Leaving Michael’s Nook Country House Retreat

Perhaps I developed my fetish for spring cleaning from my months in Michael’s Nook.  In the quieter times Mr Gifford had us stripping the house from top to bottom. He was an exacting boss, insisting on demonstrating the correct way to do everything from washing wine glasses, to vacuuming the stair carpets; polishing mahogany, and silver, and windows; beating rugs; cleaning and rehanging curtains – oh the list goes on.

Before Easter (which was mid April that year), he and his wife Elizabeth ducked off on a holiday to an African safari or a Pacific Island or some such exotic place. Not that after a lifetime of working in the shipping industry I consider a Pacific Island a ‘to-die-for-destination‘. So many years of loading cargo for places such as Suva, Lautoka, Nuku’alofa, Apia, Pago Pago, Noumea, Rarotonga, Papeete, Port Moresby, Lae, Wewak, Popondetta and so on takes the gloss off wanting to go and lie under a coconut tree. Although it did get exciting when a volcanic eruption in 1994 forced the abandonment of Rabaul city. I had a load of high value alcohol on board, owned by Steamships Trading and destined for Rabaul hotels, when the vessel called Force Majeure. Lovely term isn’t it? It’s an Act of God clause which allows the Captain to off-load cargo wherever he considers is best for the safety of the ship. So my container ended up on the dock in Lae, and it was an interesting time to keep it safe from pilferage while the importer worked out where else he could sell the contents.

In contrast to commercial cargoes, the Fua Kavenga, which you can see in a larger form by double-clicking on the photo below, was also very popular with Tongans and Samoans living in Australia who would bring in brightly-striped plastic storage bags full of staple foods, clothing and homewares for their relatives back home. ‘Personal effects‘ was a catch-all phrase for this cargo. The Fua Kavenga was on a monthly rotation, and I can tell you, that cut-off time had a habit of coming around very quickly, particularly when I worked for a freight forwarder who carved out a niche-market with that community.

ShipSpotting.com
© dedge

(Those in the know will note that Fua Kavenga had its own gear. Oftentimes we had to load a container that held both Apia and Pago Pago cargo. The idea was the container was off-loaded at first port, the cargo for there pulled out – loaded closest to the doors of course – then the doors shut and the container hoisted back on board for the run around to the next port. About a half-day allowed for turnaround . . . sigh . . .  I still miss working in the industry. Really. I do. We were a good match for each other).

Anywho – I seem to have drifted way off topic, so back to the Giffords. The thing was, they nicked off (departed rapidly) on their holiday leaving me in charge of all the downstairs area, which included the scheduling of the spring cleaning and allocation of duties, which nicked off (annoyed . . . to put it politely) Maureen no end, as she had longer service than me. It caused trouble at ‘t mill in a big way. (If you click on the link it will take you to a short funny video on this expression. The first few seconds are a bit wobbly.)

Adding to the tension was an unexpected upturn in forward bookings, and the secretary was becoming frantic that we wouldn’t complete the odd-job list in time. Tempers were fraying all over the place.

By the time the Giffords returned, not only had Maureen resigned, but she’d talked Sandra in to it as well. They left within days of the Gifford’s return. With a full house due for Easter, you can be sure Mr Gifford was sugary sweet to me. And he was pleased that all the cleaning had been completed – which he should have been. I, for one, was absolutely exhausted.

According to Wikipedia, William Wordsworth was inspired to write his famous Daffodil poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, after a walk in nearby Ullswater on 15 April 1802. By Easter, the beautiful blooms blossoming around our staff cottage were a promise of Spring in the air. Even though snow still fell, the warmer temperatures stopped it turning to ice. Time for me to plan where my wanderings would take me next.

Staff cottage at Michaels Nook 1979

I left Michael’s Nook in the second week of May 1979. It snowed twice in the last week, but the snow melted quickly. The parting with the chef team: Nigel, Barry, Simon and Paul was very sad. In our free time we walked together behind the property over the fells (hills) and up to the tarns (mountain lakes). One of my favourite spots was to look down on Grasmere Lake from a high vantage point, and in fact when I returned many years later I took my husband up there too.

