I’d moved into Lavender Cottage on the 15th of April 2013. Falling in love with its chocolate box looks, charmed by the inscription over the door ‘Built by Tom ~ Thatcher of this Parish in 1791’.
In a moment of weakness, I invite my few remaining relatives still alive to celebrate the festive season in my picturesque idyll. My brother Marcus and his wife Hilary drive down in the ancient Rover. Fifi runs round the Christmas tree yapping at the lights and coloured baubles, finally settling down on the ottoman. Lunch is going well all things considering. The lack of dentures doesn’t seem to be impeding Aunt Hetty’s enjoyment, sucking on her beef with evident pleasure and dribbling gravy down her blue dress. Even my overcooked spinach is eaten. As everyone waits for dessert, cousin Samantha, despite fervent warnings not to smoke, opens the small leaded-lght window, puffing and flicking out the ash of her foul smelling Rothmans cigarette. A sudden gust of wind and the candles on the mantelpiece sway, wobble and finally topple over, landing on the kaleidoscope-patterned cloth of green, yellow and purple covering the piano. I’m mesmerised as tongues of orange, ochre and amber wrap themselves around the flimsy chintz curtains, curl and coil interlocking their fingers of destruction through the back of the chairs and envelop the table.
The only object defying the onslaught of fire – my homemade Christmas pudding. Uncle Roland takes a drag on his electronic cigarette. I hear him mutter, “He never bloody well puts enough brandy in it.”
Flames now leap towards the ancient oak beams and combustible roof.
I’m left with a handful of insane memories. A paper-bag of delicious moments. My dream, not a pile of cinders but more stories – maybe?