…. it was to be home to a couple, both writers, looking for the peace and quiet that was missing on their busy London lives. They didn’t find it, but they found new interests, they made new friends, and it made a lovely story. And this story is very close to a real story: the story of Mr and Mrs Alfred Sedgwick themselves.
I was aware of Mrs Sidgwick but I didn’t know that she had any links with Cornwall until a number of her books, smartly re-bound, appeared among the Cornish fiction in the Morrab library. They all looked promising, and but I had to pick this one up first. I liked the title, and I knew when I read the opening that I had to carry on.
“Two elderly people with moderate means and no incumbrances ought to be able to lead a quiet life. For a long time, Thomas and I had said this to each other, but we had not done it. We have no children of our own, but we have relatives and friends, and somehow or other we get mixed up in their affairs. We do not wish to be because by nature we are curmudgeons, but it happens.”
I found myself listening to Mary Clarendon, as she spoke about what happened when she and her husband moved from London to a Cornish cottage they named ‘None-Go-By’, and it’s lovely because her voice is so real, open and honest; and because she catches people and their relationships so beautifully.
I had to smile at gentle marital bickering between Thomas and Mary; for all that each tried to have the last word it was clear that they were two very different people who loved each other and accepted each others little foibles. He was an impractical, absent minded philosopher who from time to time set out on a grand scheme; she was a practical woman who wanted to work steadily to get her house and her garden exactly the way she wanted them. It’s a real marriage, captured absolutely perfectly.
It was lovely watching their ups and downs as they settled into their new home and a new lifestyle.
Place names were changed, but I soon worked out that ‘None-Go-By’ must be in the Lamorna valley.
“We went for a walk across the wild land at the back of the house and came in time to a stream and a windmill. The catkins were out on the hazels, the gorse was blazing on the moors and in the hedges, the light airs sent you its essence hot and sweet in the sun; there were primroses on the banks and the blackthorn. Yellow hammers flew here and there about the hedges, asking for their little bit of bread and no cheese. The rooks were busy in the taller trees near the stream, and the larks, risen high into the heavens, were singing all the cares of the world away.”
Of course the locals came to see their new neighbours. There was Mrs Lomax, who fancied herself as the leader of village society; and then there was Mrs Almond, the vicar’s wife who was lovely and had the sunniest of natures.
It was inevitable that young family members, who had been frequent visitors in London, would invite themselves to stay. There were high jinks with a young nephew who came to convalesce after illness. There was diplomacy when a niece sought sanctuary after her first marital spat. And there was romance in the air when another niece came to stay.
And there was a community of artists in the Lamorna valley; Mary made friends there too.
All of this is handled with a light but sure touch, and there is much to raise a smile.
- Bob, the fox terrier, eating the kidneys intended for the first supper at None-Go-By, when a lack of table space caused a dish to be placed on the floor.
- Young nephew Sam discovered by guests stark naked in the kitchen – because he didn’t want to get his clothes wet as he washed the dishes.
- A basket of ducklings inadvertently let loose in the vicarage; rounding them all up again caused havoc.
- The drawing of battle lines over the controversial issue of – rhododendrons!
And somehow, along the way, ‘None-Go-By’ became the centre of local society, and the Clarendons were busier than they had ever been.
‘No, we are never dull. There are shipwrecks and floods and stranded whales and suicides, murders, embezzlements, births, deaths, divorces, love affairs, quarrels, weddings, shops, concerts, cinema, bridge parties, gardens, clothes, housekeeping, servant troubles, dances ….’
They loved it, and I loved meeting them.
I’m so glad that the Sidgwicks stayed in Cornwall, that they celebrated their Golden Wedding here, and that there are more books inspired by the years they spent here for me to read.