housewoods

I love May. It’s one of the happy months. In the northern hemisphere May heralds the start of warmer weather, longer days and a general feeling of optimism. People stop moaning so much about the weather and focus on the summer ahead. Flowers start blooming, trees come into leaf and B&Q and Home Base do a roaring trade in bedding plants, patio furniture, and lawnmowers. Dusty, rusty, cobwebbed barbeques are dragged out of garden sheds in the hope (especially in the UK) that summer will be a ‘scorcher’. That at every opportunity meals will be cooked outdoors and dining will be ‘al fresco’. Of course it never quite happens like that but the will and the wish is always there. Any spell of good weather in the UK is guaranteed to gladden hearts, bring sales of sausages and burgers (contents most certainly of dubious origin) and sales of Lambrusco and Fosters to an all time high.

But there is another reason that I love May. It was the month that my mother was born in and also of some of my greatest friends. Best of all it’s the birthday month of two of my children. Theo’s birthday is in a few days and this morning I found myself thinking back to the time of his birth 17 years ago next Wednesday. Theo is my youngest and only son. The next sister up, Georgia will be 22 in a couple of weeks.

When I found out I was pregnant I told the doctor that I wanted to have my baby at home. At the time we lived in what our London friends jokingly referred to as ‘rural isolation and obscurity’ in North Yorkshire. Well, they may have been right, it was indeed isolated; a 42-acre small holding in the middle of nowhere perched up in the Yorkshire Dales with just the sound of curlews and the baa-ing of sheep as surround sound. Our local GP was horrified at my suggestion. ‘You can’t have your baby at home Lottie. What if something goes wrong? What if you hemorrhage, it’s much more likely to happen now that you are having your 5th’. ‘You live 25 miles from the nearest hospital if there are any complications you’d have to be airlifted. You’re risking your life and that of your baby. Plus, there is no way that an ambulance could get down your track to the farm’. He was right about that. We’d had a house fire a few years before and one of the fire engines had rolled over on the steep, rugged track and then plummeted down into the beck. The other fire engine had to be towed across 6 fields with a tractor. Our house fire made headline news in the Yorkshire Post and we were the talk of Nidderdale for weeks afterwards.

Despite my GP’s protestations, I had something that I felt that I needed to do. It’s too long a story to write here on this post but I felt I owed a debt to the kindly old man that sold us the farm. Ted Keighley had lived alone on the side of the hill for fifty odd years. Old age and chronic asthma had forced him to put the farm up for sale. Prior to it going to auction I’d been to see the farm a couple of times and to talk to him. As we walked through the meadows Ted recounted his life on the farm and his passion for conservation and organic farming. The house itself was very basic. Concrete floors strewn with rush matting, an old enamel bath tub, and a basic kitchen that hadn’t been up dated since the day it had been put in. ‘No need for a refrigerator’ he said proudly as he opened the pantry door and showed me the cool slate shelf that he’d fitted to keep his milk chilled and vegetables fresh. I fell in love with the farm the minute that I set eyes on it. No matter that there were only 2 bedrooms and a box room for the baby. The idyllic setting, a house nestled on the side of a hill with a stream for our domestic water and ancient woodlands and fields to play in was the perfect place to raise our 4 young children.

The day for the auction came and farmers and property developers from around the dale descended upon the Cattle Market. We went into the packed auction room, which by this stage was standing room only. Our budget was £80,000 not a penny more. Bidding started at £60,000 and soon got up to £120,000. My heart sank; we were out of the game. Then something quite extraordinary happened. The auctioneer stopped. The gavel went down and you could have heard a penny drop. Mr. Keighley had pulled his farm out of the auction.

I left it a couple of days and then summoned up the courage to phone him. He was pleased to hear from me and asked if I’d come round to the farm so that we could speak. We sat in the kitchen and he told me how disappointed he was about the auction, how fearful he was that developers would take it over, sell off the land or that neighbouring farmers would buy the land and then cover it with nitrates. I listened to him and saw his concern etched on his face and in his laboured breathing. I told him the truth, I told him what money we had begged, borrowed and still hoped to find. I told him that £80,000 was all we could spend but that I would keep the farm organic, I would plant lots of trees and hedgerows, that I would mend the stone walls and that he was welcome back anytime to visit and see that I was doing things right. He clutched my arm as I was leaving and said ‘Lottie, I want you to have my farm. I know that you will keep your word, I know that you will love it and care for it as I have’.

A few weeks later we exchanged contracts. It was late November and I was beginning to wonder what winter there would be like with no central heating and just an ancient Aga cooker for warmth. Two weeks before completion we had a phone call from our solicitor. Mr. Keighley had died alone on the farm that he so dearly loved. I knew that he never wanted to leave.

In the months and subsequent years that followed, I’d think about Ted often as I went about the fields and tended the livestock but never more so than on that mid-May morning when I went into labour.

To be continued.

28 Comments

  1. Lottie, Lottie- by golly what a story. I was totally engrossed as I read about your younger years which are not far in the past.

    My Mom’s birthday was May 3rd. She died many years ago but I think of her just about every day.

    Anyhoo, the farm intrigues me. It sounds so idyllic sp? Can’t wait to read more of your story.

    Like

    1. Oh thank you! I’m so glad that enjoyed it. I’ll start writing the next instalment tomorrow. It was idyllic, a very special place and we all have very happy memories of our time there. I made the mistake of going back a couple of years ago and it had changed beyond recognition. Horrible PVC windows and a fancy glass barn door. It made me so sad. Better just to have the memories eh?! 😀

      Like

  2. Like Yvonne, I was engrossed by this tale and I could see this being published. I of course am a May baby so I wholeheartedly agree that May is a happy month. Your description of the typical Brit’s reaction to the onset of summer is beautifully observed. I confess I originally read it as ‘dining will be al tesco’, which as a shareholder I thoroughly endorse. I understand Ted and his fear of the auction outcome. Please write the next chapter soon. I can see you rivalling Alexander McCall Smith.

