My bedroom, high in the attics, had a dormer window up to which I had to climb in order to look out. I’d go up there after being put to bed on summer nights to watch trains carry their plumes of smoke across the valley. I worked out that my attic was perched over the huge void of the main staircase. What would happen if the floor gave way and I went plummeting down?
One night, peering down from this eyrie up in the sky, I saw the grownups busy round a place where they’d found a hornet’s nest. What were they doing with the smoke from the fire they’d lit? Trying to drive the hornets away? To smoke them out? Smoke them in? I was not able to ask because I was not meant to be up there, watching.
I never saw anything as strange as something I witnessed one night from my mother’s father’s home when we were visiting there. Before the formal dinners they had there, my nanny would put me to bed and my mother visited me in the smart clothes she’d put on for the evening meal, a rustle, a vision, to kiss me goodnight. When I was sure she’d gone down to dinner I’d climb up onto the high window sill and look down below.
There were a number of cars parked down there on the gravel drive. I saw a car that had been left there begin to move, very slowly at first, then faster with the crunch of gravel. Driven by no-one it travelled across the lawn and ended up in the lake. For two hours or so I was the only one in the household to know. In the end I went to bed with my secret still intact. Next day it was towed out from among the water lilies by a crane.
When I was fourteen I graduated from shorts to long trousers and joined my parents for candle-lit suppers in the great hall.
My bedroom was now one of the grand, creaky warm wood rooms on the first floor where chubby naked cherubs hung onto a huge plaster garland that was perpetually in motion above my bed.
About this time my father phased out his silver Bullow sports car which had a stout leather belt around its bonnet, and which I remember as always having flames streaming out of the grilles on its sides.
I suppose it can only actually have caught fire a few times, but in memory my heroic visions of my father include this silver car like a rocket that seldom went out on the road without bright flames streaming out of its vents.
It was replaced with a green Jaguar saloon.
Jeremy Sandford FanClub Archives
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