I borrowed Eliot’s title – first of Four Quartets – to herald its first three lines. Those lines have mesmerised me since I first encountered them, aged around 17, because they validated a truth I’d always known but never dared to voice:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
Since becoming the custodian of LIME Cottage, earlier this year, times present, past and future have become inextricably linked in my life.
It is a building of two halves. The front portion, built of rubble stone in (probably) Jacobean times is what the conservation team call ‘historically significant’. Apart from the walls, the mullion windows and some grubby thatch beneath the roof, little remains to give clues to its three hundred and more years of history. Perhaps the most striking symbol of the changes it has seen is the way in which the road outside has risen in the intervening years. History is slowly burying the cottage, so that entering the heavy front door involves stepping down from pavement level to my doorstep. Like archaeologists, my visitors must move down through the layers of history to walk into the building.
The other half of my home, though, is a far later addition. This part was built during my lifetime. (I should add here that I am now of an age where visits to folk museums are often punctuated with small yelps of recognition: “We had one exactly like that!”)
Some time around the middle of the last century two things of personal significance happened; I became the first-born child of Joyce and Oscar Anton (known as Tony for Anglicisation purposes) and someone – as yet unknown – decided to extend this cottage and provide it with its present layout. Huge, cold, Crittall windows pierced the ancient stone, imbuing the cottage with a surprising airiness. Doorways were punched through to a new kitchen, lobby, bathroom and coal store downstairs and another bedroom above.
Initially I was unimpressed with the alterations. Not a fan of single-glazed, metal framed windows (still less, given their unalterable listed building status) or flush doors, I struggled to decide how best to decorate the ‘new’ part. To me, having grown up in them, the fifties were a cold, dark, old-fashioned time of scrimping and making-do. The cottage kitchen was a particularly ugly remnant of that era, with a rotting chipboard sink unit, a bulky stained worktop and ill-matched, broken wall shelves and cupboards.
“Fitted kitchen’ll be best,” my builder announced. “I’ll get it measured up and let you have some designs.”
They were bland and dreary. I binned them quietly and told him I’d have a think.
Putting out the expectation of a miracle – which has been my way of progressing here – I came upon a piece of furniture in a local vintage emporium and discovered the true meaning of ‘cupboard love’. It was glorious and I knew I had to build my kitchen scheme around it.
I could move into a mundane account here of how every subsequent item of non-fitted furniture was discovered, painted in matching or toning shades and added to create my eclectic kitchen, but I’ll spare you that.
I simply want to focus on one moment in time – one evening when I sat, cutting decoupage fifties floral patterns to decorate the quirky little spice rack I’d inherited.
Suddenly I could smell almonds. I was whisked back to a sunny kitchen table in post-war Ilford, where a diminutive me sat with my mother, carefully cutting out pictures just like these to mount in my scrap book. Progress was slow but satisfaction was deep. The delicious almond scent came from Gripfix – the paste we used to stick the pictures in. (See left.) I think I could have been the original glue sniffer…
Everything felt wonderful. I remembered delightful things about the fifties – the embroidered tablecloths with crinoline-robed ladies and wild flowers, the delicate painted butterfly wall decorations, the bone china cups and knitted tea-cosies. I felt safe, warm and cherished. Something of time past had drifted through the decades to remind me that childhood wasn’t all harshness and criticism. There had been golden, happy, beautiful moments too.
The transformation of the kitchen will extend into time future. More vintage clutter will no doubt grace it’s corners and crannies, and every piece will allow both the ‘new’ part of the cottage and its ageing owner to relive our youth in time present.