I had no idea people could eat so much. You could have fed a small third-world nation on less than they put away between them in the space of half an hour. After dispatching bacon, eggs, sausages, fried bread, black pudding, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, tea, toast and marmalade with a speed more suggestive of famine than peckishness, they were still gazing longingly at the meat pies on the way out.
“Famous for our meat pies, we are.” The Landlord informed me, proudly. “If you want them, you’d better buy them now, because they’ll be gone before ten.”
I felt four pairs of pleading eyes swivelling towards me.
“No.” I said firmly. “I’ll make you all soup and sandwiches. Much healthier. Soup, sandwiches and fruit. No pies. Absolutely not.”
The Landlord very kindly loaned me a plastic bread tray to carry all the pies, crisps and sticky buns that I bought, and Big George bore it happily up the hill to the cottage while I used the pub’s Wi-Fi connection to check my almost non-existent bank balance.
By the time I’d had a little weep in a quiet corner, written the pub a cheque more in hope than expectation, walked and fed the dogs and deposited the tortoise in a place of safety in the garden, the house was rapidly filling with furniture and boxes. All in the wrong rooms.
“What happened to the system?!” I wailed.
Big George looked puzzled. “What system?”
“The coloured label system I explained to the lad with the earrings and the acne. Jason? Jackson?”
“Whatever. Coloured labels on doors of rooms. Coloured labels on boxes and bits of furniture. Match the two and bingo. Right stuff in right rooms.”
“Well, he didn’t mention it to me – but don’t worry Petal, I’ll sort it all out.” He took a deep breath and smiled at me as one would at a small child. “Now, how about a nice brew to go with those sticky buns?”
Two minutes later the entire village heard him telling Jenson exactly what he thought of his parentage, his unsavoury personal habits, his IQ and his likelihood of still having a job by nightfall – in no particular order.
After that, things went comparatively smoothly. By the time we broke for lunch, the van was three-quarters empty and we were all beginniing to relax a little.
Sitting in the front garden on an unlikely array of chairs, boxes and wobbly garden equipment we chatted amicably for a while about nothing in particular, until George’s eye alighted on the house name, swinging slightly drunkenly in an Olde Worlde fashion from a metal bracket by the front door: Tigh-na-Mara.
He sounded it out carefully. “Tie-na-mara. That’s a funny name.”
I was about to say “I know”, but before I could even draw breath, an unfamilar voice piped up from behind us.
“It’s TEE-na-mara actually.”
We all turned to look at the source of the sound – and it was the fourth removal man who hadn’t, as far as I could remember, uttered a single syllable in the last 48 hours. Short and squat and dark, he munched placidly on his crisps for a while before deciding to enlighten us.
“It’s Gaelic. It means ‘House by the Sea’. My gran used to run a B and B in Fife called Tigh-na-Mara.”
After that, he lapsed back into crunchy contemplation and never spoke again, leaving us to consider the local landscape of fields, hedges, trees, gardens, a couple of half-hearted streams and a bit of blasted heath … but no sea.
“Well, that’s odd.” George said eventually, with masterly understatement. “How far is the sea from here?”
“About 50 miles.” I hazarded, “Give or take.”
After that, we changed the subject.
By mid-afternoon they’d unloaded the last boxes and were gone, fortified with tea, sandwiches and a chunk of fruit cake I’d made in a fit of enthusiasm but then didn’t fancy on account of not really liking fruit cake.
Making their sandwiches had used up the last of my bread, so I thought it was an ideal opportunity to wander down into the village and make myself known at the local shop-cum-sub-post office.
Adverse Camber is a typical English village, having one main street and a central market square with many smaller roads radiating outwards, which is where the bulk of the villagers live. (Apart from those on ‘The New Estate’ who don’t really count because they aren’t really villagers – or so I’ve been told in complete confidence.)
The Post Office Stores occupy a prime position on Main Street, just up from Market Place, which would be an absolutely ideal location but for the fact that the pavement outside is just wide enough for one person turned sideways – and the shop door therefore opens almost directly into the path of northbound traffic. The drag from passing logging lorries has been known to separate elderly ladies from their pensions.
Once inside, and clutching my sliced wholemeal, I struck up a conversation with the cheery middle-aged woman at the checkout.
“How do you do. ” I said, “I’ve just mov ….”
“Oh I know who you are dearie – you’ve just moved into Tigh-na-Mara. And very welcome you are too. That’ll be 99 pence, please.”
“Ah. Right. Good. Thank you.” As I handed over the money, a thought occurred to me. “The house name – Tigh-na-Mara … ”
“Yes?” She looked at me bright-eyed and expectant, poised to impart helpful information.
“Has it always been called that?”
“Oh no, dearie, no. The last owners – old Mr and Mrs Button – they called it that. They apparently saw it on a house when they were on holiday in Scotland and liked it so much, they changed the name of the cottage when they moved here – that’d be about 10 years ago now. Caused a bit of a stir at the time it did. You know – incomers arriving and changing historic house names and such.”
“I see. Yes. I imagine that it would.”
A cunning plan began to take shape in my brain, and I asked, as nonchalantly as I could, “What – er – what was it called before they changed it then?”
“Puddle Cottage. Seems the people who lived there back in the last century were the son and daughter-in-law of the owners of Pool House just up the hill. So they thought it would be funny to call it Puddle Cottage.”
I’m fairly sure that for a moment or two I just stood there with my mouth hanging open foolishly, but eventually I managed to gather my wits and, clasping my sliced wholemeal to my bosom said weakly, “Tigh-na-Mara’s quite a nice name, don’t you think?” before launching myself into Main Street to take my chances with the logging lorries.