In the early 1990’s my parents decided that for the good of their children’s education, as well as to allow us all to enjoy nicer surroundings than the council estate we started out family life in, we would relocate to the countryside amidst a setting of rural tranquility and peace. We made the move of almost 20-miles, staying within comfortable driving distance of both sets of parent families, with my parents deciding to move to a hamlet, the little brother of a village.
Remember that the United Kingdom is dotted with small towns and villages that started life around a central focal point, usually a church, mill or manor house; a hamlet is actually a step down and defined as a rural settlement too small to be considered a village, lacking its own church and usually belonging to someone else’s parish.
The hamlet (remaining unnamed to prevent you from flocking there and creating some sort of shrine to me, and bothering The Mothership by stealing my old socks as souvenirs) was definitely not a stereotypically picturesque collection of thatched cottages and crumbling wishing wells, instead being mainly a collection of red brick post war no-nonsense style houses all built with the same layout and design.
I don’t really remember my first night in the house, only knowing the indignity of now having to share living space with my toddler brother after years of luxuriating in the largest bedroom in the house that had been filled by my Barbie house (now disposed of due to lack of space), my dressing table (also disposed of), my Barbie caravan (also sacrificed in the move), my huge shelf of books (culled down to a small box of books), my wooden desk (gone) and my collection of cuddly toys. Dad built two monstrosities of wooden beds on either side of the room to sleep us in, which my Brother and I clambered between, launching daring leaps across lava filled pits and shark infested waters; but due to the beds being a frequent source of nasty splinters and a sin against all that is DIY they were eventually torn down and replaced with more space saving bunk beds that The Mothership insisted Dad get for us.
I do remember waking up on the morning of our first day in the new house, with my waking being especially memorable as it was around 5:30am and caused by the crowing of a rooster. As someone who spent their life living on the edge of a council estate, part of a large concrete organism determined to swallow up every town and village in its quest to expand and feed its monstrous appetite, understand that my only exposure to cows, chickens, horses and sheep came from a Fisher Price toy that made assorted electronic animal noises when brightly coloured buttons were pressed.
Which is why this particular awakening was so notable, because that cockerel sounded nothing like the happy little brown chickens from my toy with their reassuring cluck and chubby cuteness. This was a growling, throaty cry, a shout that declared war on anyone who was even so much as thinking about sneaking a look at one of his ladies, that promised a pecked death to anyone who stepped foot on his territory. This was a rooster who meant business and it scared the pants off of the whole family.
That feathery git was the bane of our lives for the next few years, things getting worse when someone nearby decided to get their own cockerel which triggered a furious verbal conflict between the two of them, however the main thing was that we gradually grew used to the crowing and eventually started to sleep through his morning tirade at the world.
Unlike our previous house, the house we moved into didn’t have central heating which meant no hot radiators and warm rooms at the click of a switch. Instead we had a coal fire, a dust generating eyesore which took my parents weeks to get accustomed to, eventually perfecting the right combination of coal, wood and newspaper in order to bring heat to us in the winter months. The coal bin that my parents assembled outside the house also proved to be a great choice for our games of hide and seek, and also a reliable source of drawing materials for the pavements in our front and back gardens.
There were some other adjustments to make as The Mothership didn’t hold a driving license when we first moved out to the countryside, and our hamlet being so small meant that the local bus company didn’t see the value of running a regular service, so besides the coach we caught to school daily (paid for by the schools and therefore not for the use of hamlet residents), we were essentially prisoners of our surroundings and The Mothership had to rely on a bus service which only made one return trip on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and gave her less than 3 hours to accomplish what she needed to in the local town.
In order to stop herself from going crazy with boredom, and with our hamlet being surrounded by farmland, The Mothership eventually took work as a housekeeper of sorts for a family living in a large farmhouse within walking distance of our home, and due to word of mouth this gradually expanded to include 2 other large houses in the area. She eventually took driving lessons, passed her test (first time no less, which she delights in reminding my brother (third attempt) and me (second attempt) about whenever the occasion arises) and got a little car which allowed her freedom to do whatever mysterious things Mothers do during the week while their husbands are at work and children at school, but due to enjoying the freedom of choosing where she worked and not not being stuffed behind a desk she chose to remain in her occupation of cleaner and housekeeper.
This housekeeping work allowed my brother and I the most amazing opportunities during our school summer holidays to roam around and explore farmland, barns, tractor yards and woodland all belonging the The Mothership’s employers, and I can’t tell you how much fun we had damming up streams to catch small freshwater shrimp; collecting eggs from chickens who chose to reject the lovely hen house the farmer had provided and instead nest high up in the stacks of hay bales contained in his barns (unless you’ve ever reached your hand into a shadowy recess with the knowledge that an angry chicken may appear in an explosion of feathers and tackle your face, then you’ve never known true fear); caring for an egg-bound sparrow until its unfortunate and unavoidable death, and having a very solemn and tearful funeral and burial for it; stalking the cat army that lurked in the shadowy darkness at the top of the hay bales inside the barn, trying to lure out the feral kittens for strokes (and always, always clawing); fishing in the lake that one of the farmers owned; coming across a pheasant enclosure in a woodland and ‘rescuing’ escapee pheasant chicks, returning them to the safety and security of their electrified home, absolutely distraught when The Mothership had to explain to us exactly what purpose the pheasants were being reared for inside the enclosure.
Living in a hamlet definitely came with a whole host of initial disadvantages, but once we settled in and found our feet the rewards outweighed the initial hardship and I’m happy to say that today, just under 20-years since we first moved there, The Mothership still lives in our red brick house with the coal fire because she refuses to give up the peace and quiet she’s come to love, and after living in places as large as London my brother and I are always thankful that we have the family home in the English countryside to escape to.