Jackie drawing Barefoot Books blog beach farm house

Illustration by Jackie Morris

Everyone knows that the best ideas happen in the kitchen. The kitchen at Beach Farm House saw lots of action. It was a cosy, narrow room with a small, electric cooker, a stainless steel sink and  a fridge running along one side. Above these ran a long, narrow storage shelf.  On the opposite wall was an electric storage heater, around which Francis, Rollo and Zoë would jostle for heat between meals. Unless the wood-burning stove in the sitting room was alight, the kitchen was the warmest room in the house, so this is where my meetings with interesting artists and writers took place. Here you can see the kitchen rendered in blue ink by Jackie Morris, the fantastic illustrator of The Greatest Gift,  Classic Poems and Starlight Sailor.

The kitchen door was roughly made of wooden panels, with a metal latch.  It was warped and ancient – so warped that there was a gap of about two inches between the bottom of the door and the (very cold) stone flooring. When Calypso came into our lives as a small kitten, we were very concerned that she would be hurt by our older cat, Crumpet, who was quite a troubled and burly white ‘rescue’ cat. Crumpet was inclined to be very savage towards unwanted guests, whether animal or human. So we kept Calypso safe in the kitchen for the first week. We need not have worried. Crumpet, it turned out, was completely delighted to have company in cat form. He and Calypso bonded by poking their paws at each other through the gap at the bottom of the door and by exchanging poignant mewing and yowling messages. Soon they were firm friends. With their highly tuned antennae, both cats were able to sense, on winter mornings, exactly when the Barefoot Books attic office was warm enough for it to be worth their while to saunter upstairs and monopolise the floor space in front of the electric heaters.

Our first dog, Chaucer, did not fare as well with Crumpet. Chaucer was a beautiful, chestnut King Charles Spaniel. His bed and his bowl of water were in the kitchen. In summer, Chaucer loved to play in the garden. To get back to the kitchen for a drink of water or a doze inside, he had to go through the open front door and past the front stairs. This meant he had to get past Crumpet, self-appointed entry sentinel. As soon as Chaucer was out of the house, Crumpet would settle himself like an elder statesman on step three of the stairs. Here, he would fake sleep. If anyone he disliked tried to get past him on the stairs, he would lunge at their ankles. As for Chaucer – he had no chance of even getting over the threshold of the front door without human protection and support.

Chaucer’s successor was Poppy, a beautiful golden retriever whose only weakness was stealing food. When Poppy gave birth to nine puppies, there was tremendous excitement in the Barefoot office. Suddenly, my young colleagues upstairs were volunteering to go down to the kitchen and make teas and coffees on an almost hourly basis. Of course, these pilgrimages up and down stairs had more to do with cuddling the puppies than bringing the kettle to the boil! Caroline, our Production Manager, got her come-uppance when one of the puppies peed all over her!

Summers at Beach Farm House were fabulous: in and around making books, I turned my hand to growing vegetables, aided by our lodger, Mike Greenland. There was an apple tree that the children loved climbing, and on hot summer days we put out a paddling pool on the front lawn. One of the best records of these times is by Nancy’s oldest daughter, Meaghan, who drew this picture in our visitors book.

Meaghan drawing Barefoot Books Beach House

However, in England, summer is all too fleeting. I realise as I think about Beach Farm House that many of my memories turn around fighting against the cold. My heart sank one particularly cold April, when I was at  the end of a four-hour drive home from spending Easter with my parents in Yorkshire. As I approached the line of hills among which the farmhouse was hidden, I could see snow. I knew what would greet me when I got home: the inside of the house would be even colder than the outside. It was. I vowed that wherever I went next with my young family, the garden would be sheltered and south-facing, the windows would be draught-free, the sitting room would have a fire that sent its heat into the room instead of up the chimney, and we would have central heating.

Next up: moving into Bath!

Read more about Barefoot’s beginning at Beach Farm House by clicking here!

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