Ivy Cottage - No 54

From Clifford Chambers
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When I began making enquiries of the people who used to live in the village, I mentioned No. 54. Miss Smith, the owner at that time was a very reserved lady whom I never saw, and I was told she was so deaf, she could hardly hear even when people shouted.

I was told that before the Smith family lived there, Len Barr and his wife Jessie were there. Len was cowman with George Woodfield looking after Max the Bull. They went to live at Aberystwyth.

When I began walking around the village in the Spring of the year I arrived, I loved the front garden of Ivy Cottage. It was almost a small wood with young trees growing, and only a faint sign of a footpath. It seemed to me a mystery of fairy tale and magic, and I wondered if it had always been like that to the children of 90 years ago. I don't know when it had been allowed to grow so freely. It was, to me an area of fairy dell where primroses, violets and daffodils nodded in the dappled sunshine that peeped through the hazel branches. Later in the year, a carpet of bluebells spread into all its shaded corners. Summer brought out the masses of forget-me-nots, daisies and buttercups. It was an enchanted fairy land indeed. When winter's cold began to disappear, the first signs of the enchantment began to appear with large clumps of snowdrops and crocuses in between the trees.

And the history of the people living there, added to the enchantment. Mr. Smith was only ever seen in the evenings when he frightened all the children with his long black coat, his long black beard and his silent walk. He was a great linguist and his customary greeting when he met anyone was “Bonsoir”. He was never seen during the day. He had been a clergyman though it seemed he never attended any Church.

Kathleen his daughter, was never allowed to play with the other children in the village, or even to attend school. Her mother died when she was a little child, and for a while she lived with her Grandparents. It is not certain just when the family came to Clifford, but Kathleen talked about our village having a stream running through it – something she remembered from her childhood, possibly being told about it.

Kathleen stayed all though her childhood and her teens in the cottage and the garden, hardly every coming out. It is not certain just when her deafness started, but by the time she became acquainted with people in the village, she was stone deaf, using a trumpet hearing aid in the early days.

Her schooling came from her father and a Miss Larkin who lived with them, but when she could, she escaped into the garden. She told Joan Smith once that it had always been her place of refuge right from the time she was a little girl.

When her father died, Miss Larkin stayed on as companion and housekeeper, but still they stayed as virtual prisoners in their own home, never mixing with anyone.

Then Kathleen was left on her own, and bravely she took a job as typist at the N.F.U. where she sat perched on a typing chair, swivelled up to its highest point, with her short legs dangling, and typed with such fierceness that every full-stop made holes in the paper, even through many copies.

At last she made friends. One of them was Les Smith who insisted that she spent every Sunday with his family, They made sure she had a good meal but the children suffered as a consequence, for Kathleen's conversation was all about death.

She made friends with the other typists including Betty Hudspith, and at last invited them to her cottage By this time she had acquired other friends – cats! Her house was full of them, and a soft warm furry body rubbing against her legs was far more to her than mouths opening and shutting with no sound penetrating to her. She had a piano, and persuaded her friends to have a sing-song with the cats purring contentedly on their laps or settling down on their shoulders.

When the 2nd World War came, Kathleen became ill and spent most of the war years in hospital.

She was quite a blunt lass. During the bread strike, Joan Smith gave her some of her home-made bread. When eventually bread was being sold once more in the shops, Les Smith brought her her old-type shop-bought bread. She looked at it distastefully. “No thank you”, she said. “I prefer yours!”

Kathleen, like her father, became fascinated with languages and she taught herself to speak fluent German,. She upset her next door neighbour, Ralph Smith, by playing at full volume her German records on her gramophone out in the garden every Summer evening.

The last years of her life were her happiest, for many people in the village came to see her. In 1980, she became so ill, she was taken to hospital. As death approached, she placed her frail hands in the hands of her friends, finding strength and comfort. People now remember her as a little, dignified figure, wandering about her beloved garden – perhaps that's what she is doing now; wandering about in God's enchanted garden in Heaven.