The village was one of those half-urbanised Georgian settlements on the edge of Bath where English Catholics of a certain standing have elected to gather in their exile. The cottage lay at the country end of it, a tiny sandstone mansion with a steep narrow garden descending to a stretch of river, and they sat in the cluttered kitchen on wheelback chairs, surrounded by washing-up and vaguely votive bric-a-brac: a cracked ceramic plaque of the Virgin Mary from Lourdes; a disintegrating rush cross jammed behind the cooker; a child’s paper mobile of angels rotating in the draught; a photograph of Ronald Knox. While they talked, filthy grandchildren wandered in and stared at them before tall mothers swept them off. It was a household in permanent and benevolent disorder, pervaded by the gentle thrill of religious persecution. A white morning sun was poking through the Bath mist. There was a sound of slow water dripping in the gutters.
John le Carré - A Perfect Spy
My own Catholic heritage, alas lapsed, is of the dirtpoor Irish Merseyside variety, but having grown up in the affluent south I have spent formative time amongst such households and know their ‘permanent and benevolent disorder’ well.
The Tall Mothers invariably have long dark hair either descending in a straight ribbon to the waist or tied in a bun, and they carry on conversations while picking distractedly through hallways of strewn wellies and junior cricket equipment, generally assisted by the eldest daughter, a clone in miniature. Boys run about in unseasonal school uniform and hand-me-downs, appearing suddenly in doorways to make earnest announcements about meteor showers or dead rodents in the garden. The father is absent, or distant when present and often the first cousin of his wife.
There is always too much old furniture crammed into small, impractically-shaped rooms. Welsh dressers, egg cups, Guild of St Stephen medals ... apostle spoons, why not; and the general ambience is that of a true aristocratic bloodline in temporary exile, bumbling through a few generations until the world, which somehow took a wrong turn with Henry VIII, rights itself and the loyal are returned to their natural dominion.