Sue Limb: Cabin fever

I’d love a breezy tree-house retirement cabin with rope ladders, creaking timbers and blackbirds’ ne

I’d love a breezy tree-house retirement cabin with rope ladders, creaking timbers and blackbirds’ nests. You could spit on your visitors, something I’ve often secretly longed to do - Credit: Archant

I’d love a breezy tree-house retirement cabin with rope ladders, creaking timbers and blackbirds’ nests. You could spit on your visitors, something I’ve often secretly longed to do

I’ve been house-hunting recently, with a modest, downsizing budget. I haven’t had much success in my search for an ex-council house with walled potager and orchards and Jacuzzi and Japanese tea house and atrium and cloisters. And old stables housing a collection of vintage Morris Minors. If anyone wants to get rid of such a property for around £200k, I’ll take it off your hands.

What I have noticed, though, is how many houses are endowed with a little extra – a studio in the garden. And even if they only have a shed, it’s the shed which, afterwards, seems to resonate in my memory and invite my rugs and sofas.

Why do we have the urge to create dens if we already have a perfectly good house to live in? Obviously it’s a way of escaping from family life, but I think it goes deeper, back to childhood, when a secret, private space of one’s very own could seem irresistibly glamorous. Alas, I wasted most of my early den time hosting dolls’ tea parties. The dolls were impeccably dressed, but they had absolutely no gossip.

Outdoor dens were the best, of course: the secret hollow deep in a thick hedge, the willow tree at Benhall where, aged about 12, I smoked my first cigarette. At Highgrove there’s a tree house where Princes William and Harry used to play, so evidently even children who live in palaces enjoy the fantasy of life in a secret pied-a-terre.

Developers designing homes for an ageing population should exploit these childhood fantasies: I’d love a breezy tree-house retirement cabin with rope ladders, creaking timbers and blackbirds’ nests. You could spit on your visitors, something I’ve often secretly longed to do. It may become easier when old age has removed one’s inhibitions.

In my childhood home in Cheltenham, we had a big airing cupboard. Nimble as a monkey then, I would clamber in, curl up among my mother’s carefully ironed pillowcases, pull the door shut and wait for a ‘BOO!’ opportunity. I wonder if that airing cupboard is still there. Perhaps it’s now the home of an illegal immigrant. Certainly, a ‘BOO!’ delivered by an illegal immigrant would have a lot more éclat.

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Wardrobes were another favourite, although back then there was always the danger of becoming entangled in Crimplene. Whatever happened to Crimplene, by the way? Was it outlawed by Health and Safety? Does the UN have a team of Crimplene Inspectors, whose job is to hunt down stockpiles of the deadly material and safely dispose of it?

My favourite hideaway, though, was under the table. I can clearly remember being so small, I could walk under the table without stooping. Later, at university parties, I found one could slither down there and it still offered the same sense of safe seclusion.

My father, at a tender age, liked to crawl under the bed – maybe because he came from a mining family. One day, he had a brilliant idea. It was a bit chilly in his under-the-bed den: what he needed was a fire, like the grownups had downstairs. He gathered together a few scraps of paper and handfuls of fluff, and soon had a cheerful little blaze going.

After a few moments however, little Wilf realised that the fire was a bit more successful than he’d intended, and so he crawled hastily out, carefully closed the bedroom door with that flair for secrecy that served him so well later at GCHQ, and went down to tea.

Halfway through her second crumpet, his Aunt Louie crinkled her nose. ‘Annie,’ she said, ‘can you smell burning?’…

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This article by Sue Limb is from the December 2013 edition of Cotswold Life

For more from Sue, follow her on Twitter: @Sue_limb