locally caught fish was taken, and for which homemade jams, chutneys, cakes, pies and loaves are lovingly prepared.
One day the chestnut pile, it looked smaller, and then smaller, and little by little the dweller of honeysuckle cottage began to pay more attention, until one evening she was quite definitely sure, the chestnut pile had indeed shrunk…
Now she was intrigued, and eagerly checked each day to see how many chestnuts were gone. Sometimes it was five, or four, or six, till one day there were only two, and on opening the kitchen door a small grey mouse was seen to be scurrying away in fear from the footfall. Wynnalice felt sad in her heart, the tale was nearly done, that night she knew another chestnut would vanish, and then the last, and then the tale it would be done. And so it was, first one, then the last, chestnut disappeared on consecutive nights, the mouse each time taking only half of what there was, until the supply was finished.
Spring sprung and outside the flowers bloomed and the birds sang and Wynnalice blocked up possible mouseholes knowing that now it was warm enough outside for her little grey visitor to survive. Mouse droppings after all are not the most attractive feature of an English country kitchen she told herself as she swept and cleaned and painted her kitchen with its new spring coat.
All visitors however leave gifts for those with eyes to see…and the little grey mouse had given Wynnalice the gift of a new tale…
A tale of pleasure taken in being given a glimpse of life in the rodent world, a tale of pleasure experienced in seeing a small grey furry being close to…and a different perspective on thievery…
If we buy things, we consider that they are ours, we own them. I do not why we think such a thing. After all we do not keep them, nor need them, after death. I bought those chestnuts, with money I had earned through the giving of my labour, my time, and my energy, yet they sat, on my hearth, for week after week, unused. A little grey mouse came along, hungry, to feed little ones, and took those chestnuts and gave me much pleasure and a tale in return.
Whose need was greater? The one who had , or the one who had not? What is the difference between the two? One safeguarding for their future, the other living now, in the moment. One the little red hen, the other a little grey mouse…Diversity. There is a time and a place for stability, and for flexibility too.
That woodburner of mine, it serves a multitude of purposes, heater of space, clearer of space, as 7 years of paperwork saved, taking up space, taking up energy that could be used to create anew, is gradually burnt, creating heat to make way for the new. The new cannot exist as long as we use all our energy holding onto the old, and the skill is in knowing when a stage of transition has arrived.
Reflection, contemplation, space, time, slowing down…where am I now in the map of my journey through this life of mine? Ah yes, here I am, a teller of tales, that’s right…
A trip to the village hall, meeting new neighbours; hearing new tales, over tea and biscuits, after the filling of baskets with food for the week, the filling of hearts with good cheer and companionship. A balanced life.
“Where do you live?”
“Honeysuckle cottage, you know, the whitewashed one down by the lane on the end of the row”
“Ahhh…yes….that’s what they call it now, is it?”
Comes the mysterious response from an elderly lady with a yen for an audience.
“ I know it sometimes goes by the name of Craven” say I, having seen it buried under the ivy that has claimed the old sign
“Aye, Craven…” says she, “and Hanky Panky too!”
The whole table sits up and takes interest.
Craven, I know, I have looked it up; it means ‘surrender’, a lovely name for a home for a storyteller who has let go Giving Out and has started Giving In…
But hanky panky…
“Oh yes, twas a doctor” related the elder, with satisfaction at her tale being heard. “Set his mistress up there. ‘Twas she herself who christened it thus”
The table of olders and youngers relax together into giggles of sheer pleasure. How we all love to hear of those who have the courage to be open about the life force of our sensuality.
I smile to myself. From giving in, to sensuality, to the sweet smell of flowering blossoms, sounds like Paradise to me…and I consider renaming the cottage that – to suit my own particular experience of life in a quintessential English country cottage.
