FRONT PAGE / POSTS
by Myfanwy Jones| St Asaph, Wales
Thursday, 16 August 2012
tags: culture, europe, making sense, sequencing
The old house had been a ruin in the early 20th Century. Then it had been restored after the First World War using, it is said, recycled timbers from ships dismantled after the War. That seemed the best explanation for the fact that the main purlin was too short and was bolted to another with a 3ft overlap above the top of the stairs. It also seemed to explain the curvature that created a hump in the middle of the roof.
The house was designed for occupation by the farmer and his family and the farm labourer. Because all the work was done manually or with horses in those days, even the smallest farm had to have a labourer. The house was exactly like many others, of a design that children always drew – walls, roof, four windows and a door in the middle. It had two rooms downstairs and two upstairs. In Fachgynan, the front door opened into what was originally the only communal living space to the right, with the steep wooden stairs directly ahead. The main room would have had a large inglenook fireplace where all the cooking was done, probably a settle by it for people to sit by the fire, and a table and chairs in the middle of the room. There would have been shelves and cupboards in the alcoves either side of the inglenook and in the space under the stairs.
By the time we moved there in 1952, the living space had been extended into the animal quarters next door. The alcove to the right of the inglenook had been knocked through and the small stable or whatever it had been was converted to a kitchen. There was a small high window at the back of the kitchen with a Belfast sink below and an enamel draining board to its right. At the centre of the left-hand wall was a small, cream-coloured Rayburn, with top and bottom oven to the right of the firebox, hotplate above and an old-fashioned integral boiler on the left. The boiler had to be filled with buckets from the tap. The black enamelled flue pipe rose straight up from the rayburn then turned into the chimney in the wall. That length of flue pipe was an important source of heat. Dad would warm his frozen hands on it when he had been out driving the tractor in the snow and Mum would pin socks and underwear around it to air them. It was even used to iron collars in the days before we had electricity.
Opposite the rayburn, on the right-hand wall was the kitchen table, the centre of our universe for quite a few years. Dad’s wooden armchair was in the space between the table and the draining board, the best place, away from the doors and out of the draughts. A little oak settle on the opposite side was where we, David and Myfan, sat, the solid wood panelled back and seat giving shelter from the draughty doors – none of the doors fitted very well! The baby, Lynda, was safely imprisoned in an old-fashioned wooden high chair contraption and Mum used to perch on a stool with her back to the Rayburn, although I don’t remember her sitting down much at all.
The only water supply was provided by an old brass tap attached to the wall above the sink. It brought in cold water from the spring near the house. The waste pipe from the sink was a plain lead pipe – no u-bend – that went through the base of the wall and emptied into a small stream behind the house. This was on the north side of the house so there would be a constant icy draught coming out of the sink too.
The kitchen floor had been intended to be laid with red quarry tiles, but they obviously ran out of them about half way in, so the sink end of the kitchen was a patchwork of concrete of different colours and textures laid, obviously, on more than one occasion. I remember studying the floor quite a lot, looking at all the different patches but it was many years before I realised that this was not a normal floor. It was perfectly normal to me. Because the kitchen was located in the outbuildings, the ceiling was formed from the old hay loft; wooden rafters laid with wide sawn planks above. These planks were very old and gaps had opened up, so we might be treated to showers of dust and old cobwebs when the rodents were running around above, especially when the cats were chasing them. Mum fixed that by having hardboard panels nailed to the rafters.
Behind our settle was the one and only kitchen cupboard, which sat on a large old chest of drawers. The bottom two wide drawers had taken out and replaced with cupboard doors to create the Shoe Cupboard. Inside was always a huge jumble of shoes and Wellingtons, which got bigger over time – we never threw out old or worn-out shoes. And, in time the mud that came in on the footwear seemed to turn to dust and coat everything a uniform shade of grey so only the newest, cleanest ones could be quickly identified. The two short drawers above were Mum’s drawer and Dad’s drawer respectively. Dad’s drawer was a forbidden place where he kept his diaries and what little paperwork there was in those days. He also kept his sweets in there, but these were invariably extra strong mints so there was never any danger of us helping ourselves to them. Mum’s drawer was where everything that wasn’t to do with food was kept. It was one big tangle of lots of different knitting wools and cotton, caused by constant rummaging looking for safety pins, buttons, pencils, first aid, or any other small item that had no other logical place to go.
© Myfanwy Jones 2012