Two years and five months ago, we drove down the bumpy road and arrived at what has at various stages been referred to as Can of Worms Cottage, Cold Comfort Cottage, Home Farm Hovel and more accurately Home Farm Cottage. It was 11.30pm and our welcoming party was a small herd of bemused bullocks in the field opposite. It soon became clear in the dark night that we had previously looked around the property with our eyes closed, seeing only the graceful mature trees, green fields, bus route and low(ish) rent. What we were blind to, and spent the next few months battling with, was the accumulated grime of many, many years of indifferent tenants and hard farm life. The floor was so filthy, ten month old Solomon sat and played on a sheet instead of the wet, sooty carpet, and we were glad of the unseasonable warm weather which meant Sol and his grandmother could spend the days outside while Oli and I scrubbed and scrubbed. It took three people 8 hours to clean the kitchen, and the bathroom tiles nearly broke me. Gradually, late summer turned to autumn, as we grappled with the heating system (electric panel heaters) and tiny open fire. My mother in law bestowed upon us her ‘duvets for windows’ (interlined curtains) and we discovered that thermal vests are not just for hill walking. Then winter 2009 struck. Prolonged spells of minus 15 C in a house with cracked Victorian single glazed windows, no insulation and concrete floors mattered very little to us as we jollied into the Christmas holidays, hosting for the first time ever. We went from never having cooked for more than 4 people to cooking for 20 on several occasions, but the freezing kitchen, dining room and indeed front step meant our food stayed fresh and only some apple cream puddings suffered at the chops of the farm cat.
We asked locals if northeast winters were always this bad, and were assured that no, this was a bad ‘un. (Cue winter 2010, hmm) I have never felt the cold to be so distinctly personified before; I really began to feel as though it were a person with long, thin fingers that yearned to penetrate the very heart of our house. I had read fairy tales in which children made patterns on the icy windows inside cottages, but experiencing the swirling, frozen beauty was quite another thing.
The people and neighbours we met made us feel at home and at ease in our new surroundings- lending trailers; a hand; ensuring we got the dead elms that were felled on the estate for firewood; the farmer liming our vegetable patch and giving us enough cow dung to manure an entire field!
It has been the setting for much growing up. I finally learned to drive; we decided to move, for my career, and then we decided to stay, for our hearts. I have never had to make such a gut-wrenching decision as to close the door on midwifery, but it felt right. We decided to have another baby; then to give birth to that baby right here in this house. This is the cottage that has seen the start of my crafty cottage industry, of good times and sad.
But another, more windy, more remote, colder (our farmer neighbour always shivers involuntarily when we discuss it) cottage on a hill has stolen my heart utterly. And, blinded again to damp gable ends and dodgy floor joists in the kitchen, and seeing only its views and garden big enough for a pig, we have begged, borrowed, and for the first time, bought.
So it’s goodbye to Home Farm Cottage: home in so much more than just name.