Sunday 30 December 2012


This post has been a long time coming. Its been trying to. I've been trying. Its been twisting and thrashing like a tormented snake that's been cut in two pieces and is bleeding in fragments on the garden path. Do snakes even bleed? Anyway, its this post that's been thrashing, desperate to be published....Me, I've been deep in a strange, lethargic torpor, which has precluded any creativity, save a rather rushed and lumpy doll named Jo for Leo's Christmas present.
Every evening I sit sullenly, thinking vaguely I should write something, every evening I do something else. Like go to bed, or wash up, or make hot chocolate, or read a magazine....or make a lumpy doll. There are so many things to do when you're feeling like you can't explain how you feel.

 But  you know, the relief I feel to be even writing this far is huge, it's as if  a part of me that has been sleeping for three months is slowly stretching, yawning, stepping out of bed and trying out the world again, even with the tip of a toe.

Of course I have been in the world a bit, I even went Christmas shopping once, I cook, I took Tansy and Leo to a local home ed group, I feed the goats and chickens (did I mention we have goats and chickens?) There's a lot I haven't mentioned.

Like the fact that our house burned down.

In fact I think I'd better say that again, just in case anyone didn't get it the first time, just to make sure I get it.

Our house burned down.

Not just a little bit down, or partly down, or in any way retrievable or salvagable down, but completely down.
It was built of wood you see, built by Hugh who worked every day for four months to make it.

It was a middle of the night waking to see flames licking round the woodburner sort of fire; it was a naked screaming grab the kids and run barefoot into the wood fire; it was a dash back in the dark to see if the phones and computer could be saved and no it was far too fucking hot fire; it was a drive down the track sobbing to escape the exploding gas bottle and leisure batteries was sitting in a fire engine wrapped in  blankets and realising I had my period and all my handmade pads had gone, it was drinking hot chocolate and eating porridge at our neighbours in borrowed clothes and shoes too big.....

It was that sort of fire.

The planners had spotted us you see. For anyone who isn't on intimate terms with the planning laws in England,  if you build an 'illegal structure,'  ie our home, to have any chance of getting planning permission you need to prove that you can not only earn significant amounts of money from the land, but you also have a 'functional need to be there overnight'. Now we did have our plans. Plans for goats, plans for cheese, plans for herb products, plans for a yurt based retreat for bereaved families. It's just that we hadn't reckoned on being fully operational quite yet, we wanted to finish building the house, let Fred have his own room at last, finish cladding the walls, that sort of thing.

 But the planners had other ideas, they spotted us, we got a letter, a visit was scheduled for two weeks hence. Two weeks to go crazy. Two weeks to not sleep for writing business plans and financial projections, two weeks to change our bedrooms into a barn to minimize the impact of our dwelling, two weeks to start a small holding, build shelters, sort fencing, buy goats, milk goats, drive the length of the county to bring back 20 rare breed day old chicks. Hmm, the chicks. Marsh daisies and Jersey giants. Very cute, rather smelly. Our very lovely planning advisor suggested using our newly acquired ex-bedroom barn space as a chick raising area. Do it the old fashioned way round the wood burner, a functional need to be on the property every night if ever there was one. Chicks need constant monitoring to ensure they don't get cold and die.Well they didn't get cold. Their pen got too close to the burner. We were lucky to escape with our lives.

The fire happened on the night after the planning officer visited. We relaxed for the first time in two weeks. We relaxed for the last time in a long time. I don't know if lethargy and inertia count as relaxing, it sure doesn't feel as refreshing.

We find things. Tarnished silver spoons; distorted reindeer cookie cutters; Leo's patched trousers, hanging inexplicably on a briar nearby; fragments of a blue and white plate which was my ninth birthday present; sodden charred lumps of books, beguiling half phrases leaping out of the ashes to twist our hearts in two; 'Little House in the Big Woods'..'all was cosy in the little log cabin as the snow blew around.....' ....'and Noah and all the animals wept salt tears because the unicorns were gone for ever...'

I think the unicorns did leave that night, I certainly haven't seen a whisker since. And there are no owls in town either, floating feather light in their ghost cloaks, no foxes screaming down the moonfilled valley, only street lights and garden gates and next door's illuminated santa.

I really miss our home.


  1. I hope that you are all able to rebuild your lives from such a devasting loss. I cannot for one minute imagine what you have all been through but it is so good to hear that you are all safe.

  2. Gosh.....there are no words. I have loved reading your tales of living in the woods and being off grid. It is something my husband and I plan to do in the future. I am so sorry you are going through this xxxxxxx

  3. I have been thinking of you and wondering why you have not posted... I am so absolutely devastated for you, but tomorrow is a new year and I know you will find renewed energy to rebuild your lives. Wishing you every warmth and positivity for 2013 x

  4. Oh Henrietta, I have only tears to share, no words can get even close.
    Alice x

  5. Oh no, how absolutely horrific for you all. I dont know what I could do to help so far away, (in Scotland)? Is there anything I could send you? I dont know what that would be when you have lost everything.
    You can contact me at
    vl _ beattie @ yahoo . co . uk
    (without the spaces)

  6. Dearest Henrietta, I knew because of bumping into you, but I still feel utterly devastated for you. And of course you haven't felt like writing. Time will unfold that again for you - this is another bereavement and of course you're still grieving. I SO hope you managed to get the goats out? And - there are pictures of chickens in the ashes...? (My daughter has a handsome cockerel and two hens she needs a home for, if you are needing to restock - don't really know how to ask that.) But I'm sending you much love and a hug for strength. I'm SO sorry. Rxx

  7. Shocked and heartbroken for you. I hope you can sense the real love and warmth we are sending your way through these virtual pages. Thank goodness you are all safe.

  8. Henrietta, I am so sorry for the loss and trauma you must all be experiencing. Please, please let me know if you need anything. I could certainly supply you with some herbs to help rebuild your stash if that would be helpful to you.
    With love, Lucinda x

  9. I wish I had the words to offer you some kind of reasurance, some help, some support but alas I only have thoughts of love for you and your family. I am so very sorry for what you are going through, I hope you find some peace and happiness xx

  10. I have commented for a while but I am so sorry to read this posting, i cannot for one minute imagine your pain and devastation, thank goodness you escaped.

    I will light a candle today as a prayer that all will be well for you and your family.

    San x

  11. So, so sorry to read this. Nothing useful to say; just that I'm thinking of you all, and hoping 2013 will be a better year.

  12. Oh, thankyou so much everyone who has sent such beautiful messages of love and support, both here and on facbook, I'm really touched, your words mean so much. I'm sure I will be writing more, but in the meantime we are all alive and getting by and life does move forward as it must, sweeping us with it. Life can be strange and beautiful, fearsome and exquisite, often all at once!

  13. Oh fuck. Life is really testing you guys. I have total faith that you can rebuild a home for yourselves, total faith that you will not be made bitter and twisted by this, total faith that if anyone can rise like a phoenix, it will be you. May millions of angel wings be fluttering around the wreckage and light and healing come to you all. I will light a candle for you and am sending lots and lots of love, Paula (MF) xxx

  14. Sugar Henrietta, I just came over to congratulate you on your pregnancy, having seen your comment on Paula's new blog, and then see this. Goodness, and what timing - you poor things, big love and light to you, and so sorry I'm so late on discovering, have been totally immersed with book 3 and our own dramas with our big girl.



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