Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Got there anyway


Despite all the dire weather forecasting and the snow and ice and poor visibility, my new car got me home to Codsall in the west Midlands in exactly the same time as usual.

As my mother bought me the car I felt I should take her out in it – as much as possible. The fact that there was hardly anywhere to go that would look enhanced in the dingy, damp weather which followed the snow was dispiriting, but we made the best of it with little sorties to local villages and garden centres. We were often almost the only people there.

The highlight was our trip to Brewood Hall, in the next village to Codsall.

The house has been there since 1660 but some how we had never really noticed it before. My friend Chris who recently got in touch with me again after thirty five years, has connections with the woman who now owns it, and he invited us over.

The Chatelaine is Jan C Ford, a most extraordinary woman, with a slight Hinge & Bracket look about her but a very kindly, enthusiastic face.

She is a professional engineer with her own company and she showed us round very graciously, followed by her old dog who has cancer in one of his rear paws and can’t put it down.

It was mighty cold, I was wearing a felt fedora given me as a Xmas present and my head with its lack of hair was quickly freezing. My mother said she was thankful for her long boots. It’s almost impossible to heat such a large old place. The radiators are not up to modern needs but as it’s listed she can’t alter it much. “I have almost given up on it at times,” she admitted.

She showed us original oak panelling and staircase and rooms containing treasures picked up on her trips to the Far East, particularly Burma. She has shipped back effigies of the terracotta army and a marble Buddha which is in the garden inside a specially built little house.

Most interesting to me was her railway room with the artefacts of the age of steam. She is mad about trains and although she doesn’t drive a car, she spends her free time driving steam trains. She has even piloted, if that’s the word, the Flying Scotsman. “For a long time my main interest was railway signalling,” she said. What a woman, why can’t more of us be like that?

She showed us her offices, the only warm bit of the building, big enough to be a normal house, containing the old bread oven. The walls were lined with ledgers with titles such as, “Transport Movements in Sedgely 1962-69.” A worthy topic for Mastermind, or a PhD.

The kitchen has the original fireplace with its stone surround, one side smoothly indented where people used to sharpen their knives.

She cut a large plate of corned beef sandwiches for us and entertained us on her harmonium, singing a spirited rendition of, “How you gonna keep them down on the farm, now that they’ve seen Paris?” She also showed us a film of herself on a steamer going up the Irrawaddy. She has started work building a school in Burma. http://janfordsworld.blogspot.com

An afternoon with her took my mind off all my own problems, a real tonic as they used to say.

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