Ten thousand possessions.

No, I hadn\’t forgotten about the 100 possessions idea.

***

The trouble is – I moved in with my mum to help look after her (she has Alzheimer\’s and vascular dementia). Into the house she\’s lived in for fifty years, where I grew up. And that house is just Full. Of. Things. Everywhere. It\’s as if she\’s spent the last fifty years as a caddis fly larva, gathering up things to wrap round her and protect her like a comfort blanket or armour.

***

Every single cupboard is full of my mother\’s clothes and shoes. Oh and some of my father\’s clothes too. All the shelves are full of books or ornaments or both. The bathroom cabinet is bursting with ancient medicines and potions. The dining room is full of things I remember giving her for Christmas years ago – bottles of Cornish fruit wines (she likes sweet wine), really nice chocolate, a persian rug. Instead of using them or consuming them, she kept them. As sort of sacred objects. And there are more ornaments. And five decanters. And my father\’s CD collection.

***

The attic is… Well, it\’s gob-smacking. Not only is it full of my brothers\’ and sister\’s possessions, neatly boxed and labelled in stacks and also of my books, neatly boxed and labelled. That\’s what we do, by the way, instead of clearing stuff out. We neatly box and label it.

***

The attic is also full of teetering piles of legal periodicals – All England Law Reports 1989 anyone? – from when my father the judge was alive – he died in 1999. And of course it\’s also full of old toys and old childrens\’ books and old electronics and the traditional expensive radio-controlled plane, broken in pieces on its maiden flight.

***

I just took out a box of old aluminium saucepans of about forty years vintage. And another box full of dusty broken ornaments. Labelled \”Various ornaments (Oxfam?)\” My guess is it had been there for about five years at least.

***

In my family you never throw anything out because… well, because we all suffer from AntiquesRoadshow-itis. There might be valuable things in there, but I\’m guessing none of them are twenty year old legal periodicals.  I\’m no better than any of my family but this will be about the tenth time I have had to clear a house full of things and I\’m getting tired of it.

***

I realise that the Universe is probably gently hinting to me in its ever-so tactful way: \”OI, YOU KNOW ACCUMULATING STUFF DOESN\’T MAKE YOU HAPPY! YEAH? GOT IT YET? NO? OK, HAVE ANOTHER HOUSE TO CLEAR!\”

***

And yet the Universe is wrong in a way. It\’s not about happiness. My mother always liked things rather than people because you can control them, they don\’t usually change and they stay put. They become ever-present friends and memory combined. They remind you of the way you were when you got them – the Christmas when you got the fruit wine, the triumph when you found the designer outfit in an Oxfam shop. If you use them up, consume them, then they will change and wear out and disappear and they won\’t be there to remind you any more.

***

Now she doesn\’t remember anything, of course. She\’s had another mild stroke which affected her right side and seems to have knocked out another chunk of verbal cognition. That\’s why she\’s had to go into a home where she can have professional care which means the house has to be sold to pay the fees.

***

And so I\’m supposed to go through all the memory-anchors and get rid of them because, as things will, they\’ve outlived the memories they meant.

More about the Glorious Battle of the Hill House, Ross on Wye

I can\’t stand minimalist hotels and painfully tidy guesthouses. They fail the very first test of compatibility – which is books.

***

If I go into someone\’s house and there are no books visible, I sort of prowl around looking for them. Where\’s the loo? I ask. Oh dear, I didn\’t mean to go upstairs, I didn\’t realise you had one downstairs… Amazing décor, I say, however did you do it? Yes, I\’d love to have The Tour.

***

What I really want to know is, what books do you have and where are they? Are they in the bedroom only? In the hall? In the dining room? In the living room, kitchen, loo, spare bedroom, with overflow in the garage and garden shed?

***

What do you mean, you don\’t have any books? At all? Just a Kindle?

***

Not even a Kindle?

***

I hope I\’m not a total intellectual snob, but I have no idea what to say to someone who doesn\’t read. Or only reads magazines which they call books. I don\’t think they\’re stupid or bad, I just don\’t share their culture and it\’s going to be a bit of a struggle finding things of mutual interest to talk about.

***

So going into the Hill House, Howle Hill, Ross-on-Wye for the first time, I was immediately reassured. I only know about it because of watching a particular episode of The Hotel Inspector a few years ago and then blogging delightedly on the way the proprieter saw off Alex Polizzi. That blog apparently brought in some new guests and the heroic proprieter, Duncan Stayton, got in touch via my website… End result, here I am, staying overnight on the way to Hay Festival with my games-designing genius daughter.

***

I once had dinner years ago at the Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall, owned by Olga Polizzi, Alex Polizzi\’s mother. I remember a beautifully designed space and some excellent food – but where were the books?

***

At the Hill House, there are books everywhere and a lot of them are books I own too (the entire series of Patrick O\’Brien books? Didn\’t people steal them?). The house is wonderfully gothic and eccentric, there\’s a dog called Basil, there are cats, Duncan Stayton and his wife Alex are the kind of naturally hospitable hosts you always hope for and rarely meet and Duncan is one hell of a fine cook… (As is Alex on the veggie side, according to my daughter). But it\’s the books in every available space that make me relax and say… yes. This is the place for me.

***

As for the breakfast… I could devote an entire blog to the wonders of the locally sourced, organic Hill House breakfast. I didn\’t take a photo because my phone disdains to share its photos with any stupid old laptop, but it was everything the Full English breakfast should be, and generally isn\’t, at bed-and-breakfast joints.Duncan even fried me some extra black pudding because I whinged so pathetically about it.   Games-designing genius daughter is vegetarian and raved equally enthusiastically about her veggie Full English (an abomination, I say, but that\’s another story).

***

The only thing that slowed me down was the fact I\’d eaten an equally huge and delicious dinner the night before, including nettle soup, Lord Whosit\’s lamb with asparagus and rosemary sauce, followed by glorious locally-made ice cream that I couldn\’t even finish. The lovely friendly other guests were as silent as me as we focused on making our taste buds happy.

***

My one criticism (and a very unusual one for me) is that Duncan needs to cut his portion sizes. A dinner serving for one would probably keep a reasonable-sized army going for a week. This induces an unnecessary feeling of sorrow when you simply can\’t fit any more delicious grub into your protesting tum – and I have the spare tyres to prove how greedy I am. Basically, I didn\’t really need to eat until the following day.