June 6, 2013
Diz White’s Cotswolds memoirs
Monday, June 3, 2013
When British-born author and comedy actress Diz White’s overwhelming desire to eat heaps of Yorkshire puddings signaled that her roots were pulling her back to England from her Hollywood career, she knew she had to act on her long-held dream of owning a Cotswold cottage.
In this excerpt from her travel/humour book Cotswolds Memoir: Discovering a Beautiful Region of Britain on a Quest to Buy a 17th Century Cottage (Larrabee Libraries) Diz takes a break from her roller coaster cottage-hunting journey and together with her American husband Randy and her London friends to go on a hike in Mitford country.
“Did you know that Nancy Mitford’s father is said to have hunted his children here when he couldn’t find a fox?”
“Is that true?”
“Not sure, but I bet they learned to run faster than the hounds if it was”
I was filling my friend Pat and her husband William in on some of the reputed Mitford family saga as, over the hedges, we glimpsed their former home Batsford House, near Moreton-in-Marsh.
The Mitford family held this estate until it was sold to Lord Dulverton in 1919.
Later in the hike, we came across a farmer repairing a dry stone wall. We watched, fascinated, as he took pieces of jagged stone and fitted them together. I asked how he did it so expertly.
‘Mainly by feel,’ he answered in his broad country accent.
‘Its limestone, see, and we gather the stones from all around when we rebuild. After a while, you know where the stones come from by their colour. See this one in my hand? Now that’s from Guiting, and that one – from Oddington. These walls don’t just divide the fields; they provide shelter for birds, toads, frogs and insects. They have all sorts growing in between the stones too. Wild flowers, herbs, berries – you name it. Why, most likely there’s a few Roman coins in there too.’
Near the end of our walk, William elected to continue hiking with the couple’s two dogs Bosun and Bertie while we took off in the car to shop in Moreton. Randy went for wine while Pat and I headed for the supermarket. William, meanwhile, had not put the dogs on a leash and Bosun, obviously intent on earning the title of ‘Stupidest Dog on the Planet’, had fallen into a stagnant ditch. He sank like a stone, and Bertie bravely splashed in after him. William then jumped in to save them both. He dragged the dogs out and came to find us, soaking wet, trailing mud and stinking algae. Naturally, the manager refused to let him in the shop.
Blithely oblivious, inside, Pat and I were drifting around the aisles shopping, yakking and failing to notice William outside frantically waving. We were immersed in our usual habit of discussing weight- loss diets while filling our baskets with full fat ice cream and over-ripe brie cheese.
Eventually, we took poor William home, hosed him off and served him trout, from an organic fish farm, in a beurre-blanc sauce, stuffed with garlic, fennel and shallots.
After lunch our estate agent called with a cottage for us to view – immediately if we wanted, so we jumped in our car and tore off to a small village near Burford.
Maureen, the agent, unlocked the front door; we all stepped inside and found ourselves in the smallest room I had ever seen, outside of my childhood dollhouse. The five of us filled the entire living room. Maureen acted as if it was quite normal for us all to be jammed in tighter than the passengers on the Underground in rush hour.
‘As you can see its very light and bright,’ she said perkily. ‘Now, if you could all just step into the kitchen, I’ll be able to close the front door.’ We all shuffled together in a line and squeezed into the kitchen, which was even smaller.
‘Wow! This is tiny,’ said my friend Pat. ‘Was this a barn conversion?’
Maureen, looking evasive muttered, ‘Not exactly.’ She led us upstairs to a landing smaller than a postage stamp and threw open a door as if it were the ballroom at Buckingham Palace.
‘Oh good, a walk-in wardrobe,’ said Randy.
Maureen replied, ‘Er… no… that’s the master bedroom.’
I looked out of the window. ‘Well the view is nice anyway. This seems to be in the grounds of that bigger cottage next door.’
Maureen replied, ‘Yes, that’s Victory Cottage. Years ago it used to be the Victory pub.’
‘So this must have been one of the outbuildings of the pub. Which one?’ I asked.
Maureen ignored my question and tried to herd us into the second bedroom. This was impossible because it was completely filled with a single bed. Randy said, ‘Was this cottage once a storage shed?’
Maureen looked shifty. ‘Not exactly… shall we look at the garden?’
Randy interrupted her. ‘No, wait. I want to get to the bottom of this.’
‘Randy,’ I said, ‘I think you just have. I bet this was the pub toilet.’
‘No!’ exclaimed everybody, bursting into laughter. But it was obvious from the look on Maureen’s face that it was as she gave a frosty reply.
‘We prefer the word convenience.’
‘So this is a convenience conversion?’ quipped Randy. Maureen countered defensively, ‘Well, the walls are the original Cotswold stone.’
Randy asked, ‘Is this address Spend a Penny Cottage?’
Then we topped each other with one pun after another.
Maureen interrupted, ‘Do you actually have any interest in this cottage?’
Randy laughingly replied ‘I’m sorry, .. no.. its too small’
‘I think we had better leave,’ I said, ‘Maureen is looking somewhat flushed.’
From this experience, we realized that the purchase price of Cotswold cottages had risen so alarmingly that even a remodelled pub toilet was now almost out of our range. Randy and I decided it was time to regroup and rethink– we would have to pull something out of the hat…but what?
‘Cotswolds Memoir: Discovering a Beautiful Region of Britain on a Quest to Buy a 17th Century Cotswold Cottage’ (Larrabee Libraries) is now available as an E-Book on Kindle and all formats on Amazon.co.uk and in Paperback at Waterstones and all good book stores