And as I wend my way to and from my honeysuckle cottage towards the bottom of the little red hill, the hedgerows oft beckon me, and bluebells nestling amongst nettles in late Spring inspire me to poetry:
You take my breath away
As I pass by
Your protective legions
Your vibrancy sings
Speak to my heart
And I long
To be one with you
Frames your beauty
As a painting
And speak to me
Of my longing
Summer comes and to the fair I do go and show of my pictures, the things I have noticed in and around the Little Red Hill and go home slightly overwhelmed by the Rattery craft cup that is to sit upon my bookcase for a whole year. The children run races, the cakes and local veg are a joy to behold, the flower displays sufficient to inspire awe, and more and more I know a desire to stay and stay and stay in this little corner of paradise.
Harvest time and a supper for all; “I think everyone is here”, says He of WoodMaking Skills looking about him, and buys me a raffle ticket, winning me a silver picture frame. Meet me more with my neighbours true, They of Green Fingers and Kindly Hearts, torn between this cottage and that am I but Honeysuckle cottage has captured my heart and with earnest I tackle its wild garden, attacked by brambles, wild rose and years of nature led profusion, hoping next year for an edible garden. He of Woodmaking skills brings wood for my fire, and bundles of neatly wrapped kindling, and I begin to settle in for another winter.
And your colours
Into my heart
No midsummer fairy
But my home
Little Red Hill you have captured my heart, and I would not have it back, for in your keeping it is happy, content, wanderings and roamings over. I gaze out of my window at yonder thatch, knowing my friend lives below its protection, and above it, the glorious autumnal cloaks of the trees in the Fair Headed Beauty’s new garden do light up my day.
One morning I trundled off across the village through the Dartmoor mist that had formed overnight in watery response to the previous day’s heatwave to the village hall to buy my weekly veg.
There I met my friends, the homemade cake makers, they asked after my recent storytelling event, and when I said it hadn’t attracted so many people they told me the awful truth; storytelling, they believed, was for children …or Totnesians…
Hmm, a little myth dispelling needed, I can tell. What is it that can persuade a grown up not only to engage in a little active imagination even without the excuse of a little one in the house, but more, to value the stories they have to tell? Soon, as I tried to explain just what tales it is I tell I was introduced to They Who Village Hall Did Build.
For if it is stories of Our times you want, said they, the ones who leave freshly laid eggs in my porch as a gift, along with homemade lemon drizzle cake, then you need to hear the tale of how it was that this village hall came to be built…
He was born in the village, lived here all his life, as have his family for generations, and when you come to know the nature of this little village on the edge of Dartmoor, you will understand why it is they have never left. One day he and his good lady, farmers by living, became builders instead, and way back in the year 1900 and 55 they looked around the village and decided…why it needed a village hall. It was time, they decided, to give something back to the village they loved so dearly… and for the next 15 months they got up every morning and prepared a field, put up girders to make a frame, built a hall, with their two pairs of bare hands, all by themselves, seven days a week, till it was built. Old George, he brought them cups of tea twice a day every day, except for a week when he was away on holiday, and their son, he worked too Monday to Friday, but I’m not doing weekends he said, and fair enough said they, and then the local plumber came and worked he for free too, and then the man who knew plastering and worked he for free too, and then there was the man who brought his labourers down towards the end of each working day, to stack the blocks that had been delivered in a heap, ready for use the next day, and then the local vet, well he came too, and he put on the roof, and no easy task was that, being large sections of wood as they were, and so it was that Rattery won its village hall… and the only far afield help came from Paignton by the sea in the form of an electrician.
Proud pictures beam out from their frame on the wall; there be old George, and that there is the plumber, hard at work, and here’s one of me and my son (bronzed from the sun), mighty long hair he had in those days…
And it must have felt strange, when it was done, say I. Aye, ‘twas a bit of an anticlimax, truth be told, says he.