    Like

    1. Funny that you should mention Al Tesco. I have always thought that Tesco missed a trick there. I’ve had that strap line in my head for ages, it would make a great advert for their plastic outdoor furniture and barbeque range.

      I blame the Smirnoff joke that was going around in my teens. Especially the one ‘I thought Cunnilingus was a place in Ireland until I discovered Smirnoff’ Ever since then I’ve wasted far too much of my time thinking up one-liners for advertising campaigns. I probably could have made a fortune by now….BMB

      You are far too kind about my writing but I appreciate your kind words enormously,.Thank you Andrew 🙂

      Like

  3. I thought that top photo had a hint of Yorkshire about it. I’ve visited so many similar looking dales. The soft rolling landscape, the lovely old properties – just beautiful.

    I never go back to houses (re your reply to Yvonne) for exactly that reason. I would be gutted to see someone had taken out my lovely original windows and front door that we always carefully repaired and that would be able to carry on for however many more years if looked after correctly. Not that anyone wants to do that of course (rant, rant, rant).

    Doesn’t sound as though Ted needed your money anyway, just couldn’t keep up to the place any longer due to ill heatlh. What a dream buy though.

    Like

    1. I think you are right, he didn’t really care about the money, it was the farm that he’d loved so much that mattered to him.

      I really almost wept when I saw what had happened to it. When at last we had some money to spend on the place, I found local craftsmen to make all the windows in wood, all the doors were traditional with the right sort of latches etc. We kept the bath with its funny taps but I did invest in a fridge because I had so much goats milk and cheese to store and I do like my sauvignon blanc really chilled!

      Like

      1. I don’t like sauvignon blanc but He likes his beer cold and when I drink white wine, I like it chilled too. and sometimes the cava goes in the fridge, so I would say that is a very good reason for buying a fridge. Actually it was one of the first things we bought in our first house. That and a washing machine as my hand washing skills are zilch.

        Like

      2. There are many appliances that I have lived happily without over the years but a washing machine is an absolute must. I agree. I love cava too 😉

        Like

    1. I’m glad you liked it Sherry and I have to confess to having a bit of a blub too! It brought back many memories this post, good ones, really happy ones but also thinking about dear Ted and his extraordinary generosity and sad demise.

      I hope he’d be thrilled with what we achieved during our years there and be happy at all the pleasure that it brought to us and all the people that visited. Schools, agricultural colleges and people interested in our set-up.

      Next installment coming soon! 🙂

      Like

  4. What a wonderful tale of enlightened attitudes. So refreshing to read that money is not everything for everybody. I wonder what state the farm is in now? I have only been to England once and that was in York-shire.
    Those stone walls!
    Thanks Lottie.

    Like

    1. Oh yes, those stone walls. What an art and a skill. They are an absolute nightmare though when they get knocked and fall. Mostly it’s because the wild Dalesbred and Swaledale sheep that I kept would decide to leap over them but then dismantle the top stones. Mending the walls is a real skill. I’d need to make a drawing to show you properly how it’s done. Maybe I shall make that my homework for later!

      I’m so glad you’ve been to Yorkshire. It’s a wonderful county. I hope you enjoyed it.

      Like

  5. Wonderful post. Your own story really comes alive. I wanted to keep reading – but a great location for a ‘cliff-hanger’ (I’ve driven around some of the Yorkshire Dales. Such a beautiful part of the world. I’m looking forward to the delivery of the second instalment.

    Like

    1. I’m tickled that you know the Yorkshire Dales. It’s an incredibly beautiful part of Britain and despite living there for 18 years I never failed to take a deep intake of breath every time I drove over ‘the tops’ and saw the patchwork of fields and dry stone walls, vast moorland and uplands spread before me. We felt very blessed to live in such an area. Life wasn’t always easy, the weather could be tough and I was snowed in for 2 weeks once but the spring, summer and autumn months more than made up for it.

      Thanks for your lovely comment Just Rod 🙂

      Like

  6. Oh my goodness I can barely type for the tears! What a beautiful story. I cannot wait to read the rest. And from a May Baby to you and your May babies. Happy Birthday. There is no better month to be born in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Like

    1. SO happy that you enjoyed it April. Hang on…why aren’t you called May? I’m sure there is a story there! 🙂

      I agree, there is not better month to be born. April is lovely but May is even better. I’m stuck at the end of January. When we moved to Indonesia I thought YAY!! I’ll be having wonderful sunshiney birthdays Hooray, Hurrah except NO! It’s the wettest month in S.E Asia and when I say wet I mean absolutely torrential!!

      Like

  7. You told Andrew that he was far too kind about your writing…pooh on that. You are far too humble…the tale brought a tear or two to my eyes, Lottie. I am very keen to hear the rest of the story and hope you won’t keep us waiting long. Your adventure on the farm must have been joyful despite the hardships that surely came with it. And Ted certainly made the proper choice. 🙂

    Like

    1. I promise to start on part 2 soon. Your beautiful photographs on your post today reminded me a little of the scenery round there. Especially the river and the cascades in the wood. It was a magical time and very happy memories. Thank you for your vote of confidence Steve 🙂

      Like

  8. This sounds like a marvelous, magical tale, regardless that it happened in “real” life. What a wonderful way you have with words, Lottie. There is something fanciful about it…perhaps it’s the woods…the delightful title “May Babies”…the amazing character of Ted Keighley…then again, maybe it’s that indefinable something, which is what always makes writing special.

    I am very much looking forward to part 2! xoxo

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s