A long time ago – certainly years before the 2011 BBC series about the restoration – I saw a picture Avebury Manor somewhere. That side view of the top photo, framed to the oldest, original part of the building. In the picture, the lavender lining the path was still blooming, and it was beautiful. The sort of house I suddenly realised I have wanted to live in always. Alas, the National Trust got their hands into it first, and it’s gone forever (also, I’m still waiting for that Eurolotto win). What I didn’t realise until this summer is that Avebury is actually only about 35 miles from Oxford – a short train ride and a short bus ride – away, and so few days ago I went to visit it for the first time. The restoration of the house didn’t entirely convince me, but I was slightly spooked by how well the mental image of the place I had matched the real place. The walled kitchen garden, the church, the meadow left from the side door, they were all there. This place felt hugely personal and strangely bittersweet; a peculiar expression of what life would have been had I taken some arbitrary turn somewhere and ended up in a place completely different from where I’m now.
It was the kind of August day that is more autumn than summer; rainy, melancholy, a perfect mist on the sea, the last of the summer flowers fading away, and I wanted to visit this old fishing port about 20km north of Oulu. I remember this place from my childhood – it was bopping back then, a whole fleet of boats going out every day to catch whitefish and Baltic herring and salmon, people like my grandparents buying the fish fresh from the fishermen in the morning. Fears of industrial pollution and cheap north Atlantic fish imports have all but killed the industry, and the moorings have filled with leisure boats. Another tiny piece of the world as it was crumbled away.
In the fantasy version of my life I live in a Jacobean farmhouse somewhere, with a lavender and pink rose border lining the path to the front foor, and herbaceous borders the lawns. And somewhere there’s a perfect kitchen garden, full of pretty vegetables and herbs and edible flowers. I’m not much of a gardener, truth to be told tho, so I will probably always keep indulging in this fantasy merely by visiting other people’s gardens…
It’s been a long, dry and warm summer, and the both nature and garden seem tired somehow, the autumn decay setting in. The horse chestnut leaves are turning, since mid-July, weeks earlier than usually; whatever ails them is getting worse. In the botanic garden, the fruit are ripe and flowers past their peak. And everywhere there are insects of every kind; greedy and desperate bees getting drunk on the last of the summer’s nectar, while the soldier beetles are greedy for something else. Late summer, like late winter, has never been my favourite time of the year; certainly not late summer like this, when the air is still warm and sticky but the lushness of the midsummer is gone. I find myself missing the moment when the wind turns – that inexplicable moment when the autumn is suddenly in the air, when the air is still warm but not quite warm enough for short sleeves and the evening light has a white glow about it.