Written by Carolyn
On Christmas Eve we carried our beds out of the hut down the garden steps and into the cottage. It felt distinctly uncomfortable to be lying in a bedroom inside a proper house again. The sound of the sea had all but disappeared and the palpable sensation of being surrounded by miles of open land and water was almost nonexistent. “I don’t like it in here,” I whispered to Li Chen. “Nor do I,” she whispered back, “I can’t hear properly, it’s like being shut in a box!” she said. “Someone could come creeping up on us and we wouldn’t know until they were in the room!” “Mum you’re frightening me.” “Sorry, it’s the brick walls” “You’re totally weird mum but I know what you mean, let’s move back into the hut when Grandmother goes home.” “That would be best.” I replied.
The feeling of being closed in and having ones senses clipped is familiar to me. Every summer for a decade I slept in a tent pitched where the hut stands now. We’d go out in May and stay out till mid-October when the damp English Autumn forced us back inside. We’d furnish the tent with mattresses, duvets, candelabras and a bookshelf; it was very comfortable.
What lured us out year after year was the feeling of being connected to the wider landscape; the sound of waves rolling across open water, gentle rain pattering on canvas, moonlit rock pools silver and black, the song of the oystercatchers on Spring nights, the shrew family who lived behind the tent, badgers, foxes, hedgehogs; you could wake and listen and feel at ease. It’s funny how the voice of a shrew can evoke a sense of oneness in a human. I’d listen to the curlews calling far out at sea, the rumble of thunder and sometimes witness the magnificence of a full blown storm when the tent would pitch and puff like a set of bellows. On those nights Cassian, Li Chen’s English father, would retreat into the cottage leaving Li Chen and me sitting in bed wide eyed watching forked lightening shoot out of the sky into the sea. And when the lightening passed we’d gasp as the rains swept and the winds blew, the end of the mattress would get soaked but we didn’t care we felt too alive. And the next morning when all was still and quiet the sun would dry the mattress and we’d hammer the tent pegs further in.
Every Christmas I re-read Dickens’ Christmas Carol and it always gets me in the mood. This year it made me feel so expansive I decided to throw open the house to complete strangers on Boxing Day. Christmas Day was so radiant we ate our lunch in the conservatory with the doors open but Boxing Day sidled in with low cloud and a gun metal grey sea. “You don’t know who’d come by on a day like this,” cautioned my mother, “ axe murderers are drawn to this kind of weather! ” “Not Boxing Day, not here mother quick get the sign out Li Chen! ” Li Chen picked up our ‘Welcome to the Coast Guard Cottage for a Sherry and a Mince Pie ‘ notice and placed it outside the front gate. My mother settled into the armchair by the fire with Greta the dachshund on her lap, “Don’t let them in if you don’t like the look of them, “ she instructed. Half an hour later with a glass of sherry in her hand she was happily regaling strangers with her war time evacuation adventures. Bob Cratchit’s house itself couldn’t have been merrier. It appears entertaining strangers brings out the very best in everybody; the whole experience was such a success we’ve decided to make it an annual event.
But Christmas is behind us now. My mother has returned to London, Li Chen is back at school and guess what, I’m still sleeping in the cottage. The days are so short, the house is so warm and the hut is so cold. It was snowing this morning when I woke and the sea was a shimmering green lake, cliffs dusted white, everything still, only the geese calling from down river broke the silence. A thin bright line like an iridescent ribbon lit the horizon for a moment as a shaft of light slipped through the blue white snow clouds and fell upon the water. Now I’m waiting for more snow, perhaps even snow on snow……