And then, more recently of course, there are the solar panels – the PV panels …we didn’t know what a risk they would be, but my, what a boon! Last year we made between 6 and 7 thousand pounds back towards the upkeep of our hall, and as for this, waving his hand to the ceiling lights, all for free…well, maybe it’s not making so much today …but yesterday…
Come and sit down, calls another friend, let me tell you more tales, there is Picasso’s model, her studio is just down the lane there, 76 she is now, but lovely as ever, and you should see her house, all covered in symbols and paintings, and let me introduce you, this is Roberta, Bertie for short, she makes stained glass for windows,
Says Bertie, tell me of your tales, well, I‘ll come next time, just you tell me when and come along to visit – I’m in every day, and then ooh don’t forget- there are pea plants for sale today.
I buy the last tray , and split them with the woman that comes along a couple of minutes later, 50p for the healthiest 5 plants you ever did see I take home, and promise snow bell bulbs for my friend with the thatched roof from my garden to hers.
It just don’t get better than this. Life as it always must have been, when people they didn’t go far, why would they, they understood that a life well lived is full of sharing and giving and appreciating what unique gifts one another has, I muse as I unpack my purchases, put large winter grown perfectly formed parsnips in to my veg box and admire the local leeks that have been in constant supply all winter through, and look forward to tasting yet another freshly picked bundle of purple sprouting broccoli, munch on homemade tiffin, and delight in my new found friends and little corner of Devonshire paradise.
And these tales would not be done without a little story of Autumn on the Little Red Hill
As the nights they do lengthen and the days grow colder off a-wooding does WynnAlice go and by chance comes upon three kittens, Ginger, Tabby, & Blackie, playing with leaves on the lane. Meowing for companionship they follow her, not for a few steps or a few more, but for a good mile or more, till scared by two cars passing each other, and a man on a bicycle with a dog, they hide in a garden, and exchanging tales of how it is that dog chases cat sure as night follows day the man and woman bid each other a good evening and on they walk, and a little black kitten from out of the garden does leap, and follow WynnAlice all the way home.
It is time for another evening of good cheer and together the good folk gather at the house of They Who No Heating need for that timber framed home built with their own hands such cosy layers is it wrapped in, such collecting of heat from beneath the ground that in short sleeves do they greet their guests, and feed them well on succulent soups of autumnal colour and delectable tastes, fine cheeses and good baked breads do they serve, and one more Rattery soup evening is begun. The ladies wear tall hats of witchy appearance, and amongst their number a man who trick or treaters did scare, no, not a coven, but hallowe’en fun had by all.
And as the days go swiftly by to gather again our community meets in a field around a fire, to eat spicy ginger cake and sup tea, watch fireworks explode in the sky, and shiver in warm coats and greet neighbours and friends. In the old old inn there’s scarcely a place left to sit as the good folk snuggle in as always folk have, to sup ale with their neighbours, and chew the fat.
More days pass and to the green burial site to lay to rest a good man, an artist, cartoonist, father of lantern procession fame, and a goodly bunch of folk to the village hall do return to celebrate the life of a man who gave well to his community; his wooden toys, his funny drawn characters, his love of a good walk along Rattery lanes. From funeral party to theatrical performance, another day passes and Dickens is amongst us and Uriah Heap terrifies the audience with his fearsome manner as ever he did, and the gathered Ratterians eat good cake and enjoy the annual play in their solar heated hall built by their own hands for generations to come to gather in and enjoy.
Once more it is market day and the fishmonger of all fishmongers is amidst us with scraps for a newly found black kitten, and a yarn or two to tell, and within the warm and welcoming walls of our hall the good people serve their wares and plans for new homes for the young are afoot, and maybe, just maybe a community orchard for all…and apple trees and pears, perhaps raspberries and wild whortleberries will we have to share with our children’s children.
Of musicians and craftswomen, bakers and builders, people of every kind of skill, the Little Red Hill possesses all these riches and more, with its old, old inn with an old, old church by its side, its wealth lives on, its community minded folk, here today as ever they were, and ever more shall be.