Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Friday, 10 June 2011

Conquered - or - The Famous Five do Southwold

Southwold Beach Huts

This morning, I was reading a fellow blogger's post - on HATTAT - when a lovely sentence sent me spinning back in time. The sentence was:

"In winter we sat in the upstairs room before a stove, constant in its propensity to smoke, and told 'sad stories of the death of kings'. Or some such thing."

Brought immediately into my mind was an image of myself and three friends from many years ago (seems I'm doing a nostalgia thing currently) - sitting in a pub in Southwold during what really was, most unexpectedly, the holiday of a lifetime. There was lots of smoke (of a sort) and we were having a long, involved discussion about the kings of England - and it was definitely 'some such thing'. More of which later.

I'd booked a holiday cottage in Southwold - which itself is a quaint, fishing, seaside village lost in the late 1950s on the east coast in Suffolk. It's charming, utterly charming, or it certainly was in 1984, which is the year I've slipped back to. (Perhaps now, it's a quaint, fishing, seaside village lost in the mid '80s!) We were two couples in our twenties, no children, not much money but lots of imagination and a wonderful, innocent sense of fun - Southwold was perfect for us. The cottage was suspiciously cheap - about half the cost of everything else around and I remember asking the company through which I made the booking whether there was something wrong but was told it was cheap because it wasn't very modern; it was a bit 'old-fashioned'. I didn't think that would matter too much.

One sunny Saturday morning, we drove up from London where we were all living at the time and could not believe our eyes as we entered the house we'd rented for the week - and stepped back in time.

If Southwold was stuck in the '50s, this house was from the turn of the century.

It was full of  Victorian/Edwardian furniture, decor, knick-knacks, books - and the personal belongings of the family who lived there before,during and after the First World War. Every detail was complete - from the antimacassars on the chairs to the heavy brown and fringed tablecloth on the heavy brown mahogany table to the aspidistra perched atop. There was even a piano with candelabras - and a piano stool full of sheet music with the songs of the period. My boyfriend at this time was an excellent pianist - professional - and so without much hesitation, the piano was duly tested (there were one or two sticky notes, but otherwise fine) and before long, we were all singing away - such oldies as 'I'm forever blowing bubbles', 'Roses of Picardy' (sob), 'Alice, where art thou?', 'Calling you back' ... and 'Minnetonka' - a minor classic of its day... possibly!

And Karen, look what I found!! A full version of the song!

The house was spotlessly clean and apart from the rather rickety waterheater, which blew Philip's eyebrows off when he tried to light it, we found the house and all its quirks absolutely to our taste. And during our week there we shamelessly went through every drawer and cupboard and found all manner of antiques, including old flags, cutlery, aprons, linens, photographs, postcards and letters. We devoured all the information we found and pieced together the lives of the family who had lived there. They became our friends, they became dear to us - they were our Will, Southwold fisherman, Lill, his wife and Audrey, their daughter - she of the piano and postcards.

As I reflect on the week we had there I am totally amazed all over again at how perfectly preserved the place was, how much of someone's life was there to be observed, how so much of value was trusting left for anonymous visitors to nosy through. But there it all was and we had such a wonderful week.

And we did so  much in that one short week - did time really go much slower when we were young?

The Harbour Inn

One of the many highlights of the week was our mutual decision to become the Famous Five - it just felt right, especially as we had to look after my boyfriend's parent's dog (renamed Timmy for the period) for part of the week. We also decided to do a Treasure Hunt in and around Southwold. We took two full days for this particular event, spending one day -in our teams, girls v. boys - preparing routes and clues to exchange the next day. Karen and I took ourselves off to 'The Harbour Inn' and drank several bottles of the local brew as we plotted and planned. We didn't notice we'd attracted any attention...

We hired bicycles - the Famous Five were always scooting around on bikes. One or two of the clues we came up with involved liaising with the locals and all our bright orange clues had the heading 'Famous Five Treasure Hunt' - nothing inconspicuous about our little operation!
One day, I will blog the whole of this event - it was great fun and for a little while, Southwold knew and recognised us as the Famous Five!

