My life in literary references

A little like Dotty after that fateful bonfire party in suburban Cardiff, my little family and I find ourselves currently dispossessed on account of a fire at our home.

It was a simple case of bad luck – so the fire brigade told us. What we thought was a chimney fire turned out to be not a fire in the chimney stack itself, but rather a stray ember that had blown up between the brick built chimney breast and the wood panelling that encased it, where it had lay smouldering and undiscovered for no less than 7 hours before hot ash finally gathered the strength to burst into flame.

We were lucky. Shortly before midnight, a carbon monoxide detector in the room alerted us that something wasn’t right, and we were able to evacuate four sleepy children and a protesting small dog from the house without further incident – although, sadly, by the time the fire engines arrived at our rural location the fire had well and truly taken hold and the front portion of the house was ablaze.

I have to say, with images of house fires and chimneys whirling round in my head, it’s difficult to ignore the DOTTY references. Indeed, the urge to comment on that particular irony hasn’t been passed up one or two DOTTY fans, either.

Of course, it’s not just The DOTTY Series that features a prominent house fire within its pages. In fact the most obvious reference that springs to mind – that of the great house fire in Jane Eyre - took place in a setting based on a grand country house in North Yorkshire that stands no less than 30 minutes from our own door. Norton Conyers, which has been closed for restoration for the past 10 years after an attack of death watch beetle, is set to re-open to the public this Friday. I expect we shall be paying them a visit!

And we couldn’t let the subject of house fires go without mentioning the tragic house fire in Charles Dickens’ classic novel, Great Expectations - in which the unlucky Miss Haversham finally perished. Although I can assure you all similarities between those great country houses of classic English fiction and my own abode end with the fire itself - there are certainly no lunatics in my attic, although there may be a cobweb or two in the dining room!

Having been displaced from our own home and moved from pillar to post, via a couple of good friends and some temporary accommodation, into a cottage on the estate of another grand country house not too far from us, I find myself face to face with another, albeit far more delightful, literary connection. And it’s a children’s reference at that. For the cottage that is to be our home for the next three months or so, whilst our own house is put back together, stands within the grounds of a country house whose historic owner, I am reliably told by the current custodian, was the best friend of a rather well-known author named Kenneth Grahame.

Better than that, I was told this morning whilst chatting to the grandson of Grahame’s dear friend, that the old man had somewhat of a reputation at the time, being widely referred to by his friends (and others) as ‘the Toad’. Apparently the two often took walks through the estate together, walking along the riverbank, past Wild Wood (it really does exist!), on their way to evensong. Who knew that, in the wake of all this, I would be given the chance to walk in the steps of Ratty and Mole, and perhaps do a bit of messing about in boats on their very own riverbank.

All in all, I feel that our recent calamity, whilst it will most certainly enforce a spring clean at our house the likes of which the Mole would most certainly be proud, will prove in the round to be a journey of literary references the likes of which I never could have imagined. For all its tumultuous beginnings, let’s hope it becomes an adventure of which even Dotty would be impressed!

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