‘There it would resume its coo-cooing loop of song and I would feel a sense of outraged sacrilege.’
Extract taken from Kitchenly 434
By Alan Warner
Published by White Rabbit
No one behind, so I slowed the Volvo hatchback even more to gaze across, a single hand on the steering wheel. I was one of the few inhabitants of the vicinity who knew the concealed topographies beyond that calculated assemblage of trees ; a frieze of multi-coloured leaves – just like those dark Chinese Coromandel screens with their decorative lacquer in the master bedroom, behind which Marko’s unbearable lady – Auralie – changes into and out of her latest international fashions, two or sometimes three times daily.
Within those perimeter walls, I knew the tristesse of every weeping willow along those crawling waters’ edges. Overlooked by the precipitous manor house, I knew the laburnum slope with its stepped rill in ornamental brick, its rivulets channelled down from the moat to the twin culverts at the riverbank, cascading the acoustic steps. I knew the double mill buildings now connected by their two modern, triple-glazed air bridges.
Every time I approached Kitchenly Mill Race, I began to anticipate the paradisal compound of dolorous laburnum and lavender banks which scent the decorated interiors when the summer manor windows are fixed open on their ornate securing-arms. All of these enchantments which were hidden from common view.
Without fail, when advancing on Kitchenly from east or west, or down the farm track to the north, I would feel the same occult conviction, the same magic of its acreage. I fully believed in the abstract energies of its frequently-absent young owner. His aura, which to my mind, reached from the soil of his extensive grounds to beyond the very tips of his trees.
Even the lands around the house : solitary elms mid-field, encircled by cultivator markings, or the semi-transparent beech hedgerows split by unpainted tubular metal gates ; the roadside walls, the ditches, the pasture corners trodden bare by jostling livestock gathering at their troughs ; surely these hinterlands must be alive to the aura of that dwelling close by ? Could meandering Sunday motorists not sense world fame on their approach ? I was crazily convinced that every part of this landscape around Kitchenly Mill Race vibrated with an overpowering presence. Like a leaking nuclear power station, the radiation of Marko’s vast talent, his mystique, settled and shimmered like dust on the tops of telephone wires, on the flowers and leaves, nettles and bitter dock, lanes, fields and sunken tracks for at least several thousand yards about. I was dumbly certain everything was infected by his main residence and its glamorous pollution.
For six years in the smaller mill house – with its clamped but still-functional water wheel – I had held my staff flat of two small rooms and a kitchenette beneath. Sometimes, stepping through the gravelled car park from some chore in the big house, moving towards the white, fretworked wood of the footbridge across the headrace, I would spot a wood pigeon launching itself with a slap from one of the far pine trees on the other side of the boundary wall. That grey bird would slide across the public road, clear the orange brick and ivy, cross the driveway lawns and make upward ascent onto the corner guttering of the larger mill house. There it would resume its coo-cooing loop of song and I would feel a sense of outraged sacrilege. The feathered ones alone did not acknowledge the demarcated boundaries of this private Shangri-La. The impunity of the birds’ trespassing from public land into Marko’s haven was still somehow astonishing to me. Birds may fly free, but the very airspace above the renovated manor, the mills, the river gardens and outhouses was, as far as I was concerned, privileged and private too.
Kitchenly 434 by Alan Warner is published by White Rabbit, priced £18.99.