I was reading the Colin Dann books about the animals of Farthing Wood the summer we stayed in the bungalow. (The same summer John-Mark fell out of its roof-space). It rained a lot that week but I was content reading on the folding bed, listening to the pitter-patter. Snug in one of the most peaceful places I knew.
I don’t remember it ever not feeling peaceful at the bungalow. You could not, in fact, maintain a bad mood once you had gone through that red gate. It was the rugged coastal road, of course. It was the sea. It was looking out from the conservatory. It was the rolling garden. It was the sun, the wind, the rain. It was the early morning. The setting sun. It was the kettle starting to whistle on the Stanley range. It was its inhabitants.
When John-Mark fell out of the roof-space we searched for Nana’s arnica tablets and there they were, just like we knew they would be, as ever-present and reliable as the Love that permeated the place.
When you visited that bungalow as a child there were things you could be sure of. There would be arnica in the bathroom cabinet and Maine Lemonade in the pantry. There would be a sing-song at some point. There would be Love. There would be Grace (upon Grace) (like the waves of the sea).
My memories of the bungalow are tied up with family nostalgia – the car journey eating Mintolas and looking through the Mad Man’s Window, getting out early with Paul and Patch to walk up.
My memories of the bungalow are food related – pie and potato croquettes and white bread and peas, fish, anything Japanese that had arrived in a parcel, cooked limpets with soya sauce that we had pulled off rocks with Papa.
My memories of the bungalow have cousins and uncles and extended family everywhere. Dinners on knees, then song books on knees. Generations squashed together on sofas. Cousins chasing each other around the outside of it, just like my daughters did 2 days ago.
My feelings about the bungalow are romantic. The photo we took on our last visit was, of course, our family perched on the Romantic Rock. When they are old enough to be interested we will tell our girls the story we have heard so many times. This rock marks the place where Nana and Papa met. She was walking up from the coast road. He was walking down to help her with her case. This is where they met. And then, after marriage and children and decades in Japan, this is where they grew old. Papa marked the spot with a rock painted with 愛 – the Japanese character for Love.
My attachment to the Bungalow is spiritual. Where did they get this wide abundant love from? Enough to cover their marriage, their hardships and adventures, their family, their neighbours and strangers. Enough to cover every last one of us, even Patch, our dog. Where did they get this ever-present, steady Love? They gave us an answer, spelt out in their garden with flowers and when the Gio D’Italia passed Carnlough last May you could see it.
As my brother wrote at the time: ‘They died nearly ten years ago but the things they planted can still speak.’
Our family has been saying goodbye to the bungalow (making the closest thing to a pilgrimage that people with Brethern roots can make). It has been bought as a place to write. And that, is a beautiful thing.
Getting ready for our final visit last Sunday I am thinking of the summer we stayed there – when I was reading the Colin Dann books, when John-Mark fell out of the roof-space. I am thinking of the things I always think of – Papa praying for Patch, the Maine Lemonade, Nana crocheting in the conservatory. I am putting on my green eye-liner and fixing my nose-stud and pulling my tights up over my tattoo. I am thinking about roots. There is not much Brethern-looking about me. And yet, here I am: Loved, God’s. My tattoo says “Be Still”. I wonder where I learnt that? The things they planted can still speak.
‘Tis grace upon grace like the waves of the sea, So powerful yet gentle and wondrously free, If now ’tis so blessed, say what will it be? For the best is yet to come – Leonard Mullan (Papa)