Saturday, 29 November 2008

The joy of an old house

I have mixed feelings about our house. I love its history, its quirkiness and the sense of being one in a long line of people who've lived there. I do like looking at things, like the carved panelling that has mysteriously ended up lining the boiler cupboard, and wondering "Why?"

One thing I have had to learn, after living most of my life in houses no one else wanted to, is the ability to stick my hands over my eyes and go "LA LA LA LA LA I'm not looking," as the sheer enormity of what needs doing threatens to overwhelm us. Taking on a "project" when you have scadloads of money is one thing, but doing it when you don't, and your income is, as mine is, unpredictable, is daft. However much your surveyor might like to say that x, x, and x are urgent and y and y could certainly do with being done within the year, we know full well the limitations of what our income is, and so nod wisely and mentally stretch the period of works to years, not months. It's all very well other people saying why don't you sell it and let someone else with enough money do it. When you try, as we did a few years ago, and those someones think there's just too much to do, and press the avoid button, you really are stuck with it and have to battle on.

Which leads me to the mixed feeling bit I suppose: sometimes, after you've been doing it for years, you start to feel like the house is eating you. Every spare bit of money, it swallows. It demands things you haven't got: money; expertise; time. Sometimes it feels like a giant stone millstone round my neck. And I get tired, tired, tired.

But - it's just the rescue thing I suppose - I love to see houses that are properly restored, not b******d about; left as they are and not ripped about because someone who'll only be there for a few years has decided the house doesn't suit their "modern" lifestyle - in which case, don't buy a period house. Build one yourself so you get what you want, or go and carve up something modern. When we tried to sell, I hated it so much in the end I used to go and hide at the top end of the field whenever prospective buyers were show around, inventing some task I desperately needed to do up there. Anything to avoid having to listen to yet another person saying "Well, that wall could go; we could put a window in there; that's not convenient. That staircase would have to go. And LOOK at that uneven plaster. It wouldn't matter if we took up that Victorian tile floor, would it?"

YES IT WOULD. The house is 700 years old, for goodness' sake. Generations of people have lived here. The house has been in this format for at least the last 300 years, and you know what? None of them died because they thought that wall was in the wrong place. How people can breeze in saying how they love the house's period feel, and then want to rip out everything that gives it that period feel, leaves me alternating between bafflement and wanting to spit bile. So, I suppose I should be grateful that the credit crunch meant we didn't even get as far as putting the house on the market this year, as at least it's saved hapless would-be buyers being savaged by me snarling my SPAB hardline view (just leave it alone) at them.

Anyway, back to restoration. As long as it's water-tight, everything else can (usually) wait. So, I have learned to edit out what I know I can do nothing about, and concentrate on what I can. This does have the handy advantage that I can ruthlessly screen out things like this;

which was our lovely landing window. It hasn't been opened for years, not since we realised it wasn't attached to anything along the bottom, and that if you pushed it the whole thing would swing out in an alarming (though in an odd way, charming) fashion, from the top.

We finally managed to get this done;

which led to this;

The carpenters hung the sash on the wrong side, which is why the catch is upside down, but we decided to leave it and add our own bit of oddness to the house. Maybe in a couple of generations' time, someone else will be asking, "Why did they do that?"

Friday, 28 November 2008

Who benefits from the credit crunch?

Our dog. We don't have the heating on much here anyway, but even less so now. I am permanently buttoned into my ancient Barbour bodywarmer. And the dog, who is a warm sort of creature, is now allowed on the sofas so she can keep us warm. Not quite, "It's a little chilly, so I've put another dog on your bed," but I'm sure it won't be long.

Have had a stinking cold all week, and I'm now off to join dog on the sofa, drink hot chocolate and nurse my woes. Have a lovely weekend.

Friday, 14 November 2008


another posting from the far shores of equine weirdness, though I have to say despite the obvious continuity issues, I rather like this. I'd rather look at him than our Katie any day.

And I want those boots.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Six things about me

I was tagged last week by Frances over at France and the Unknown, so here, a bit late, are the results! I don't usually tag people but if anyone wants to pick this up on their own blog, and reveal six things about themselves, feel free.

