Family Stories

When I was in my late teens I was invited to spend a week with some distant cousins from the South I had never met before. I really didn’t want to go and I felt like a parcel being passed down the country from Yorkshire to Cornwall. I was collected from the train in Hampshire for the last bit of the journey by the dad; he was warm, kind and chatty, and in spite of my shyness and nervousness about the week ahead, I began to relax. I had never been further south than London and as Hampshire turned into Somerset, then Devon and finally Cornwall, the countryside changed in front of me.  I saw hedgerows full of wind-blown trees all leaning in one direction as if the world had been tilted for a moment and they had stayed there. I saw ancient stone churches nestled into the curved landscape, their spires standing out against the blue sky like pairs of rabbit's ears, and then, as we drew closer, glimpses of sparkling water where the sky met the sea. Soon I would be warmly greeted by the rest of this huge family who poured out of the front door with dogs, smiles, hugs, tea and cake.  As my cousin and I met for the first time that afternoon we felt an instant bond and later that evening we sat together on her bed laughing out loud and marvelling at our similarities … we were surname-sharing, diary-writing, guitar-playing, Laura Ashley-wearing, animal-loving, suntan-seeking 'cousins' …. suddenly the old saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ seemed full of joy and belonging to me. I didn't know it then but this was a family which, over the following years, would become as important to me as my own. That first magical summer in Cornwall was glorious and, because we were still young and free with no responsibilities, one week stretched to four; and lifelong friendships and memories were created across the generations that continue to this day.  In their large farmhouse kitchen was an old Cornish pine dresser filled with the precious and the ordinary. It was the repository for notes, finds, pebbles, feathers, photographs, cards, reminders and of course china; this dresser was indisputably the hub of their family life, combining a sense of everyday casual with importance. I coveted this dresser and when my children were small and we lived in London I was lucky enough to get one of my own.  I love it and it has been with us ever since, painted in different colours depending on where we have lived, but always packed with our 'stuff'. Mismatched glasses, china, jugs, mugs, plates and bowls that we use every day, and then the personal things ... at the moment there is an old Noddy eggcup, a postcard or two, hand-made flags on wooden skewers, a mosaic panel and a small metal fish. They don't mean anything to anyone else but we know their history and they are all part of our family story.