‘Milestone Cottage’ was set high up off the London Road between Wickford and Billericay, Near to a village called Ramsden Bellhouse, It was over 300 years’ old, painted black and white, with mullioned windows,and sloping and creaking floors and doors. Straight out of ‘Central Casting’, as a hideaway for Dick Turpin. It had a large acreage of garden, surrounded by elm trees with rookeries, which looked out on to open fields beyond. There was a small orchard, with an empty stable and barn. Lilacs and roses climbed over the front door and walls. The interior had an ancient, open fireplace with flagstone floors, It was a thoroughly scary, creepy and spooky place; and I absolutely hated it.
To make matters worse, my father had dumped me here with the moody, sulky Aunt Dorothy, who was to act as my ‘carer’. She was now a chain-smoking 21-yr-old , with no interest in me whatsoever. I was enrolled at Ramsden Crays Primary School – about two miles away – and then – more or less – left to survive. My father provided us with housekeeping money ( we always ran short), and returned to live with his second wife, Sonia, in Fitzjohn’s Avenue in Hampstead. He would return to see us every six weeks or so, for the briefest of visits. I missed him intensely, and wrote him desperately sad.little missives telling him so. Eventually, I was given a golden cocker spaniel puppy, Win, for company. But even poor Win yearned for my father as much as I did. We suffered together.
The ‘aunt’, however, did provide books and poems. She had the habit of making me learn lines of Wordsworth by heart. It was one of the many sadistic games she played with me. I can still quote The Solitary Reaper.
‘Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself:
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound’.
However, when I stood up in front of her, as a timid, pale and frightened 8 yr-old, and repeated the words to her perfectly and without mistake, I could barely understand their meaning. What exactly was ‘the Vale profound’?And why was she so alone?