Hollyhocks and Honey-Coloured Houses: A Story

Tall and elegant hollyhocks

against a honey-coloured stone wall

Such vibrant blooms and swollen buds full of promises.


HOLLYHOCKS AND HONEY-COLOURED HOUSES

The houses and the hollyhocks are still there, as beautiful as ever, whenever I return, but I should really start at the beginning.

When I was a young working girl, I used to go by train to my workplace. It was all so charming as I lived in the country and the train was accordingly old-fashioned with wooden seats and the ticket-master smiling and friendly. The train went rather slowly and stopped at every single village station and there was plenty of time to enjoy the passing countryside.

Several times a week, I found myself in the same carriage as an older gentlemen. He was tall and elegant in a understated way. Silver white hair, impeccably combed, a debonair moustache and well-chosen clothes with an eye for colour coordination. He wore a panama hat in the summer with a black band. That was my favourite!

During the whole of the month of May, it has always been a sort of tradition, I like to have a bar of soap which is perfumed with Lily of the Valley. Accordingly, I have a very small bottle of Muguet perfume which I dab on my wrists and at the base of my throat.

It was one of those mornings in May, that the elegant old gentleman stepped onto the train and sat in the free seat opposite me. The windows of the carriage were open and my travelling companion said to me: "What an amazing scent of Lily of the Valley, is it blooming already?" As other people got on the train, he suddenly lent forward slightly and asked me if I happened to be wearing the perfume! "Yes", I said and we both laughed! From that day onwards we always said hello to each other and enjoyed exchanging a few words.

I often wondered where the gentleman on the train lived and one day I found out.  As I was coming back from an early evening walk, I saw him take a key out of his pocket and enter a house in my favourite honey-coloured stone with hollyhocks growing tall and elegantly against the walls. Such perfect flowers for this gentleman, I thought. 


I have since moved away from this beautiful area and my daily trips to work in a little country train, but whenever I visit the villages that are part of my childhood and young adulthood, and see those honey-coloured stone houses adorned with hollyhocks, I remember with much fondness the older gentlemen and send up a special thought to him wherever he may be on his continuing journey beyond this earthly existence.

This story is based on real-life facts.


The twentieth century writer J. B. Priestley wrote of Cotswold stone that – “The truth is that it has no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and the light is cold, these walls are still faintly warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them.”

Read about
Cotswold Stone



The Lily of the Valley tradition
during the month of May.




40 comments

  1. Ahh, what a delightful story. Had never heard of Muguet perfume . .. so I looked it up . . . me thinks you have exquisite and expensive taste in perfume Madame.

    Hugs, Sarn xxx

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    1. Hello Sarn, Muguet is simply Lily of the Valley in French. I've put up the last photo just for you!

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    2. Thank you so much Sandra. Lots of hugs going your way. xxx

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  2. I love hollyhocks..I do wish I could get them to grow here but it is too hot. They are so lovely!

    A chance encounter and just a brief conversation making special a lasting memory. The story is wonderful and you will always have it with you.

    And lily of the valley..one of my favorite perfumes and flowers. So light and sweet!

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    1. Some true stories bring back nice memories when we visit places linked to our childhood or when we were younger. Hollyhocks always make me feel happy, especially when they grow against houses, like those above!

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  3. thank you for sharing that your story was based on experience. after you sharing of your recent writings I was wondering.
    These photos are gorgeous! Loved each one. thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. Yes, Tammie, this story was based on something which really happened to me when I used to travel to work on a little country train!

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  4. What a delightful story Sandra - I could picture it all. My hollyhocks are not yet in bloom but are growing taller each day by the front garden fence. Lily of the Valley refuses to grow for me but the perfume always reminds me of my grandmother.

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    1. Thank you Elaine! Hollyhocks are gorgeous flowers, aren't they and they seem to grow just anywhere, seeking out cracks which may have a little earth below! Lily of the Valley don't grow very well on my balcony in window boxes either. This flower reminds me of my dad's lovely garden!

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  5. Oh, such a gift for stories, you have, Sandra. A lovely reminiscence and stunning photographs; thank you for reminding how much I love Cotswold stone, hollyhocks and train journeys!

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    1. Thank you, Sophia. I love train journeys too, they immediately feel like an adventure, especially with a good book and long moments looking out of the window!

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  6. What a lovely little story to accompany your lovely photos! I could picture everything and I could almost smell it all too!
    Kate :}

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    1. Thanks, Kate. It could almost be called a story of perfume - for that is what made my connection to the gentleman on the train!

