Writer's retreat

Writer's retreat

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The walled garden, Trewince Manor, Cornwall

Last week's exercise was to write a monologue or conversation piece regarding a wall. I immediately thought of Willy Russell's wonderful conversations with the wall in Shirley Valentine, but I could not think of a house wall I wished to include in a similar fashion.

Eventually I decided upon a walled garden. One I know well, having visited it almost every year for the past twenty two years, until I made a deliberate decision not to go near it. The deliberate destruction of fertile land always upsets me. Maybe I shouldn't concern myself and concentrate instead on the land I have influence over.

I wasn't able to read this at Solihull Writer's Workshop as I was feeling too ill to attend. So it's being posted here instead.


You might call me, “coward” if you could speak. Twenty years ago I stood outside your bothy washing dishes, lifting my gaze to the pristine gold of cut wheat on the headland. Watching moon rise over the sea and catching glimpses of bats flitting around branches.

You transmuted sound then; happy children’s laughter as they played within your domain, soft murmurs of conversation as parents sat beside you in folding chairs.

Even when the campers left, you still welcomed us. I could sit on green grass, imagining footfalls of Victorian gardeners; the crunch of wooden wheels from wooden barrows rolling up and down paths between beds of vegetables and flowers. Warm sun-ripening fruit on espaliers, grapes turning green and black inside glass enclosures. Sore backs from digging barren beds, adding compost from the farm next door, then planting a second crop of greens before frostfall.

Outside your main gate, white dust wafts with remembered carriage wheels. The Captain taking his daily drive along the lane then down the steep track lined with buddleia and blackberries. Stopping to sip tea in his natural amphitheatre overlooking the estuary below. Only dog walkers follow his steps today or sailors travelling to or from their boats moored in the tiny harbour opposite St Mawes.

They walk beside you ignorant of your past. Your gates and arched doorways are boarded now, your bothy destroyed. Keep Out! Danger! Notices scream at wouldbe trespassers. We are not wanted here. Briars fasten themselves across your openings, denying access.

Many years you have been left to decay, the owners wishing there was no preservation order on your bricks, welcoming their success in gaining permission to build three more wooden houses within your domain. Their only thoughts;the profit to be gained rather than their responsibility in stewarding the land.

I have done nothing to save you; to return your original purpose. I have smiled when your owners talked, unwilling to share my views, my anger, my disgust at their greed. There were so many other possibilities in your future if they had considered partnerships instead of profit.

How little would it cost to restore your original purpose, reinvigorate your soil, offer activities and employment within your garden? One hundred years you produced food for the Windy Farmhouse before being sold as holiday lets. Your vegetables disappeared and you grew caravans and palm trees instead.

It could be so again, but not in my life time. New people will buy a viewless holiday home, relish the peace and quiet and proximity to the sea. Maybe their children will play games and laugh without noticing the sunset, their parents drinking champagne on twisted iron verandahs.

I shall not know or see. I cannot bear to visit you again, to run my fingers over coloured stones marking your age, grieving over what could have been. Even had I screwed my courage to the sticking point and spoken before, my words would have fallen on deaf ears, blind minds and frozen hearts. You will still stand, still enclose, still remember no matter what is done around you.

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