The other thing which has been hugely meaningful for me over the last fifteen years has been a house. Not my own house, although that is obviously hugely meaningful too, but a house down in Somerset where I have spent all of my birthdays for the last eighteen years. I have written here before about the habit I have of going away for a weekend to celebrate my birthday. I started when I was thirty and have carried on, taking a weekend out to celebrate with family and close friends. In the twenty-five years since the weekends started the original group has grown with the addition of first nieces and nephews and, these last two years, a great-niece, the first of the next generation.
For the last eighteen years of those twenty-six years we’ve been to Cross Tree House, a sixteenth century thatched farmhouse in the village of Lopen in Somerset. I found it after our original haunt, a converted windmill in Aldeburgh in Suffolk, ceased to be rented out. Lopen is not a particularly distinguished village, but it had the advantage of being close enough for people to drive to on a Friday evening, near enough to Lyme Regis to drive over for a Saturday day trip and within walking distance of one of the finest pubs in England. And the house itself is gorgeous.
It started off with lots of natural advantages, being a beautiful thatched golden stone house with a stone-flagged hall, a large dining room with an Aga, a big sitting room with an open fire and seven bedrooms on two floors. It has lots of wonderful original features, and the owner, a joiner, has made many of the bits of furniture, window frames, etc himself, beautifully.
By contrast to the house we stayed in in Aldeburgh, which got shabbier with every year, Cross Tree got nicer and nicer as the years went by. When we first arrived the central heating was less than optimum; I can remember the shouts of “Shut the door” when people going in and out allowed freezing drafts to whistle in. The heating was upgraded to “tropical”, and a wood burning stove installed in the sitting room, which was so efficient that we often ended the evening with all the doors wide open, feeling as though we were sitting in a sauna.