As part of an exchange with an American relation today, my brother Gray sent a photograph from when I was perhaps 6, or so. It shows my favourite grandmother, Isabel’s, second husband, Carey Coaker. He was a doctor. The place: Bilbao House, Dulverton, Somerset. Apparently, we were watching Gray being mounted on a horse, which explains everything.
When I looked up the house’s name today, I discovered that in 1739 a fire engine and sundry buckets were purchased and stored nearby. Which must have been why “Bellamy”, Carey’s gardener, also shown, was also a fireman.
I remember him wearing a huge brass fireman’s helmet at times – when the great (probably very small by today’s standards) fire engine came racing down the hill. I seem to remember that it was Bellamy’s job to ring the hand-rung bell on the impressive, urgent machine.
I also recall being chastised, beaten, by Carey for the breakages of various jars in his surgery, a crime almost certainly committed by Isabel’s two Siamese cats. But among many happy memories was one of being taken through the walled garden and out through a tiny wooden door at the back, into a green lane.
Later, Carey would run off with a wealthy patient, Phil I think, who we would meet much later – and very much liked. Bellamy would suffer what may have been a heart attack and slump face-down into his flower beds. But that was all in the future when this picture was taken.