House in the Sky

Having spent many years writing for other people, Melandra is now working on House in The Sky, the tale of her unique home-educated childhood. Melandra and her siblings were brought up by their eccentric recluse of a father and talented graphic designer mother in a half-derelict farmhouse on the edge of a firing range in the Staffordshire Moorlands. The story details near misses with the Army on manouvres, an expulsion from the local brass band and an unexpected journey to Japan. A quirky blend of strict classical education and almost Bohemian lifestyle, the adventures of Melandra and her three brothers and sister are a rollercoaster read that will have you laughing out loud! Although the book is a work under construction, we have included the first page below, and you can find out more about House in the Sky on Melandra’s blog.

Our House in the Sky, we called it; our birthplace, our home, our inspiration, our school and our playground. The Strines, a long, low 14th century farmhouse clinging to the wild open hillside on the foothills of the Pennines near the Staffordshire-Derbyshire border.  Set in half an acre of scrubby ground, half reed beds, half grassy hummocks, with a couple of tinkling streams, a large pond, and a stone track winding round under the outbuildings into the front yard.

6 bays of crumbling stone with a blue slate roof, patchy whitewash, a motley assortment of doors and window frames, and the whole encircled by a sagging barbed wire fence – a small barrier against the sheep and cows grazing on the surrounding fields. When I look back, I will always remember it just like this, the colours, the scents, the sounds.  Peeling paint in purple, green and sky blue, rust on steel, the smell of old engine oil, the whirring of an angle grinder throwing a shower of sparks through the garage door, yellow dandelions glowing between the stone flags of the back yard, and a splash of purple foxgloves in the long grass.

I have three brothers, and a sister. I, Melandra, am the eldest, then come Metia, Felix, and after a long gap of nearly six years, Fergus and Max. Our home is right in the middle of Ministry of Defence land; all the fields around us are owned by the Army, who used to train regularly across them, much to our delight, when we were children. The drive down to the house from the nearest main road is 2/3rds of a mile long and part tarmacked; the rest is a rough stone road.

To the right of the track is the Danger Area, a vast wilderness of stumpy black heather and peat bogs, still full of live ammunition from the last World War, when the Americans used to practice there, and with a huge rusting Sherman tank lying abandoned near the grenade pit. A forbidding place all sealed off by barbed wire fences hung about with faded red warning signs decorated with grimly smiling skulls, but nevertheless highly attractive to us, both despite and because of all this.

We live in the Dark Peak, between the gritstone crags of the Roaches, Ramshaw Rocks and Hen Cloud and the high sweeping moors of the Morridge. There is an enormous vista to be enjoyed from our front windows, with the shining mirror of Tittesworth reservoir and the jagged outlines of the nearby Roaches and Ramshaw rocks marching across the foreground and framed (on clear days) by the rolling shapes of Mow Cop, Bosley Cloud, the Wrekin in Shropshire and even further away, the purple tops of the Welsh Mountains.

Our parents bought The Strines in 1970, from a local family, the Belfields, for a mere £2,700. And here in this isolated spot, where the traffic on the A53 is a distant murmur, and the only reminder of civilisation are the blue and green roofs and spires of Leek market town nestling in the bottom of the valley, and the faint rumblings of jets heading towards Manchester Airport, they decided to bring up their large family outside the school system.

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