Jill’s Journal

Jill Smythe wrote a journal during 2010 focussing on her life at Lane Cottage – she has kindly agreed to share it with the Sharing Stories Project.  Here you can read an extract from it:

A Year at Lane Cottage

Feb 18th

The Thatcher has started work on our rapidly reducing ridge. It has been sending us little messages of distress in the form of spars that have been throwing themselves like tiny spears onto the patio and into the garden for the last year in the manner of these cottages which communicate with you and tell you their needs if you have the ears and eyes to receive them.

As the thatcher lays his ladder against the back wall for the first time and clambers up onto the roof a tremble goes through Lane Cottage as if an ancient memory had been disturbed -  the house awakening again to a thatcher’s hand;  the building preparing itself for the stripping of a protective layer, its quiet dream disturbed and its secrets exposed. The wire netting being removed, the thatch looks wet and woeful and a sorry site with its fine crop of brilliant green mosses adorning the front. The Thatcher will clean and scrape and comb its straw locks back into conformity after he has replaced our patterned ridge with a flush one. The patterns look twee and modern to our eyes and we long to return the building to its original plain, rather humble looks. A photograph taken of the cottage in 1906 shows a flush ridge so the patterned ridge must be a fairly recent addition anyway and we feel no loss in parting with it.

Feb 22nd

A strange, hump-backed animal has taken up residence in the garden. Made of straw with curving straw back and bunched straw limbs, it lies, a lumpy chrysalis of faded gold waiting to fly up into a new incarnation on our roof. I put my hand on it and stroke its back and it feels solid all the way through to the ground. The last time I will be able to touch it for it will soon be out of reach of any but the thatcher’s hands. A shaggy fringe of gold is appearing, bright and rakish, on the ridge and its progress across the roof can be seen for miles so bright is the straw. What a pity it won’t stay like that but will soon darken to the colour of an otter’s back.

March 3rd

The third dawn of frosted pink and gold.

The thatcher wakes me clambering over the roof. He discourses of the ways of rats and mice who think a new thatch is a meal laid specially for them with its juicy heads of wheat and, if not watched for and discouraged, will create runnels all through the roof. He re-mounts the roof, water-can in hand to wet the sheaths and make them more biddable. The straw animal in the garden is replenished after being depleted in recent days. There is something comforting about its presence in the garden, something companionable about the thatcher’s presence on the roof, making us secure, guarding us against the weather. Long strands of escaping straw have cascaded down around the house and into the garden as if a golden haired giantess had shaken her hair all over our little kingdom.

In the fading early evening light I stand with a cup of tea in the chilly garden and on the verge across the road and try to calculate the progress of the day across my roof.

On the hill above Weston Colville

This sunlit day, June’s firstborn, on the hill

My hand among the heads of corn
My feet of clay in this heavy earth
That still hold’s winter’s weeping

Spread below are wood and hollow
Road and field
And my own roof, brown as an otter’s back
That itself once grew in golden glory to the sun
And knew a harvest and the scythe
And had its life
That now shields mine.