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  7. What a lovely story. And those shots capture the quintessence of England somehow!

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    1. Thank you. The quintessence of England. I like that!

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  8. My, my, my what a lovely post :)
    Thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Connie. A walk down memory lane brought into the present moment to enjoy again!

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  9. Sandra, You transported me in this story so I could smell and see the unfolding plot as well as experience your emotions. The photos are a wonderful accompaniment. I felt a sense of sadness or maybe nostalgia when I finished. Our memories are precious indeed.

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    1. Barb, it was nice for me to remember these instances of my life as a young working girl and to savour them again, thanks to some of the photos I took when I was in England this June! Thank you for popping in to comment!

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  10. What a lovely story. And you're right, that honey stone has a unique quality. Honey really is the right word to describe it.

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    1. Welcome to my place, Iota! Thank you for coming to visit and for leaving a friendly comment!

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  11. Wonderful combination of story and images, Sandra! My fav pics are the third and the super macro - fifth image!!! I haven't grown hollyhocks since we lived out west, as they seemed to thrive in the dry MT heat vs the humid heat of n. WI. Miss those beautiful flowers!

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    1. Thank you, Anna. It's amazing how taking pictures of certain things reminds us of incidences in our lives and how it feels good to remember and talk about them. Some photos tell a story of their own and sometimes it's nice to invent them too! I see quite a lot of hollyhocks around here. They come in so many beautiful colours. Yesterday I saw some really dark ones, the colour of aubergine (eggplant). Amazing!

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  12. Such a wonderful story, Sandra. I love how the hollyhocks and honey coloured houses brought up those associations and memories. And how the hollyhocks symbolize that tall and elegant man. To me, the best stories have a universal message too. In this one I see how we can impact each other through small moments and how those memories live on.

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    1. Thank you for visiting, Kim. True stories can be so full of colour and scents and unforgettable sensations, brought to life again by an alluring visual experience which takes us on a new journey as lovely as the original one!

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  13. Lovely story! It's wonderful how a simple smell or a simple flower or even a simple rock can bring back such delightful memories! You make me wish I had ridden on a train to work so I could have seen the beauties that surrounded me instead of flying by them!

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    1. So nice of you to visit, Cathy. I agree, it's amazing what triggers our memories of things. Train rides are always exciting and I still enjoy them as much today. Over here we have panoramic trains with glass all around, even on the roof, so that we can see all the lovely scenery!

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  14. What a beautiful story, and a lovely memory, Sandra!

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  15. I so enjoyed riding the train with you, Sandra! Your story is such a sweet and innocent tale of a bygone era. I rarely see hollyhocks here -- what a charming plant. Those honey colored stone houses are especially lovely.

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    1. Hello Gina! Thank you! Bygone era, I'd never thought of it like that before - it was the days when all seemed simpler somehow - there was less doing and more being and no computers or iPhones. Life in the slow lane, just like I love it!

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  16. Hollyhocks are one of my all time favorite flowers and your photos are just exquisite.....You are a gifted story teller and I loved reading your story of such sweet memories of a train and an older gentlemen....What a sweet tradition of lily of the valley for the month of May......

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  17. How lovely to read of one of those delightful moments when paths cross briefly. Life is peppered with them isn't? I have lost count of how often I've wondered 'where are they now?' Such a lovely story Sandra :)

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    1. Thank you, Annie. Yes, little stories and moments which create the chapters in our lives!

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  18. What a wonderful story, Sandra! You have brought back a couple nice memories for me too...my grandmother always grew hollyhocks that grew so tall, towered well over my head. And Muguet perfume..was the first fragrance I wore as a young girl. Lovely image, lovely memories!

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  19. Sorry that should say "imageS"...because I love them all!

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    1. Thank you, Susan! I'm so glad the hollyhocks reminded you of your grandmother and we have a shared love of Muguet perfume... just the tiniest of dabs so that it remains discreet!

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  20. I LOVE this story!!! Hollyhocks as you know are my favorite and a close second is Lily of the Valley - a large portion of my backyard is Lily of the Valley. You inspired me to purchase that perfume. I was low on my old standby Channel No. 5 and Diorissmo sounded lovely.

    Thank you for the beautiful story and photos Sandra.

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    1. Thanks, Astri! I would love to see your backyard filled with Lily of the Valley when they're in bloom! Gorgeous! Enjoy Diorissimo!

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