In general (she said, looking around wildly for wood to touch) this little corner of Adverse Camber is sheltered from the worst of the autumn storms. Further down the hill, where Wingfield Road crosses Main Street, the buildings form a wind tunnel and when there’s a Force Six blowing from the north west, Winged Victory atop the war memorial has been known to rock alarmingly on her footings, threatening those unwise enough to be in the vicinity with an untimely and unfortunate death. People regularly get to their feet at Parish Council meetings and say Something Must Be Done, but Victory rocks on while everybody nods solemnly in agreement, writes Important Things in year planners and then moves on to something more pressing and less expensive, like what colour to paint the park railings.
Up at the top end of Wingfield Road however the contours of the land and the height of the surrounding trees and ancient hedges are such that my cottage is protected from nearly all directions – which isn’t to say that I don’t get buffeted by the winds – just that I’m less likely than many to end up chasing bits of my roof down the road.
It was a little blustery the other night, but I was tucked up in the living room in front of the fire with a book and a pot of tea and smugly certain that no harm would befall me in my cosy sanctuary.
And that’s when I heard it …
When you’ve lived in a house for a while, you can identify every sound it makes, from the groan of the floorboards as the central heating cools down or heats up and the creak of the conservatory as it dries out after rain to that irritating branch outside the window which you keep meaning to get the secateurs to, but always forget about until the next time it comes rat-tat-tatting on the glass. But THIS sound was none of those. This was something I’d never heard before … a sort of rhythmic ‘hurrgg-urrgg ’ which seemed to be coming from the direction of the fireplace.
Carefully stepping over the Old Lady Dog, who was fast asleep on a pile of blankets and pillows in front of the fire, I listened for a while. I cocked my head to one side to try and pinpoint the precise location of the sound. I moved around. I even pressed my ear against the wall (which was a daft thing to do, given that it’s about two feet thick).
Eventually, I decided that it must be coming either from outside the house or actually IN the chimney. I tried to tell myself that whatever it was, it was unlikely I could do anything about it until morning, but another little voice was saying, ‘If it’s something minor and you CAN fix it, you can stop worrying about it, and you might prevent worse damage.’
I looked at Boy Dog, who was upside down on the settee with his feet in the air and his head buried under a cushion. The Old Lady Dog slept on undisturbed. Plainly neither of them could hear anything untoward, as they can be relied on to bark the place down if they hear a hedgehog sneeze two gardens away …
The rain was beating against the windows. That bloody branch was tapping on the casement in the dining room. The back door was rattling on the latch. I didn’t want to go outside but I knew I’d never settle until I did, so I donned wellies, mackintosh and sou’wester, grabbed a torch and plodded out into the wet, the wind and the darkness.
When you’re out in a storm of course, all you can hear is the wind – but that didn’t stop me from standing foolishly outside the living room window and listening for the ‘hurrgg-urrgg’ sound. Inside the room – which looked so very warm and comfy and inviting – Boy Dog was sitting up on the settee, gazing at me with his bleary eyes half-closed, his mouth snagged up on one side and an expression which plainly said, ‘You have GOT to be joking.’ The Old Lady Dog, of course, hadn’t moved.
Trying to tuck my head into my shoulders to stop the water from running down my neck, I went around the side of the house to examine the chimney – one of those external ones, which look as if they were tacked on as an afterthought. So intent was I on peering upwards that I completely failed to notice the wheelbarrow, full of weeds, that I’d abandoned when the rain had arrived earlier in the day. It was now a wheelbarrow full of weeds and water, and as such had become an immoveable object. In a straight contest between it and me, there was only ever going to be one winner. Attention fixed at roof level, I backed into the barrow. It caught me just behind the knees, dumping me unceremoniously onto the soggy brambles, nettles and alchemilla mollis within. I sat there for a moment in the wind and rain and thought, ‘Well, that could have been worse’ … which is when the whole thing started to topple slowly sideways as one leg sank into the muddy ground.
I landed on my backside in the ooze and in one smooth movement, the sodden contents of the barrow slid inexorably into my lap.
Drenched, filthy, scratched and stung, I admitted defeat (I mean, I can take a hint as well as the next person …) and dragged my tragic self back into the house. where I peeled my outer layers of clothing off and stood for a moment in the doorway to the living room. The sound was still there … ‘hurrg-urrgg ’ … ‘hurrgg-urrgg ’ … ‘hurrgg-urrgg ’
I ignored it. ‘I’m going to take a bath,’ I announced to the dogs. (Yes, I always talk to the dogs as if they’re people – do you want to make something of it?)
The sound stopped. The Old Lady Dog raised her head from the blankets and looked at me in her usual blank fashion. Then, deciding that I didn’t come bearing cheese, chicken or even dog biscuits, she wriggled a little further into the blankets and pillows and went back to sleep.
And started snoring again.
‘hurrg-urrgg ’ … ‘hurrgg-urrgg ’ … ‘hurrgg-urrgg ’