21: Earlings Full Stop

24 November 2010

The pivotal phase, in moving our family seat from the Hansel-and-Gretel magical cottage, which – for four decades – had been a vortex of peace, companionship and spiritual harmony, took place across three weekends.

On the first, we descended on Dad’s new place (a bungalow in the tranquil village of East Bergholt), he signed the lease, and we cleaned like maniacs.  There was me, our godmother Janet, cousins Tobin and Kathy, and my big sister, Ruth.  She was in charge (self-declared) and well bossy.  We gave the bungalow a once-in-ten-years clean.  Wardrobe tops were scrubbed, drawers pulled out, carpet edges vigorously brushed, and nooks and crannies made spick and span.

On the second weekend, a team of burley boys descended (along with Chloe, Rosie, my favourite Canadian lady, a one-year-old and a border terrier).  We hired a van, wrestled furniture aboard and ferried it to the newly cleaned pad.  Box-filled cars travelled hither and yon.  Embarrassingly, just as the heavy lifting kicked off, yours truly – stiff through non-exercise – put his back out: the most ill-timed injury of my life so far.  I was reduced to anti-spider duties and a lifetime of ridicule.

That day brought another end.  With Dad refusing to kill living things (and feeding most of them) and Mum spreading peace and wisdom in her wake, over the years, the local ecosystem had adjusted itself.  A super-tame blackbird lived in the tree by the back door.  A local mallard waddled around pecking people’s feet.  Two chickens periodically appeared to try and get into the kitchen.  The extensive garden – which teems with butterflies, woodpeckers and squirrels – had been a safe haven. But no more.  The border terrier wasn’t from those parts and went straight for a chicken.  By the time it was restrained, the bird’s shredded body was eight yards from its severed head and spinal column.  The end of the old order was brutally marked.

On the third weekend, I went down alone.  It was just me, Dad, and a skip, as we commenced the final everything-must-go clearout.  We lit a cleansing pyre in the orchard.  It burned through half a day.

During the past three years it’s felt like I’ve spent half my life clearing things out: throwing human energy at logistical problems.  One last room-by-room sweep of the old place.  Nothing without memories at this late stage.  Every item reflects them back.  That was the cardboard box my mother’s coffin came in.  Those are the plastic plates – covered with white daisies on green – left over from when Ruth and I ate Chinese food by her deathbed.  In the garage is a well-crafted wooden box with ‘Aurora’ stamped across it.  Looks like a story.  No time to investigate.  Burn it.

At the back of the garage was an ancient human skull.  It came from the last grave of the last graveyard of the last church to fall into the sea from the medieval city of Dunwich: once one of England’s largest ports, now beneath the waves.  The skull was retrieved by my great uncle Hugh who – for reasons known only to himself – gave it to his grandson, Tobin, who, for want of a better plan, left it in the garage, one more strand from the past.  Throwing it in the skip didn’t seem right, so we left it for the new owners who (two weeks later) immediately called the police.  I got a call at work, from a Detective Rachel Evermy of Colchester CID.  She was terribly nice.

In the end, on that third weekend, we cleared Earlings right to its bones; down to its most difficult-to-reach corners; places most recently without-stuff in the 1960s.  Panels I’d never seen lifted to reveal cubby holes I was unaware existed.  The last space I came to – exhausted and aching – was an overhead storage area, chock-full of suitcases with ‘Baker’ on them, from long-ago trips that once seemed so fresh.  There, in the deepest and least-often-explored corner of the house, I found a note.

When I was 12 I went through a stage of leaving time-capsule letters (and I quote) ‘Writen (sic) by Peter Baker’, inviting the finder to add their name then re-hide the note.  It was one of those.  I’d first hidden it on 12 September 1986, re-found it on 18 November 1987, found it once again on 8 January 1994 then, flipping it over, there was one last entry, written on 2 October 2000, by Mum.

That took me by surprise.  And it made me cry.  A final wave of blackness.  A message in a bottle.

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, and against our will, comes wisdom by the awful grace of God. – Aeschylus.  Agammemnon, circa 458 BC

See pictures of Earlings

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15 Responses to “21: Earlings Full Stop”

  1. E.D.D the D.O.G.G Says:

    yes, sorry about that, I am after all a predator with canines and forward pointing eyes.

  2. Mark Snare Says:

    Ruth! can you ever forgive me (well Edd mainly) from this point forward E.D.D. now stands for Extra Despicable Dog.

  3. Tracy Stanislaus Says:

    Brilliant!!! I must admit I love reading about your past and present most of it makes me laugh and some of it makes me reflex. I get excited because I can’t wait for the next installment of your journey, KEEP IT COMINGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!

