Whilst struggling with the never-ending task of setting up my new laptop, yesterday I came across some folders of photos that haven’t seen the light of day for many a year. At roughly the same time, I found a photo that I casually took last year whilst doing the annual tradition of Christmas churchyard flowers. When I looked at this photo, I realised that Auntie Dolly passed away twenty years ago today.
Dolly (or Dorothy Lillian to give her proper name) was my great aunt. She was my paternal grandad’s sister and her and her husband (uncle Charlie) were like a third set of grandparents to us. I have always felt that it’s their rural ways that have made me the way I am more than most things.
To say their life was a bit on the basic side is quite an understatement. For as long as I knew them, they lived in an amazing little cottage in the village of North Wotton between Wells and Shepton Mallet in Somerset where they worked their life around the old coal range in the kitchen. This was where they cooked, lived and what they used to heat the house. For years there was no running water until a neighbour put in a standpipe outside the back door for them running off his own supply. By modern standards, the house was quite dirty, but in all the years I knew her, she was never ill and thinking back, neither were we. There’s certainly something to be said for a bit of dirt helping with the old immune system.
Dolly and Charlie (while they were able) had an amazing and immaculate garden growing all the fruit and veg that they (and us) needed. There were runner beans in massive towering corridors, carrots as far as my little eyes could see, lettuce and cabbages that were big and that the slugs and rabbits would never dare touch for fear of the wrath of Charlie.
There was an orchard full of apples, pears, plums and adventures. Charlie, as soon as he could, taught me the art of grafting fruit trees, something I really should have another go at soon. We even did one tree with two different varieties on one stem. Charlie showed me how the mistle thrushes would “plant” the seeds of the mistletoe in folds in the apple trees. This fascinated me and is possibly the reason why this orchard is still over run with my little planting experiments all these years later. Charlie’s allotment (which he rented for the princely sum of £1 a year) and orchard are now the village hall carpark and churchyard extension respectively. I’m not sure what he’d have thought to that really.
Dolly used to tell us of her adventures and how when she was younger she had a job in a café in wells (The Beckynton, Now Twentyone cafe). This may seem insignificant, but back before the war this was quite an undertaking walking into Wells to do a day’s work then home later, possibly in the dark. In later years, she hardly left the village, as when you think about it, everything she needed or wanted was there. There was the village shop, post office and for Charlie (whilst he still could) the Crossways Inn, which then was a proper barrels for seats and sawdust on the stone floors pub, how I remember it the few times I went there with (or to find) him.
The village shop twenty-five years ago was the centre of village life. It was owned and run by the formidable Mrs (Dylis) Younger. Mrs younger was a bit of an enigma. All we knew was that she had fled Zimbabwe at the time of the take over of mugabee. She was once wealthy, had land and many staff, but now she scraped by running a tiny shop in a village in Somerset. How did this happen? We will never know. What we do know is that Dolly and Dylis were great friends. From totally different ends of the spectrum socially and economically but they were there for each other to the end, so much so that when Dylis passed away shortly after, her ashes were placed at the foot of Dolly’s grave.
I often wonder what Dolly would make of the modern world. I don’t think she’d like it that much. The few times she came to visit, she was bothered by electricity, the TV and so many things that to the “modern” person seem so insignificant. To some, it may seem like she didn’t have much, but to her, she had everything. She was so knowledgeable about wildlife and even with her fading eyesight she could spot a robin or (her favourite) a Red Wing at the length of the garden. She knew when they would arrive, where they were nesting and what each one of them would be eating.
Dolly always said that she would never leave that cottage and in reality, she never did. We suggested sheltered flats and the like, but she wouldn’t have it. One day, she had a fall, was taken into hospital in Wells, and within a few days she was gone.