Recycler Avec Ma Famille

Do your family recycle?

Does your family recycle? I don’t mean do you diligently separate your paper from your plastics from your metals, rinse them all and leave them kerbside in neat caddies every week, thought this is a VERY good thing to do. I mean, does your family recycle things between its members? Perhaps does your family cycle, as in rotate, things between its members is a more accurate question. This family does, in a big way, and I conclude that my little cottage, in the far South East corner of Surrey, acts as some form of homing beacon for all the family detritus in circulation. Eventually, it all ends up here. Usually, after a few months of contemplation, we upcycle, and find a new purpose for the item. Thank goodness the cottage has surprisingly generous attic space and a couple of sheds for storage. Permit me to share some examples.

Terracotta Tuscan Ovens

Terracotta Tuscan ovens. This particular sequence is one of our longest running. At 17 years old, I got engaged to my childhood sweetheart (no, of course it didn’t last, but we are still in touch and he is definitely one of this world’s good guys). We had a party to celebrate and though I don’t recall asking for presents, my very generous family and friends bought us various gifts for our “bottom drawer”. Nana Mary bought us a Tuscan oven which sat in its box for the next seven years as I finished Sixth Form, went off to uni, and came back, then headed to London and a succession of rented flats. I recall using it a few times to roast a chicken for Steve and Lily decades ago, but that’s about it. This Tuscan oven is still around, having an extended rest at the back of a kitchen cupboard. It might not have been in use very often, but on one of the occasions it was doing its thing it evidently caught my Mum’s eye because she hotfooted it to Lakeland Limited (probably still called Lakeland Plastics in those days) and bought herself her very own Tuscan oven. Earlier this week, Lily and I planned a pre-Lockdown 2 walk, exploring her new neighbourhood. Naturally, before our walk I had my second guided tour of her new house to see how she and Vince are settling in, during the course of which I had the opportunity to make many very helpful Mum-suggestions about what I would do if I was her (she loves that, as all daughter do). Opening one of the drawers in her kitchen to show me how Kondo-like she has been utilising her storage space, Lily spies the Lakeland Tuscan oven as asks if I want it because Nan gave it to her, she never uses it, and it’s just taking up space. I hesitate, I actually hesitate and for a moment thinking I’ll tell her to bin it, and then I just can’t. So I return home with a second (and never-used, by the way, not even once; it is in pristine condition) Tuscan oven. Thirty-six years, almost to the day, after acquiring the first one, I now have two Tuscan ovens. I’ve just done a quick calculation: between me, Mum and Lily, those two Tuscan ovens have done 15 house moves and have been used less then ten times. But fear not, I woke up with a start at 5:15 this morning with the genius idea of how to upcycle them: I will use the lids as seed trays and the deeper bases as planters next summer. Give me a bit of thinking time and I invariably come up with an upcycling idea.

Golden Creeping Jenny tumbling out of the recycled chiminea

Exhibit two is a cast iron chiminea purchased by Mum and Dad in, I would estimate, the mid 1990s. It stood proudly, and infrequently used, in the garden of my childhood family home. A year or so after Dad died, Mum understandably wanted to downsize and enjoyed a Goldilocks series of moves, first a couple of flats, which were too small, then a countryside bungalow, which was too big, before settling on her now-home, which is just right. During the “too small” stage, the chiminea headed my way, along the M4 and round the M25, in the back of someone’s car that was pulling a brilliant wheelie the whole way cos, let me tell you, that cast iron baby is heavy. In my garden for the past decade, the chiminea has been lit precisely twice. On the first occasion by Will (my son), on the afternoon he finished his GCSEs, when he used it to burn all his school notebooks (thank God he didn’t have to do any resits. The supreme confidence of youth, eh?) The second time was three years ago, on Bonfire Night, when we had visitors over for nibbles and sparklers and thought it would add to the ambience if we lit it. What a mistake. The thing belched like it was trying to turn us into Arbroath smokies. The garden stank of smoke for weeks. Never again. The chiminea has been upcycled to a distinctive planter for a golden Creeping Jenny, which tumbles from the main cavity like the contents of Ladybird’s/Vera Southgate’s Magic Porridge Pot. And Mum has since bought a new, just-right size chiminea for her garden; but it’s only for looking at, not for lighting.

