Look at that beautiful view! That was the rear of my parent’s cottage where we lived from when I was nine until around fourteen. We’d previously moved around a bit since my birth in Edinburgh. The cottage was called a ploughman’s cottage and connected to one beside us on the land belonging to the then Cousland Farm in Seafield, central Scotland.
As an adventurous child keen on exploring, you can imagine how excited I was to move there. The two bedroomed long cottage was chilly as it had no heating save for a single coal fire but was beautifully rustic. The floors creaked, the attic was fun and the encircling garden was huge We had gas heaters in each bedroom and I used to love the smell! My parents and I loved watching TV and films with no lights on except the flicker of the coal fire and ate endless slices of melted cheese on toast. We bought four hens and were given a cockerel who’s sunrise song was the best alarm clock you could have. We also bought a spaniel pup and best friend whom we named Haggis.
Beside us to the right was something very magical. A small area of woodland and a mighty oak tree that was my very own Faraway Tree. Enid Blyton was the inspiration behind many wild adventures fuelled by my imagination. Her books were eagerly read beneath the blankets using a torch. The adventure fantasy ‘The Enchanted Wood’ featured a tree akin to the Faraway Tree. Great boughs reached into the blue sky, the wind making the leaves’ voices heard. Having my very own tree full of magic was miceless, no, priceless (I’m obsessed with mice!). Dad tied a rope swing around the tree’s strongest horizontal bough where I soared higher than our chickens ever could. Mind you, the Scottish Dumpies could only flap and jump six feet. Rather like myself when I’m mad.
I had countless adventures and life-changing experiences in Cousland Cottage. As a nine year-old growing up my imaginative mind was inundated with things I wanted to do, and did do. My friend and I used to play with Flower Fairy dolls, Golden Girl figurines, Natural History Museum model dinosaurs (I was always the T-Rex, my friend a Triceratops), Maple Town animals and much more. We chucked our bikes over the fence and had fun cycling on grass and going downhill but our scooters were always tricky to master in a field full of cowpats. Speaking of cowpats, when they baked dry under the sun, we used to pick them up and smash them over each others’ heads! My friends and I are still in touch thanks to Facebook and we all remember childhood fun around the cottage, farm and the vast surroundings comprising of fields, water-filled ditches and amazing places for walks.
In winter it was magical. The forest was a natural Winter Wonderland with no admission charge. The trees’ leaves branches were covered in glistening frosting and the forest floor carpeted in a thick white blanket. The ferns and foliage all weighed down as though they were hunched over trying to keep warm. No footprints except tell-tale rabbit prints and pheasants looking for food. Occasionally deer prints were spotted but they were such shy little souls. I clambered over the stile from our garden and felt honoured to be the first person to breach the snowy purity. The sound of the snow crunching underfoot, I can still hear it to this day. The unspoiled snow covering the fields was even more of a treat as we ran around laughing if we suddenly fell into a deep drift. The size of the snowballs we rolled became so big and heavy we couldn’t move them anymore and so, had the best snowmen around. With eyes and mouths made from lumps of coal from our garden’s coal bunker. I used to hide in there and give my parents a fright when they came out to collect coal for our living room coal fire. Christmas was even more magical as there was heavy snow each year and the scent of a real pine fairy-lit Christmas tree in our cottage was glorious.
Of course, living in the countryside meant obeying the country code. Do not discard cans and glass in the forest, no fires, no vandalism, do not scare livestock, do not disturb or destroy nests, burrows, warrens and so on and so forth. We were also taught how to put sick and untreatably injured animals out of their misery as quickly as possible. This dark art was mastered well by my dad and I as we encountered countryside tragedy. I’ve still maintained this code of conduct regarding wildlife to this day and should it disgust or shock people, then they have to realise that a lot of the time, veterinary treatment can’t be readily obtained for animals in the throws of a drawn out, painful demise.
It was during this period of my life that I thought about what I wanted to do when I left school. At first, a vet was the obvious choice until my mum’s unforgettable uncle bought me a dissection kit and microscope. It was far more rewarding than the chemistry set I’d since decimated! I started looking at the intricate skeletons of leaves, dead insects and hair, sheep fleece, feathers and fur. The dissection kit comprised of a corkboard, pins, a metal probe, tweezers and a basic scalpel. Many dead animals and birds were found around the vicinity and I’d pick up a vole, for example, then pin her on her back on the corkboard using pins through her tiny paws. Armed with the Human Anatomy book I loved, I identified each organ. The rodent version was very similar with the tiniest heart imaginable, so precious!! Necropsies continued covering various rodents, rabbits and birds. As I got a little bit older I became interested in all things death. Not in a sinister sense but in a childlike curious way. Where do we go after we die, what do undertakers do, etc.
Time passed and we had to move to the nearby town of a Bathgate (refer to top photo) because the cold cottage was sadly causing me childhood asthma. Mum and I hated moving but quickly settled in to the warm house with central heating. Our cottage could see Bathgate (refer to top photo) and our new home could see the farm and the roofs of the cottages. Bit of a teaser but we enjoyed the heat and new bus connections to Falkirk, Livingston, Edinburgh and much more. Plus I could now walk to school and made more friends.
At secondary school my interest in death led to me being permitted work experience in the histopathology department at St John’s Hospital in Livingston (were I was admitted years later with a brain bleed) at the age of 16. It was incredible and I still have my report to this day. I soon knew I didn’t want to work in an undertakers but wanted to be a mortician. Dissection of a more fascinating kind which helped out science and medicine. I knuckled down and got my grades to the best of my ability plus a good few Scotvec Modules (NVQ equivalent) thrown in. Curiously I saw a psychologist in 1994… did one of my teachers detect something that was a clue to my later diagnosis of BPD/EUPD?
From cottage adventures and my Faraway Tree, to central heating and Scotvec modules, work as a postwoman when I left school then pop goes my AVM and a brain bleed. My childhood and teenage years were very varied and exciting then suddenly struck down with a near death injury. Life since then has been a crazy whirlwind of recovery, determination, time as a dental nurse then my life goal a mortician. As covered here and there in this blog, my life hasn’t turned out how my dream hoped for BUT I’m still alive and sort of kicking. Perhaps I’m very retrospective because in childhood happier times I was healthy and life was magical. In many ways, I still reside in that cottage, the ghost of me, whilst the shell of me now resides here in London trying to get through each day.
© Copyright: Sharon Lawson™