Click images to explore this fine Edwardian cottage and its splendid grounds...
I was homeless for a while after having to leave a flat in Finsbury Park where I'd been staying with a friend. It was winter 1997, and I was living and working in a Transit van (!) as a real Field Service Engineer, cooking on my Calor Gas stove by the roadside, enjoying the freedom of the countryside, but not the freezing winter mornings!
A friend who was babysitting my piano in his garage had seen an advert in a music shop: "Grand piano for hire in large space, pleasant country setting, £5 per hour." Since I needed somewhere to play, I got in touch. The piano was in a converted schoolhouse in a fabulous estate of paradise gardens; I was in heaven, and spent many hours there over the coming months completing work on my Flute Sonata. I became a friend of the lady who lived there and her family, The Parsons, and am transcribing some songs that her father David, an actor/film-star/singer/explosives-expert/pig-breeder/lily-grower/gardener-par-excellence, wrote when he was my age (he is now in his eighties).
One day, knowing I was looking for somewhere to live, she told me of a Loft her friends had just finished converting, that needed a tenant. I was a bit dubious about living in a house with a family I'd never met, but managed to pluck up some of the same courage with which I had originally introduced myself to her as a composer, and went to check the place out.
Michael's Folly is a unique place, a sort of Land That Time Forgot that you'd never believe was so close to London, more like deepest Cornwall. When I arrived there I met Tessa and her daughter Fabrizia, and they took me up to see the Loft. Everything clicked like a combination lock finally opening. Tessa is a stained-glass artist, and Fabrizia is an Indian dancer, so a musician would not be out of place here. When I saw the harmonium under the chapel-like round window, I knew my search had ended.
I later discovered that the house was previously owned by the eminent English conductor Vernon Handley CBE (R.I.P.), whose fine performances had got me into classical music and even inspired my own compositions. His friend Michael was thinking of buying the place, but suggested it to Vernon instead, so he named it "Michael's Folly" after his friend's foolishness at missing such a wonderful opportunity. Vernon planted many varieties of roses in the gardens, with wonderful names such as Buff Beauty, Fantan Latour, and Madame Hardy, and he could recognise all the birds by their songs.
[Note: In 2002 I moved further back in time from this Edwardian house to the medieval charms of Court Cottage.]
© copyright Malcolm Smith 2006-06-14 - last updated 2008-09-12