The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The walk from Swan Meadow

duck in reedsI only noticed the signpost to Swan Meadow a few weeks ago. It’s a turning just at the beginning of Saffron Walden’s High Street.

Usually Jalopy is applying her brakes and getting ready to chance her arm on the very narrow stretch of road ahead. Most cars pass each other, breathing in tight with just a hair’s breadth between them. Some hover nervously until the road is totally clear and they can climb the hill without the possibility of a scrape. We were waiting at the end of a long line of cars. The name caught my eye. Whilst we waited for the first car to have the courage to venture up the hill and enter the town.

I imagined a meadow filled with wild flowers and sunshine and swans nesting in the shallows of a stretch of water. In fact the reverie was so deep that I didn’t notice that the cars in front were moving on and was woken from my dream by a sharp toot from the car behind.

Today, I arrived to find no parking spaces in the town. Jalopy and I circled the possible locations that we knew again and again like a pair of inexperienced vultures. After a good hour, frustrated and frazzled, I decided that my only option was to drive home.

I am working at my friend Mike’s house at the moment and eventually pulled up outside to explain my mysterious absence. This street has residents’ parking. We can apply for a temporary permit but had not applied. Each day i left a note on Jalopy’s dashboard expalning that I was working at M’s house. Last week I found a parking ticket when I returned to the car at the end of the day. I unravelled it when I git home. ?60.00 ($120.00) but only ?30.00 if I pay in 14 days.

So this morning I switched on Jalopy’s hazard lights and left her to wink at every passing car.

Mike is a good egg. Within minutes I was calm. He had organised a parking permit. It was free the last time I was working for him. Now it is a luxury item. ?15 for the first day and ?5 per day thereafter. Jalopy needs to be close at hand at all times. No job is straightforward. Suddenly I need a Stanley knife, electric drill, colour chart, pressure washer. She carries them all and a lot more.

“Would you mind parking in Swan Meadow today? It’s at the bottom of the hill and you walk into the town along a sweet little lane.”

I was intrigued by Swan Meadow so jumped at the proposal. Jalopy and Iswooped down the hill and turned left. After driving over some substantial sleeping policemen, found a large car park and no trace of a swan.

I grabbed a few pots of paint and joined the people heading for town. Within seconds I was passing a wonderful duck pond, complete with an island and a bridge to swim beneath. This substantial pond was populated by a handful of Canada Geese and a large community of ducks.

I carried on up the lane. Being Saffron Walden, it was enchanting. A gothic window, a clipped yew hedge, superb parditing and eventually a grandfather with two very small grandchildren. I had heard him talking long before I turned the corner and spotted him.
“If you can say it in French, I’ll buy you one.”
I was intrigued.
“Je voudrai acheter.”
Small voices, reminiscent of Pinky and Perky, fepeated his words.
“Je voodray achetay.”
“Le pain au chocolat.”
“Le pan oh shocolart.”
“Great, the last one to the car is a Wuss!”
He leapt forward with one gigantic, slow motion step and their tiny legs whirred to keep up as they repeated the lesson.
“Je voooodray achetaaay le pan… Grandpa?”
The little girl touched his sleeve. He picked her up and cradled her briefly in his arms.
“What’s the French for chocolate?”
“Choc oh lart.”

Suddenly the weight of the paint pots and the parking frustrations were forgotten.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Magic Cochin

    Although I do quite a bit of work in Saffron Walden, I tend to drive into the town and paint and drive away. This is a rare time when I actually walked into town.

    I love this bustling place.

    Thanks so much for the tip about listening to the concerts for free!

    Hi Polly

    Great story! Food and French is such a natural match if you thing about it.

    The grandfather and little children were having so much fun that they lit up the street.

    Hi Sally

    D and I are planning to explore the centre of Saffron Walden one day. It’s a lovely unspoilt market town.

  2. That’s a lovely story. (What a grandad!) I expect you and Jalopy will be returning to Swan Meadow. Best wishes to all.

  3. Gosh, that brings back memories! When Daughter the Younger was struggling with French at school, we happened across this exquisite patisserie in a small French town. Mademoiselle’s eyes glazed over as she spotted a raspberry tartlet that she really, REALLY desired. And so started the tortuous conversation.
    ” If you’d like one, go and ask for it.”
    “I don’t know what to say.”
    ” Je voudrai acheter une tart aux framboises, SVP.”
    “I’m too shy.”
    ” Well, you don’t really need it – let’s go on.” (I was SO cruel …!)
    Well, eventually she plucked up courage and successfully managed the transaction. The next day, “Mummy, may I have another …?” Readers, it was a turning point. From being bottom of the bottom stream at school, she went on to get a brilliant pass at A-level – wonderful what a love of food can achieve in unexpected ways!!


  4. magic cochin

    !! surprised Swan Meadow car park was a new discovery for you !! But Saffron Walden is full of surprises. Do you know Abbey Lane? – it’s parallel with the lane to the car park, from the crossroads with the lights. It goes past some lovely Elizabethan alms houses and a chapel with classical columns and eventually gets to a gate into the Audley End estate.

    Cliff & Celia’s Top Tip: When there’s a summer concert at Audley End walk up Abbey Lane and through the estate gate to a field and sit under the trees to hear the music for free 🙂


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