Other notable examples include a dismantled pine-slatted wardrobe which seems to have journeyed from “our I”, my Mum’s cousin Irene, to our cottage, where, after 18-months seasoning in a shed, it has been upcycled to smart softwood edging for my new flower borders; Lily’s post-Japan bicycle, which lived for a while in the porch of her flat in Hither Green, and found its way to the cottage several summers ago, and has been literally cycled, very slowly, by me this summer, in an attempt to get healthier. My favourite item on rotation at the moment is a battered Fiat Punto. Bought by me and Steve eight years ago when we needed to replace our second “run around” car, Lily used it for work; Will learnt to drive in it and ownership transferred to him for a while; Vince (Lily’s boyfriend) then bought it off us to use for work; eventually Vince upgraded to a snazzier car and back it came to the cottage; then it went off to Bristol for Will to use while he’s studying there. No wonder the insurance company groans when I call to advise of a change of registered keeper and main driver. It’ll be back at the cottage when Will comes home for Christmas, and it’ll be lovely to see it, dents, scratches, “funny smells” and all.

We de-la-Haye Girls quite often end up sharing and swapping bags, shoes and clothes too!

You know what, I’m going to have to cook something in one of these Tuscan ovens before they are relegated, or maybe that should be promoted, to the greenhouse. Let the search for vegan recipes for Tuscan ovens begin.

Please do assure me that your family engages in similar rotation of chattels. ~ E

All I Ask Of You

Lily and Emma play a de-la-Haye Girls version of Mr and Mrs

In the early 1970s, my grandparents appeared on the television show “Mr and Mrs”, and they won. I don’t recall watching the broadcast of the show but have no doubt that most of the (by today’s standards modest) cash prize would have been spent on treats for me and my cousins. The other prize they won was a silver candelabra which, many years later, found its way to me and is one of my most treasured knick-knacks.

Mr and Mrs, featuring our Nanna Chris and Gank

The format of “Mr and Mrs” was that the husband was locked in a sound-proof booth while the wife was asked questions about his likes, dislikes, habits, etc. Then the couple switched around and the exercise was repeated. The more answers the couple agreed on the bigger the prize. The show’s popularity hinged on two aspects: amusement at the couples who evidently knew very little about each other’s preferences and applause for those, like my grandparents, who seemingly knew everything about each other.

Reminiscing about this got me and Lily pondering whether we would give accurate answers for each other, and how surprised we might be by the answers we each gave to a set of questions. Lily had played this with some of cast on a recent theatrical job – to much hilarity. One thing led to another and we ended up interviewing each other around a set of questions; some of the questions we asked each other were the same, others a variation on a theme, a handful cover very different subjects. It gave us a giggle and we hope you enjoy!

L: Alright, here we go. First question: what’s one family tradition you’d like to carry on in the future?

E: Our family get-together at Christmas. I really enjoy these, even though they can be loud with everyone talking over each other, and occasionally stressful with 10 people all trying to help with the same thing at once. I love them and want to carry on these occasions of the close family getting together. They also carry lots of memories as I can remember celebrating this way with my grandparents.

L: I enjoy these days too. Ready for the next one? What’s one skill you’ve always wanted to pick up and why?

E: I’m torn on this question as I have two answers and I can’t decide between them.

L: You can say both.

E: OK. The one is to be able to play the piano…

L: Yeah, same here. Why would you like this skill?

E: It looks such an incredible thing to be able to do and is so far beyond my comprehension and experience – I don’t even read music – and I would love to be able to do it. The second is a more recent and growing desire: I was born and grew up in Wales at a time when, in the area where I lived, I received no teaching in the Welsh language and I would like to be able to speak Welsh. It is interesting to me – and it is a thing they say about the Welsh – that you feel more Welsh when you live outside of Wales than you did when you lived there!

L: Isn’t that funny – these are the two things I’ve tried to teach myself during lockdown.

E: How are you getting on?

L: Welsh is really hard! I can say: “actores di-waith dw i”, which means “I am an unemployed actress”.

E: Oh right. Excellent…

L: “Actores Cymraeg di-waith dw i.”

L&E: “I am an unemployed Welsh-speaking actress!”

L: Anyway, onwards. What qualities do you admire in yourself?

