From Summer Cottage to Devil’s Dyke

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Summer Cottage, where sun shines kinder, low hedges carefully clipped, roses and dahlias a deceptively controlled symphony of colour and shape; a fragrant, buzzing heaven, a haven for the many invited guests who drink tea on the lawn in polite conversation with aged Miss Simpkins who resides within, smiling through her autumn years.

Dark Devil’s Dyke, where the docks grow high, scattering seeds to fight through the weeds
in their struggle to sink to the dirt; where high hedges threaten to strangle passers by. Brambles scratch and nettles sting, while the house repels friendly offering, with blackened windows glinting, silently hinting at hideous crimes committed within.

Devil’s Dyke grew out of Summer Cottage when sweet Miss Simpkins took to her bed. Times have changed and the neighbours haven’t noticed that little Miss Simpkins has disappeared. Curled in a knot at the bottom of her stairs, she’s nothing but a skeleton, ten years dead.

©Jane Paterson Basil

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25 thoughts on “From Summer Cottage to Devil’s Dyke

  1. Karthi just did one of the assignments for 101 this week that kind of had a similar theme. It was about a man who gave and gave but then got nothing back. I loved his last two lines: “He realised he had many hands to shake, but no shoulder to cry upon. In spite of having a map, he was lost.”

    Your piece had the same feeling. Where’d the inspiration come from?

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    1. I had a childhood friend who had moved to a house called summer cottage in a village where I lived for a short time. Apparently the garden had been beautiful when they moved in, but they renamed the place Devil’s Dyke, and left everything to grow wild. The other villagers didn’t like walking past it, because they found it creepy, but I used to visit her ther, and we’d often play a silly version of badminton in the garden. That is what the poem was meant to be about!
      It was just another case of my fingers taking control, but I like the poem better this way.

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      1. Yes, partly because of how easily that could be a reality in this day and age when everyone seems to be afraid of their neighbor. My brother is always saying he could drop dead of a heart attack and it’s be weeks before anyone would know. He has very few friends. Everyone’s sick to death of him… Long story.

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  2. What a lovely, evocative – slightly creepy – story, I have a house at the end of my road like this – overgrown with brambles, dirty windows hung with sixties style curtains, privet hdeges so tall, they must block out the light. Creepy … but strangely exciting too. The kind of garden kids dare each other to go in …

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    1. I love houses like that! I remember, in my mis-spent youth, creeping around a derelict house that was reputed to be haunted by a Miss Young. It was the middle of the night, and we were drunk.The guy who tried to scare us ended up scaring himself more.

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      1. Sounds like a prompt for a story …
        We had one opposite us when I was young too (though the old lady still lived there, I think) – all overgrown with ivy and brambles, filthy windows and the fence all broken down. Of course, the broken fence just made it easier for us to sneak into the garden. I recall finding a plain white ceramic gravy boat in the undergrowth on one exploration. I think I even kept it for a bit. I small treasured unearthed from a Haunted House

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        1. I spent my childhood expecting tho find buried treasure, and I never entirely grew out of it. About twenty-odd years ago I took to digging old bottles out of the stream at the bottom of the gaarden where I lived. I wsas convinced that I would eventually find a box of Roman coins! It wasn’t likely, as the bottles had washed in from an early to mid 20thC dump!

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          1. We found lots of bits of broken clay pipe and metal working slag when we had our allotment – they’re on the site of a rubbish dump from the late nineteenth century. I kept every bit-made me feel like an archaeologist 🙂

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            1. Allotments can be exciting places, and not just because of the veg!
              Tracy Emmen was asked once, what made her work art. “Because I say it is.” was her reply. The same goes for found objects. They’re treasure if you say they are.
              Did I tell you I made a collection of jug and cup handles? They weren’t even special. Many of them were from the sort of stuff you used to see in canteens and cafes, white and pale blue. People thought it was a joke, but it was a statement. I was almost 40 years old at the time, and I wish I hadn’t lost them.

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              1. I quite like that idea, though – collecting the ordinary makes it extraordinary. I know it’s a little different, but I value my Tudor sixpence very highly not because of its silver content, but because of the hands it’s past through, because I can imagine the things it’s witnessed, it’s owners’ stories. The same with your jug handles – the stories they could tell ..

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                1. See? I knew you’d get it.
                  I was never good at history when I was at school, because it was about the big events, rather than the lives of individuals.
                  I love old pieces of embroidery, particularly if they are poorly executed. I imagine someone spending long hours stitching, and then proudly displaying the result on their dining table or over the back of a sofa. It makes me sad when we have that kind of thing in Oxfam, and nobody wants it. I can’t give everything a home…

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                  1. Yes – it’s the personal connections that make artefacts interesting. I love history from the ‘bottom up’ rather than the ‘top down’. Written more by female historians, usually – we like the social history side of stuff rather than monarchs and battles. When I learn about the past, I want to know what people ate, how they wore their clothes, how they went to the loo – little, intimate pictures that make them real people.
                    As for old things for sale – disgarded photos in junk shops are the worst. All that family history lost – making the photos merely curiosities with no real identity. Sad.

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                    1. When my mum died she left loads of photos sent to her by friends – mostly of cats and houses and the like, but some were of children. I felt callous when, after two or three years I threw them away, but I didn’t know what else to do with them.

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                    2. Well, you can’t keep everything that comes your way in life, or you’d have to keep moving into a bigger flat every year! I’m going to have to cull some of my son’s stuff soon – kids just do too many paintings, bring home too many school books. That feels bad too – but what choice is there?

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                    3. My way of dealing with it was to drag it all from one abode to another (I left my ex almost ten years ago, and have since moved several times) until I gave up my flat to live in a tent in Sussex for six months. I carefully culled it, keeping one boxful, which I stored in an attic. I suppose it’s still there…
                      My youngest was 26 by then!

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                    4. It’s hard, isn’t it? When we next move, it’ll be a nightmare, sorting through all the rubbish we’ve managed to accumulate. Such a load of rubbish … Apart from my books, of course! 🙂

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                    5. You could go for a self-build next time, and economise by building the internal walls with books. You’d have the advantage of being able to alter the size of your rooms whenever you wanted to, by pushing the books along a few feet!

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