  4. Clare Says:

    I can’t bear the loss of Earlings! A dream house. Time for it to hold new stories now. I would have kept the Dunwich skull myself. I have always marvelled at the story of the bones poking out of the cliff edge. I wonder who it belonged to? Maybe the Dunwich museum would have taken it? I hope your dad settles happily in East Bergholt. Nice ground-level bell chamber in the church there!

    Love. xx

  5. katherine Manners Says:

    That was a brilliantly written entry, utterly compelling and very moving, I did shed a small tear at the end actually, because I can imagine the boy Baker leaving notes for himself. And I fucking love the fact that the new owners called the police over that skull. Genius. And no surprises for guessing which Border Terrier that was…..

    I hope your Dad settles down well, and that the new residents of Earlings carry on the mantle of peace and love.

  6. Ruth Oberg Says:

    I didn’t know that the chicken had been got!! That was kept quiet!

  7. Charlotte Eaton Says:

    Sad and beautiful. Well done. x

  8. John Pitkin Says:


    Its taken 3 weeks to finally get an internet connection to Earlings, dragging this humble home into the present. I’m home alone as Pam is in Ireland visiting her mum and kids are at school, Joshua will be 1st home in 10 minutes and his first question will be the same as the last 3 weeks, “are we connected yet”

    No hidden notes for this 8 year old, I’m afraid face book is the thing now days. Stories of Sculls and later Greek merchant shipping flares found at back of garage as well. After prodding on and off for several days I decided to enquire with same scull police, to be told they would make enquiries as to best way to dispose of said giant flares.

    Two police cars and the coastguard later these official decide between them that the boys from Colchester garrison would need to take a look. So bomb squad duely attended as well, amazing how many vehicles you can get for such a small cottage.

    Well everything is as peaceful as the day you left, with the exception of small white picket fence round side door to keep our dogs and chickens apart.

    Hope your dad has settled in and rest assured that Earlings is in safe hands.

    God Speed


  9. Joanne Taylor-Horne Says:

    I shall never look at Ed the same way again. Pete, feeling the sadness * clenched fist on my chest*. LOVING the skull. I would like to think at some point someone has held it aloft and recited a bit of Shakespeare?

  10. Mark Snare Says:


    yup, Edd 1, chicken 0, I make no excuse, but Edd’s work was hurriedly covered up for what I hope you agree would be the greater good on the day. The chicken had an injection of excitement during it’s final minutes that I feel gave it’s life meaning and tempo. It didn’t suffer, and indeed that day it had a gladitorial exchange that unfortunately was somewhat of a one sided affair. Yet for a few moments it did battle, a lion of poultry, raising it’s head valiantly, defiantly looking it’s foe in the eyes.

    a proud end to a glorious and brave bird.

  11. Mark Snare Says:

    how the hell did I miss the flares though!!

  12. Ben Brown Says:

    A proud, kind and deservedly loving treatment of a home I feel I grew up in a little bit too in a way. When ever I see Earlings, I will see Jyl, Reg, Ruth and Pete and a comfortable, safe and also an exiting and fun place. It’s probably terrible and trashy given the amazing experiences and memories that I keep safe of Earlings, but I just cant get over that childish exitement I used to have of going round to watch Spiderman on a colour TV on a Saturday night. Stupid and irrelevant to the world at large, but to that little boy… Never mind the glee of the legendary Christmas parties. A new generation will enjoy the space now, I hope that they continue to fill those bricks and mortar with the love and fun that were put there by your family.

  13. Rebecca Says:

    Some of the entries to date have made me laugh out loud, some have given me a lump in my throat, all have made me smile inside and out – this one made me cry real tears!

    dog killing chicken – misty eyes at the idea of actually seeing that happen!
    putting your back out – few tears at the thought of the pain (can relate to it)
    leaving childhood home and memories – few more tears (bought back own memories of same experience)
    finding the note – bucketful of tears.

    Much love x

  14. Jo Van Says:

    I think you know by now I am a massive fan and that reading your emails generally rouse an urge in me to try and put pen to paper myself. That has not been so frequent from me in recent months as, generally, life has gotten in the way. But today, in an office packed to the brim with the long term unemployed in the small welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil, whilst reading your email my eyes filled with tears and a lone one trickled down my cheek. Kelly, a consultant who has the patience of a saint, has run off to the kitchen to make me a cuppa. I am not sure if this is an act of kindness or avoiding the fact that a senior manager appears to be crying. But needless to say, in a few short lines you aroused this uncontrollable emotion in me. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you can do that in just an email your writing must be BRILLIANT.

  15. Mark Snare Says:

    I just worry about the notoriety of the Extra Despicable Dogg, he has a facebook page already, I find him strutting round the house like a miniature quadruped Scottish Rock Star.

    I think he’s getting an over egged opinion of himself

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