E: Energy; people I work with tell me they like my energy and I like this about myself. In my first ever proper job, after I had been there a day or two, I remember a lovely colleague, Val, saying to me: “you are like a breath of fresh air, Emma”, and I’ve always held on to that. I think I bring an energy and outlook to work that people enjoy. I admire my sense of humour. I think I am witty. I have a very British sense of humour – heavy on the self-deprecation and lots of gentle sarcasm. And I think I am quite nice to people; I try to be kind.

L: You are very kind. I’d also say that you’re trustworthy.

E: Do you think that? That’s lovely, thank you.

L: Yes, I do. I think I could murder someone, tell you where I hid the body and I don’t think you’d ever crack. You are the person I’d get to bury a body with me, definitely. OK, OK! Next one – list three things that make you smile.


E: There are hundreds, not just three, but top of today’s list: . a beautiful cottage garden, and in the same vein, beautiful period properties, stately homes. I love the innate beauty of these sorts of things.

My second is seeing my children, my family and my beautiful Tyler-cat, looking cute. And thirdly, turning off the beaten track and driving or better still walking down the road I’ve never been down before; turning off the path and exploring a new route, just to see what’s down there, to see where it leads. Gentle exploration.

L: I like that too. Next one: list three books that have made a profound impact on you and why?

E: “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh.

L: You love that!

E: I do love it, because of the sense of period and the sense of Oxford that comes through the early part of the book. Sticking with Oxford, Lyra’s Oxford, I’m going to cheat and choose a trilogy as my second book, Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials”. It is extraordinary writing and the characters throughout are imaginatively and, to my mind, perfectly drawn.

L: Ah, I love it too. I reread it, blasting through it in my dressing room between shows in Japan.

E: My third book choice is “Birdsong” by Sebastian Faulks, a book I started three or four times and couldn’t get past the early chapters of Stephen’s summer in Amiens with the Azaire family; I just didn’t like it. Once I pushed through these and got into it, I loved the book and it became profounding affecting and resparked my interest in the human stories of the First World War and led, in part, to you, me and Nanny Val, visiting Thiepval a couple of years ago on that amazing trip. My choices are all strongly character driven.

L: They are and they are all set in very specific time periods, they are of a time. I’m interested in what you say about sticking “Birdsong”. I always think you should give a book one hundred pages; you should give any book this long to unfold itself. I couldn’t get into “Harry Potter” the first three or four times. I just didn’t like those early chapters set at the Dursley’s. It was only when Harry got to Hogwarts that I was hooked. OK, great. Next one: describe one thing you are grateful you learned from your parent or grandparents.

E: So linked to my Christmas gathering answer earlier, I’d say I’m grateful to have learned that I am loved unconditionally by my family. That sense that if you are a de-la-Haye you are never alone, you are never going to have to face things alone; there’s a whole tribe supporting, nurturing and rooting for you, no matter what muddle you’ve got yourself into. That’s been huge for me and I hope is a sense that I have passed on.

L: Very good; good answer. On to the next one. What do you appreciate about your life right now and why?

E: My answer to this one is easy: I travel a huge amount for work – over a third of 2019 I spent away from home – so I’m enjoying being at home. I’m grateful for sleeping in my own bed, having the privilege of being able to do my work from my little broadcast studio here in the cottage and being able to enjoy my garden more, which was particularly lovely in the gorgeous weather we had this spring.

L: Time for your last question: what’s your earliest memory?

E: I have a memory, from when I was about two years old, of walking along the pavement opposite the hospital, my little hand in my dad’s, waving up at my mum who was somewhere behind one of the many windows of the hospital wing. I don’t remember seeing her, or her waving back and I have no other memories from that time. That’s it; that’s my earliest memory.

L: I love that. I’ve got such a bad memory. Well, I remember my friend Selina from up the road and dancing to The Spice Girls in her lounge but I must have been about five years old then. That’s not very young for a first memory. And I remember being sick in Auntie Christine’s lap on the way to Grandma and Grandad’s house.

E: OK, so that’s a bit earlier. You would have been four, I think.

L: What a nice memory to have – vomiting over my godmother.

E: Well it’s often the trauma we remember!

We loved doing this together and my questions to Lily will be posted in a couple of weeks. That evening, as I often do, the lighted candelabra was on the table as we ate dinner and I smiled thinking of Billy and Chris, my beloved grandparents, who inspired our fun. ~ E.