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Melancholia



Ben

This was the first ever photograph I took of Percy…. 

and so, so sadly – this is the last. Taken the day before New Year. On Monday, a week ago, very early in the morning, poor little Percy was run over by a car on the road outside our house. Charlie and Mavis were already on their way down to Dorset, and I was in London, when we got the text from our neighbour Mandy, that a tabby cat had been found and everyone was trying to work out who he was. I don’t think I’ve been as sad in such a long time. It has felt like a whole week of real loss. Percy was a huge character, endlessly racing around the house, climbing up the curtains, causing mayhem. It feels very empty here without him. We loved him so much.  Henry was very sad too, looking everywhere for Percy, but I think he’s on the mend now.  And Mavis has lost a real friend too. The price of love is grief, as a real friend said to me during the week.  One day soon, I’ll post some more photos of dear, missed Percy, but not tonight.

On a cold, wintry Saturday, with a startlingly bright sun, we headed up to the Blackmore Vale for lunch with friends. But we left a bit early with the task in mind of seeing something new…. which, having looked at the map to see where we were going, was calling in to look at the ancient stone porch of Hammoon Manor, a house I’ve longed to see for years and years.
I should say that the house has been rather restored, recently, very beautifully too, but one can’t help missing the romance of the old black and white photographs of the house found in the Historical Monuments of Dorset –

Or in this photograph by Paul Nash, in the Tate, snapped in 1935, when the tiny attic dormer windows were just little holes in the great deep roof, and new brick gate piers announcing private property did not interrupt the long curve of the old low brick wall running beside the lane.

But it is still the dream house; the perfect old thatched manor, with its extraordinary stone porch added in the 1600s.

The church next door is fantastic…and tiny, appropriately for a parish that, in the 2013 census, had a population of 40.

It was also freezing.

I love how every church in Britain has a proper stash of plastic chairs.

Beautifully embroidered hangings on the altar cloth – incredibly fine work, I suspect Edwardian?

The graveyard is shady and empty.

After a lunch full of talk and hilarity, we went for a stroll around the garden and looked over long, flat fields to the looming mass of Hambledon Hill, which I last visited on drawing classes from school, aged 17, and which I long to visit again soon (something else for the something new list).

This morning, in grey, wet weather, Charlie Mavis and I went for a new walk. Well, one that Charlie had discovered a few days ago.

On the way we find ourselves passing the Kingston Russell Stone Circle, which actually I have visited before, when I first moved to Dorset, but have not been back to for years.

I read a little about the Stone Circle this evening. The largest surviving group in Dorset, the stones are Bronze Age, erected sometime between 2,500 and 900 B.C.  It was strange to think, for a moment, of such ancient settlement on this high chalk ridge, with views up and down the coast.  Meanwhile, Mavis went berserk, rushing around the stones and the fields.

The countryside is purely in tones of brown and green and grey, all other colour banished. 

We walked through a fodder beet field, golden glowing orange-yellow.

Sheep, with Kingston Russell House in the background. 

For the first time ever, Mavis jumped of her own accord into the river… finding her wet feet at last. Today, another lunch, with Connie and Tom and their friends Isla and Martin, just to the west of Bridport, north of Chideock, in a lovely bit of country completely new to us.  We came across the perfect Dorset cottage, tucked in a hidden valley with a view down to the shining sea at a fold in the hills.

And then up to Hardown Hill, a stretch of beautiful heathland with views up and down the coast.

Sun streamed through distant clouds, 

And far, far in the east, the Isle of Portland glowed briefly, floating between sea and sky, in the way that sometimes happens in the haze of summer in Greece.

We came across this bench, erected in 1936, 

And felt as if we were in a scene from Thomas Hardy.

The colours of sea, sunset and cloud took on the quality of abstract painting.

And we made our way back to Isla and Martin’s, for apple crumble and tea, and drove home contended at the end of a really happy day.

Our new discoveries, wherever they are, whatever they may be, are someone else’s familiar territory – a walk we make for the first time is a place that for others is their daily round; that beautiful porch we looked at yesterday for the first time is someone’s front door, and has been enjoyed daily in that tiny hamlet for four hundred years.

It’s good to remember how connected we all are, through time, and through space, at times like these.

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