For now, I just say that the following day, one of the clues Karen and I had prepared led the boys to assume we had left a clue at The Harbour Inn. They were mistaken as it happens but they gamely entered the inn around midday and made a few enquiries. Several people there remembered us being there and this added to the belief that a clue had indeed been left there. Before long, people had joined in the hunt for the clue - taking pictures off the walls, cushions off the seats and as new customers entered, the hunt became even more wild and the boys decided to sneak out as folks began upturning chairs and tables and basically dismantling everything in the pub! They have no idea what happened after that or how long the search went on!

We visited the old cannons on Gun Hill; we were rowed in stately fashion across the estuary to Walberswick by a gnarled old sailor for about 20p each; we visited George Orwell's house (it was 1984 too); we ate wonderful local sausages made from pigs that had been fed the swill from the local brewery; we ate delicious fish and chips on the beach in Dunwich and we sang and sang every evening, blissfully unaware that the whole street was listening - either on purpose or without choice as the lovely weather meant we always had the windows open.

I must also mention another factor in this wonderful week - the local brew. Adnams Ale is made in Southwold itself - and at some point, on most days, we would go for a drink at The Sole Bay Inn, which was near the famous lighthouse. We found - after much testing - that we liked Broadside Bitter best. And as well as tasting wonderful, it made us exceptionally intelligent, humorous and witty. It made us play wordy games like we'd heard on Radio 4's 'I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and to play charades, amongst other things, based on types of fish (and I'll never forget Karen's 'scampi'). It made Karen and I laugh to excess at times, especially at Dunwich, and it may have made me forget other things about the holiday that I would otherwise have remembered.

And it was one of these evenings that I was put in mind of when I read the words about telling stories of dead kings. For some reason, we - in our heightened state of intellectual awareness - we decided to try and demonstrate our knowledge of all the Kings and Queens of England. We did pretty well on the Saxon Kings - possibly because Karen and I had studied Anglo-Saxon at University - but became seriously stuck very soon after. And the reason was that I had inadvertently said that after Harold was killed in 1066, the next king was Norman the Conqueror. No one noticed my mistake - I guess it was getting near closing time - and we spent longer than I care to admit puzzling who could possibly have come after Norman. I think we laughed more that evening than many people get to laugh in a lifetime.

It was probably an evening nothing like that which HATTAT was remembering - but it was certainly 'some such thing' and I am deeply indebted to their words for caterpulting me back so suddenly to these memories.

And if this seems very indulgent and not at all about 'Moving On', then I apologise - I do find myself in the grip of nostalgia from time to time but it really doesn't stop me enjoying the present or anticipating the future with excitement.

And I know at least two other people who will enjoy this trip back of more than 25 years to another world and another time and for me, that's justification enough to write about it. Happy memories.


  1. What a truly fantastic post, Annie! Absolutely brilliant! I could really see the old cottage and all its furnishings (sounds tailor-made for the National Trust) and share your enjoyment of it and of your week's holiday. Thanks so much for sharing.

    PS Much of my blog is a bit of an exercise in nostalgia, so you're surely entitled to one nostalgic post....

  2. Hello Annie:
    We have been absolutely captivated by this wonderful story and the way in which you have told it. This is all such goodly 'stuff' and does, as you may imagine, appeal to us greatly. Your description is such that we are able to visualise the cottage exactly and Will, Lill and Audrey are now as real to us as they were to you then, and clearly still are.

    To our shame we have never visited Southwold [Philistines as we are] but have long wished to do so. As we do not have a motor car it is not the most accessible of places. But for years we had an image of the beach huts hanging in a bathroom!

    Oh, your tale of becoming the Famous Five! We loved it - so imaginative and such fun. If ever you think to carry out a re-enactment, then please do count us in! Or, we could become the Secret Seven!

    And thank you, dear Annie, for what we reagrd as a great compliment and for the link too. It is both kind and generous of you and is, we assure you, very much appreciated.

    Have a wonderful weekend. As, perhaps,.....!!

  3. Perpetua - I'm sure you'd love Southwold, just for a little while. There is so much to write about the place that I might do a 'Bloggerwold' post at a later date. So glad you liked it.

    And thank you, Jane and Lance, for the springboard back in time. I'll never forget that week but it's a while since it's been on my mind.



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