We had a couple of farewell parties and the chefs gave me lovely presents, including an Interflora delivery of a living plant. After all these years, I still have one of their gifts: a trinket box from Crown Staffordshire china. I’d developed a taste for beautiful china from my exposure to the Coalport dinnerware on which we served our guests their luxury dinners.

Trinket box Crown Staffordshire China

With the trusty, rusty, Vauxhall Viva once again loaded up, I meandered down to my “other mother” in Birchington-on-Sea in Thanet on the Kentish coast, via Liverpool, Bolton, Leeds, York, through Norfolk to Leicester, Saffron Walden and Welwyn, and then bravely drove through London on a 2.5 hour stop-start journey (I only mention the details in case anyone wants to put their hand up to say they know the area).

All of the visits were delightful, but the Bolton one was unique because it was a couple who had been guests at Michael’s Nook earlier in the year. They had invited me to stay in their house, and to spend time with their two children who were ten and twelve. The children were so enthusiastic to have an Australian in their midst, and were full of questions and happy to include me in their activities. I even had a go at jumping their pony over a couple of low hurdles. I last had contact with the daughter in the early nineties, and by then she was a young woman forging her own life.

It was a little hard to separate from the “family” that I had acquired during the winter I had sojourned in the Lakes District, and I rang the chefs several times for an excited catch up. We knew that once I was back on the continent there would be no  more phone calls, and yet I had every good intention of staying in touch by letter. And perhaps I did, for a time.

There were plenty of new adventures waiting around the corner. And I could tell you where in Europe I ended up next. But I won’t . . . not just yet. Feel free to offer your guesses. They are very welcome 🙂

house view long

Michael’s Nook Country House Retreat, Source: Real Estate website

26 thoughts on “Leaving Michael’s Nook Country House Retreat

    • That’s interesting! Reg Gifford was certainly a demanding and pedantic boss. Elizabeth was okay with me, in that boss-servant interaction which was typical of their vision of their establishment and what was on offer to the guests. There was no doubt we lived an Upstairs-Downstairs life there. I guess in the twenty years that passed between our working experiences, the Giffords may have become more set in their ways, and perhaps struggled to transition to a more modern, egalitarian workforce relationship? For me the great memories are my co-workers, the Lakes District, and the aura of what the house would have been in its heyday. And I cannot overlook that I learnt many transferable skills that helped me in the future. Thanks for noticing my blog post and taking the time to comment!

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  1. I thought it was Bill who did all the cleaning now?!!
    We had cruising friends aboard a yacht called ‘Force Majeure’ during our circumnavigation days and, they were a “Force”!

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    • Well congratulations on taking a guess! You are the only follower to try. Neither suggestion is correct. However, if you think of a western European country (remembering that in 1979 there was a thing called the Iron Curtain), and then you think of a country whose music and instruments are so distinctive that you get IT in the first bar, then I believe your next guess will be very close 🙂

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  2. I think you picked a good winter to be in the Lake District as it might have been chilly, but at least you got snow instead of the famous, endless rain!
    Have you changed the colour of your hair? Very chic picky with the hat.

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    • I think I will write one more post on the Lake District. I did so love my time there, and yes, perhaps it was a magical winter.

      And yes, I’ve had a hair colour change. I’m currently a grey-based ash blonde. It has a tendency to go even blonder as the toner washes out. First time in my life I have been a blonde LOL! I didn’t mind my natural grey at the front as it was a mixture of white and silver; but when I had it cut ultra, ultra short at the beginning of the year, and then saw how blokey it looked from the back in its gun metal grey colour, I thought, I’m not having that! Watch this space. I could be blue next year 🙂 My hair grows soooo quickly I can never keep it the same.

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  3. I loved your drifting off to the Islands. I am not ‘in the know’ but I did like the look of the Fua Kavenga and the enlarged photograph shows the gear very clearly and I had it worked out. It is like some big road transports that cruise around Australia. They have enough gear to get the smaller containers off.
    I am really envious of your time in England. I missed out by being a couple of years too old when I went. And you did make it sound like all the things I had hoped for.

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    • It was such a beautiful part of the world. I honestly felt as if I would be happy to spend my final days there. Many years later, through family history research, I learned my grandfather was born in the region. Funny huh? As if you inherit a memory gene. I might mention that in my next post, before I forget. I am SO glad you enjoyed the post, and very happy you took the time to comment.

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