Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Digging up the past

On Saturday I decided it was time to reclaim my bedroom as a bedroom instead of an all-purpose dumping ground for junk. Probably due to it being the room nearest the front door, FL comes in and drops whatever he is carrying: trailer lights, overalls, books, incoming post, golf balls, newspapers, hats, boots, deckchairs, bag of charcoal, weedkiller… you get the idea. After a discussion about allowing the children to use the room to access our brand new erratic Broadband connection (“It’s a bedroom not a computer room”) I decided to take him at his word and civilise the place. It had been getting me down for a long time. Especially the layers of newspaper on the floor by the fireplace, ready to soak up the next flood. So I got my son to help move the wardrobe (which is Victorian, is almost impossible to shift and came with the farm) and moved it away from the damp wall, so at least the wall will have a chance to dry out and my clothes won’t get mouldy. And I boxed up my books so that I could store them at the dry end of the room. And arranged the two armchairs and the sofa (excess furniture stored here as there is no room anywhere else) at the potentially-wet end in the hope that if it stays dry it will be somewhere nice to sit now that we have central heating!

So anyway, I was in the middle of all this, vacuuming spiders’ webs and scrubbing the leather chairs with anti-mould cleaner (!) when there was a knock at the front door. There stood a very frail old lady and a younger woman, asking tentatively if they could walk round the yard, because Mrs T. used to live on the farm, from 1948 to 1960! She wanted to see it again before she died. She is 86. Well, given my recent interest in the history of the place, I wasn’t about to send her away! Despite being in a state of total chaos, I invited them inside and showed them round. It was fascinating! Mrs T remembered that my bedroom used to be their “parlour” and a milk house (which FL had knocked through in the 1970’s to make one room.) She also remembered her husband falling through the floor because the parlour was so damp and that they had to get “the overseer” to replace the floor. “We couldn’t use it for months”. Ah ha! This is very interesting! There is clearly something we don’t know about the basic position or structure of the house – maybe an underground spring?

In the front room she remembered scrubbing the peat smoke stains off the ceiling, and watching the water pour off Bennachie during a big storm when “all Mrs Pirie’s chickens drowned”! I wanted to make them a cup of tea and encourage more memories, but she was quite embarrassed to have interrupted me in my mess of cleaning. I also suggested they knock at the door of the Steadings conversions as my nearest neighbour would have been kind enough to show her round the former stables, I am sure. “Oh no! We couldn’t do that!” But she told me that while she lived here, a family had arrived asking to see the stables, (“Missionaries from Africa”) and that their childhood heights were scratched on the door to the loft! What a shame that has long gone “For firewood, no doubt,” she remarked.

FL was sorry not to have been at home when they called. He would have had so many questions to ask her!

Then on Sunday, we (FL, me and the kids) went to an Open Day at Birnie archaeological dig. Every summer, the same team spends a month working on the site of an Iron Age settlement where you can clearly see the remains of a roundhouse which was destroyed in a fire. The archaeologist was an excellent teacher and brought the dig to life for quite a crowd of visitors. At the end of the site tour, he showed the “finds” – a beautiful glass bead, a tiny marble, the clasp of a belt. He also encouraged us to go to Birnie Kirk, where some old tombstones had been uncovered for one day only. That’s the photo at the head of this post. A gravestone from 1711. It is kept covered by a protective membrane and a layer of grass. See how the grass has taken on the shape of the carving?


Gabrielle said...

When I/my parents lived in Scotland, they moved to a converted Dovecot not far south of Glasgow. There were some graves in its garden.

One tombstone had a skull and crossbones on the back, together with a political poem. I had never seen a tombstone with a skull and crossbones on it before. I do not think that I have seen another since, either. Now, here's another one.

In terms of the grave in my parent's garden, I want to say Levellers but I don't think that would be right at all. Hmm, I must ask my mother to see what she remembers.

Whose was this grave? Was there any specific significance given to the carving?

Roobeedoo said...

The skull and crossbones were supposed to signify "mortality" and other symbols such as an hourglass indicated how long the person lived. These symbols are found on 17th and early 18th century gravestones especially in southern Scotland. Some people think they denote that the family were Freemasons. The inscription says that a man, his wife Agnes Petrie, and their children are buried there. It is dated 1711.

tea and cake said...

This is fascinating! I'd love to have somebody come to our house and tell us about it. We're on a private estate and in a tied chauffeurs cottage, which has been made out of two cottages, though the downstairs is tiny. There's loads of recent (since 1948) history we've got for the main house, but only since this current family has owned it.
And, that grave being uncovered only once a year is spooky!

zombiecazz said...

Excellent. Love the grave stone.
That kind of history is so cool. I love to get my Dad talking about hsi childhood and his adventures in the war (he missed all the fighting thankfully).

On an early post you talked about being sucked into the Twighlight craze. I got the book from the library the other day. read it and immediately ordered the first three from amazon. Sucker too.

motopacsman said...

It's funny that we Yanks think we have a past. Every time I see something like this and hear stories of your homes and homesteads, I'm reminded that we're still the children on the planet.

My home is considered old/quaint by western US standards. It was built in 1959. It's younger than I am.