Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Farewell to 'Grassmead'

The deliciously velvety feel of grass between my toes as I turned clumsy somersaults on the lawn. Hunting for frogs in the flower beds. Fighting my sister for the bolster in the double bed in the back room. These are just some of the flashbacks to my grandparents' house during my 1970s childhood that I have been having over the past week or so.

I've never considered myself someone who forms emotional attachments to things or places, so I've been shocked by my reaction to the news of the house I know better than the back of my hand is on the market.

Built by my grandfather for his new bride in 1935, "Grassmead" has simply always been there. My mother and her younger brother were born there. They lived through the Second World War there, with Grandad away goodness knows where (he ended up in Greece, strangely enough). As Doodlebugs buzzed overhead (or worse, stopped and came whistling down) and the Battle of Britain raged in the Sussex skies, Nana and her two young children took shelter in the bunker in the garden. When the war ended, it was there that Grandad returned to, and struggled to forget the horrors he had seen by getting back to his life as a good ole countryman, gardener, occasional angler and master builder. The air-raid shelter was covered over, and a proper brick Wendy House built atop of it.

It was in Grassmead's lounge that my Dad proposed to Mum just days after they met (her response was "I'll put the kettle on, shall I?"). And it was from its snow-covered driveway that she left as a white-clad bride with drop-dead red hair, siren-scarlet lipstick and a matching bouquet of carnations in February 1962.

Faded family photos show me and my cousins posed in Grassmead's trim front garden after being baptised at the local church. I was the first grandchild, and every successive christening portrait witnesses my progress: from white lace-clad babe in arms; to a bouncy toddler flashing her knickers as she dashed around adults' ankles; to an Alice-banded schoolgirl doing handstands on the lawn despite being told not to dirty her best dress. The grown-ups parade a series of mini-skirts, Dame Edna spectacles, dodgy looking hats and geometric prints that held sway in middle England during the '60s & '70s.

Whenever we were there, I would go and stand in the greenhouse to breathe in the smell of the prize tomato plants - or sneak into the garage, aromatic with the scent of freshly-sawn wood from Grandad's bird boxes.

Every autumn, we would beg our Mum to let us stay over at Nana & Grandad's on a Saturday night, so we could get up at the crack of dawn and head for the fields to gather mushrooms, which we would fry up for the best breakfast ever. And as the acrid smell of bonfires filled the air we would head for the lanes to gather blackberries (which we smeared over our hands, face & t-shirts) or scale the trees then in the back garden to collect apples for our Sunday treat (apple pie, blackberry & apple crumble, toast with jam).

It sounds like something out of Enid Blyton, and in many ways it was. An idyllic rural childhood with plenty of adventures - thanks to a mischevious grandfather - and a reliable supply of sponge cakes from Nana. Only the lashings of ginger beer were missing.

Even after Grandad died on Christmas Eve '89, it remained a magical place for me. A haven of homemade shortbread and tea served in porcelain cups and saucers. With a narrow staircase we had all taken a tumble down at least once. With a special scent of Nana's pink Rimmel rouge and the matching bathroom. With the little spare room where Grandad used to make his flies for trout fishing (one dubbed 'Moggler' after his nickname for me).

And now, nearly 75 years later, it's on the market. Nana, through still brilliant at 99, has had to move into a home and "Grassmead" is to be sold to help pay the fees.

I just hope that any children in its future - and I hope there WILL be children - will have as much fun, adventure and love as we did there.


  1. That's a lovely post. Funny how it doesn't have to be your home, to be home.

    Really lovely memories there - it must be weird knowing it's up for sale...

  2. What a beautiful post, it's lovely to hear how many wonderful memories one place can hold and you wish for it to have many more in its future.