Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Roots - The Shed

When I was very small my parents moved to the house that has been their home ever since. It is in the small Cotswold town of Winchcombe,a terrace house in the street that leads past the church. It is a non-descript house, but one with a long history. All the houses in the street were built on burgage plots – long thin pieces of land with a relatively small road frontage built in the late Middle Ages to house the homes and workshops in a single plot of the artisans who serviced the community that had grown up around the large Saxon abbey. Our house had until recently been a bakery. When my father built the kitchen extension, he found medieval walls of some outbuilding.

At the end of the garden stands the “shed” - a two-storey Cotswold stone stable, where my father and later my sister had their workshops, thus the tradition of craft continued to the modern day. When we moved in, my father found owl pellets and dead snakes in jars at the bottom of the garden, the former owner had kept his owls in the shed. A large lean-to greenhouse ran the length of the shed, in front of it were vegetable beds, before they succumbed to my mother's ever encroaching flower beds. At one end of the shed instead of limestone there was an old brick wall with bricks that were crumbling away, these afforded me, when I was practicing to play backstop for the school rounders team, a surface which deflected a thrown ball in all sorts of directions. At the same end an external staircase led up to the second floor.

As is so often the case the shed was my father's domain, it was where my mother did not attempt to organise his untidyness. It was the place where he invented things – he like his father before him is an inventor and one such invention paid for the kitchen. It was also the place where he kept his wood.

My father had plans for the shed, throughout my childhood he was restoring it. It was a huge adventure – he was delighted to find cobbles in the floor, which he carefully uncovered. One day he returned from the pub with a large piece of Cotswold stone which he had been given. It looked like nothing at first until you turned it round to reveal Norman or Saxon carved stone – it was part of a pillar from the old abbey. The stone was carefully installed in the stable wall. He claimed some oak beams from the demolition bonfires at a nearby flourmill and singlehandedly installed them in the ceiling, whilst my mother watched through fingers standing at the kitchen window, unable to stop him but worried stiff that something might slip and he would be injured. By the time I was at university the shed was now so restored that I was able to have my 21st birthday party there. But somehow that was as far as it got, somehow he never did finish it. The woodturning lathes which were waiting his retirement there have stayed unused.

Why am I saying this in a log about the Czech Republic, why now? Well this morning I caught myself delightedly unearthing granite cobblestones in the yard and I was reminded of Cotswold cobbles in the shed. Looking up I gazed at the barn. As I have said in an earlier post it was the barn that had first attracted me to buy the house and yet it remains unfinished, as something prevents my continuing in its restoration. I wonder whether this is my “shed”, whether I am acting out my father's experience and whether I will complete my dream as he did not.

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