Relationship through Place

In 1974 I spent a year living in Kent in SE England whilst my husband did an MSc at London University at a college in SE Kent and I did a Dip Ed commuting to London each day.

We lived in a very old cottage that had flint and mortar rough stone walls with brick corners and strengthening supports. The cottage was a worker’s cottage on a former estate, next to old stables of the same material but very dilapidated. The cottage had been nicely renovated with large multipaned windows put in to brighten it up. It also had a large garden.

I had been married a year, spent in Zurich. This was the second year of the marriage. We shared a large bedroom which we furnished with stuff our parents lent us. We had a large sitting room and I had a lot of bookshelves stacked with my books from studying English and a lifetime’s collection of fiction mainly. My mother-in-law gave me some apple green velvet curtains which I hung in that room. The other main room was a dining room with windows on two walls looking into the garden. The cottage was in a small quiet village. Opposite in a small modern two story house lived the Leans. He was a lecturer in animal husbandry at the same college. His wife was a botanist and they had a bright, small boy. Dr Lean, the husband, brewed his own beer and wine from different wildflowers and berries and occasionally would have us over for a tasting which left us all fairly dilapidated the next day.

The cottage was a lovely place. It had a lane leading to the big farm house where the landlord lived but then on to footpaths through woods and fields. We saw the seasons of the whole year pass there. My husband, John, planted a vegetable garden. I cut the grass with scissors. We rescued one very sick cat from a bunch of wild or abandoned cats that lived in an old hops barn in the next village thinking she was a kitten. We bathed and deflea’d her in a large plastic bag, then took her to the vet who said she was about 5, just starving. At the end of that year, when we left for Australia, she went to my parents and lived a life of luxury for about 10 more years. We also adopted a wild kitten who we left with other friends because she was overactive. So this was the house of cats and kittens.

We had a lovely place to live but I had to leave before dawn to get to London for my course and it would be dark by the time I got back except in late spring and summer. John really liked his course and worked very hard. We were financing the year by savings from the post-doc in Zurich, 500 pounds I’d inherited from my grandmother and the grant I got to do the Dip Ed. We were adequately well off for the year but I didn’t want to teach really and he had no idea what work he wanted to do so the year was a mix of playing at country life and being confused about real life.

We also had no skills at relating to each other. I came from a family that fought a lot with a domineering father and not very robust mother. He came from a much less well off family with another domineering, but also bitter, father and a mother who constantly worried and feared her husband. He was a very gentle, fey kind of man, very conservative in some ways, wanting peace.

When I think about the cottage, which I hardly ever do, I feel sad that we were so incompetent and wasted such a lovely opportunity. I was ill a lot and the bitter winter weather in Kent didn’t help my constant bronchitis and colds. We established a pattern of invalid and carer that was a substitute for a stronger relationship.

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