Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Monday, 16 February 2009


Mr Houghton was known not to be friendly towards children. There was probably a pre-history to this - that children were not friendly towards him. It was coming up to Christmas and I was fifteen or sixteen and carol singing . . . and the only one of us who dared to knock on Mr Houghton's door - was me. I don't know why I insisted on going there with a collecting can. The others were all for missing his house. I suppose it was a challenge, I didn't want anyone to be left out, and I didn't want anyone to be not-nice to me - and I think I wanted to prove (to myself) that if it was me at the door, he wouldn't be an ogre. So, while the others sang . . . I went up the steps to his narrow cottage door . . . and knocked. Mr Houghton was tall, thin, elderly and nicotined. He invited me in while he fetched some money. He gave me a copy of 'Be Your Own Lawn Expert' and 'Be Your Own Rose Expert'. I didn't have a lawn and I didn't grow roses. He said 'The History of Mr Polly' was the best book ever written. I said 'The Man Who Was Thursday' was better. We agreed to re-discuss it when we'd both re-read both books. I left with money in my can. He died before we could find out if our opinions had changed. The timing can't be quite right because he came to our house the following summer to take photographs of the Church silver (for insurance) and while there, he took a photograph of me in black and white. Or perhaps that is right. Perhaps I wasn't quick enough in keeping my part of the arrangement. (I take a long time still to fulfil promises.) But, whatever the timescale, he died before I could tell him Mr Polly was a better book than I had remembered. And I was left wondering, for ever, what he would have said about The Man Who Was Thursday. So, we met twice, only twice. Yet, in those two meetings, he influenced my life. - I realised grumpiness can arise out of intellectual isolation. Why else did he start discussing English literature with a teenager who happened to knock on the door one night with a carol-singer's collecting can? - The 'Lawn Expert' and the 'Rose Expert' - These weren't an introduction to gardening but they were my first gardening books. I'm not sure that's the point though. I've never had a lawn and I'm not much of a rose person but still I keep them. Whenever I move, they move too. They are a sign that the world is bigger than one's immediate needs and interests. (Really!) - Mr Houghton sparked my interest in photography too. Of course, there were lots of photographs in our family - but they were simply records of events . . . of family members being of a particular age . . . being on holiday . . . and, however interesting they were to us, there was never any thought that they might be of the slightest artistic merit or of interest to anyone except us . . . and once colour photography had been invented, it never crossed any of our minds to use black and white. The photo Mr Houghton took was nothing more than a casual 'snap' but it was a turning point none the less - because he had CHOSEN black and white.
And today I realised all this.
It's taken me that long. _____


Ron Eklof said...

Oh, thank you, Lucy. An endearing story. I think I'll read it again. Ron

Lucy said...

Hello Ron.

I'm pleased you enjoyed this post.


Gordon Mason said...

I suppose it is a sign of the times that we still remember 'older' people when we were young as 'Mr' or 'Mrs' not by their first name.

Did you ever get his first name?

Tyra in Vaxholm said...

Great story Lucy, I love to hear about moments like that. I wonder exactly what it was that made you think like you did? Or is it just chemistry?


Barbee' said...

Oh, Lucy, that is lovely! No wonder you cherish his gifts enough to keep them still. They are material witness to that contact of the two minds. I think it isn't unusual for the young and the old to make a special spark of contact; those in middle age are too busy and rushing about taking care of the necessities of life. I wish I could express that better. Regarding Gordon's comment: I find it very disrespectful of young people calling their elders by their first name. I wonder how that got started. I have been known to correct young whipper-snappers who called me by my first name.

garden girl said...

What a poignant, lovely post Lucy! It really is wonderful to have chance encounters like yours with Mr. Houghton that make lasting impressions and influence our lives beyond what we can imagine at the time.

Lucy said...

Hello Gordon and Tyra and Barbee and Garden Girl.

Gordon - I don't remember whether I ever knew Mr Houghton's first name . . . 'Leonard' would fit.

Tyra - Nor do I know why he left such an impression on me. Maybe because I approached him warily because of his bad-tempered reputation so I was more alert to the things he said?

Or, maybe, because I was lonely too. It was a village and I travelled sixteen miles each way to school each day so I didn't have friends of my own age immediately around me. And, although, as I said, I didn't have the care either of roses or of a lawn, I did have a large 'garden' within the family one . . . where I grew herbs and ornamental gourds and ornamental grasses. So the gardening link was there.

Barbee - although I remember most people from my youth as Mr this and Mrs That . . . I feel uncomfortable when people call me by anything other than my first name. This may be because we used to be obliged to call older familiy friends and aquaintances 'Auntie' or 'Uncle' - which was a false and uncomfortable familiarity.

Calling people by their first names is friendly but neutral. One learns the depth of the relationship through the relationship itself rather than by title.

It's funny though - I do get irritated when people slip straight into diminutives from the moment they are introduced . . . so I am a fuddy duddy after all!

(I keep thinking of you and worrying about your storms and . . . )


Lucy said...

Garden Girl - I feel a bit thick that it has taken me so long to recognise Mr Houghton's influence!


rosa said...

Fabulous, Lucy, just fabulous. I'm not surprised, since you are a gifted storyteller!
I love The Man Who Was Thursday, but I've not read Mr. Polly. Who is the author?
And have you read Chesterton's 'Club of Queer Trades'?

Lucy said...

Rosa - 'The History of Mr Polly' is by H.G. Wells.

I haven't read 'The Club of Queer Trades'. I'll have to - it sounds intriguing.


Monica the Garden Faerie said...

It doesn't matter how long it takes to reach something, it just matters that you got there! And thanks for making me Google-- It says "The History of Mr Polly" by HG Wells is a comic novel. That sounds pretty cool. The Man Who Was Thursday also sounds interesting. Heck, I just now saw (not even read!) Oliver Twist and what a good story!

Lucy said...

Hello Monica.

I'm going to have to do some re-reading.

I don't remember Mr Polly being very funny; though this may be something to do with my particular sense of humour. 'Little' lives make me sad.

I don't usually like reading books a second time but, since I haven't read this since my teens I expect I'll manage this!