1. I was a runner up in the Daily Mail (actually it could have been Daily Mirror but I can't find my copy of the book in which the results where published to check) children's poetry competition when I was 11. I wrote a poem about my grandmother, who was torn between being miffed at my not very flattering portrait of her, and pride at my brief national celebrity.

2. I last fell off a horse into a ploughed field. The horse was standing still at the time. Dear Tess, alas now PTS, and I careered across a ploughed field, and I had one of those moments when I lose all physical co-ordination, and just sat there thinking "OOH I am NOT in control here." Anyway, Tess stopped of her own accord, and I sat there for a few seconds and then slowly toppled off into the plough, while Tess turned to look at me and sighed deeply.

3. The first ever animals I remember were our boxer dog Coco, and our big ginger and white cat Claude. Coco once frazzled her nose, as she used to sleep with her nose on the boiler. Alas, the boiler blew up and poor Coco ended up with a skinned nose. It recovered very quickly, I'm glad to say.

4. There was a riding school at the bottom of my garden. At least, there was in our first house, which was in Ickwell, Bedfordshire, and where we lived until I was 4. I used to spend a lot of my time hanging on the fence talking to the horses. I kept this up even after one evil piebald bit me several times on the arm. There was obviously no hope for me even then.

5. I can't dance. I love, love, love Strictly Come Dancing, and when daughter's dance school started a jazz class for ballet mamas, I joined, all excited. Alas I can't keep more than 10 steps of a routine in my head at the same time. No sooner did I cram more in, than the first few would shuffle out.

6. I used to wear a razor blade round my neck in the 1970s. Yes I did. It was punk, after all, and I was Kettering High School's sole representative, albeit a tad undercover. I subscribed to the NME, which was then in its young, hip, gunslinging days, and I loved the Stranglers, and Ian Dury, and lots of obscure American stuff like Television and Jonathan Richman and Mink de Ville .... Still do, as a matter of fact. And that reminds me of this:

which I also love. I first heard it when I was out pony book hunting in Leicestershire, having resorted to Radio 1 as I couldn't get Radio 4. I was completely blown away by it, and had to put off book hunting until I'd heard the end. It took me a while to work out the end, but I think I've got there now. And that's sort of 7 things, but never mind.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A round of applause for my mother

Who I don't imagine will be reading this unless she's suddenly developed an addiction to internet caf├ęs!

I get a lot of messages from people who are looking to re-build their collections after they either "grew up" and chucked out their collections themselves, or as seems to happen rather more often, had their collections ruthlessly downsized by their mothers. As an aside, I do notice that fathers do not appear to do this. Presumably they either a. don't care b. don't notice the house is disappearing under books or c. prefer to leave such tricky decisions to mothers.

I must now say my own mother did not chuck out my pony book collection of immensely tatty paperbacks, and it still survives. Mum nobly held on to it for a good 10 years after I'd left home, asking occasionally through gritted teeth, "Are you sure you can't fit those books in yet?", at which point I would say "NO, I can't possibly - you've got far more space," in that supremely irritating manner I am now beginning to recognise in my own children.

So thanks, Mum. I know I don't say it anywhere near often enough, but I am so grateful you didn't chuck those books out. Just look at what you've created by not doing so - a pony book obsessive who now earns much of her living through them. Perhaps not quite what parental dreams are made of, but still....

And so I did wonder just how many of you out there are now re-building your collections after maternal purges, or indeed, your own. There's a poll up there on the right.

A bit of Ruby Ferguson news

There is now a Facebook Ruby Ferguson group for discussion of all things Jill. It's been started by John Rees, and it's here. (And thanks for the link, to Vanessa from Fidra. I whipped it off her blog having been totally incapable of working out how to find it after John rang me to ask if I minded if he linked to the website).

Eek - I might actually have to join Facebook now. I have held off until now because I've heard how addictive it is and I know what I'm like, but can I resist the appeal of Jill? I don't think I can.

And the winner is...

Anne Bullen's A Pony to School.

I think Anne Bullen was supreme at catching the wish fulfilment element of pony books. Her ponies are not 100% as ponies are, but they certainly are as they canter through your dreams; breedy, kindly and oh so noble. Her Cascade in Wish for a Pony was my childhood dream of bliss, as was Daybreak in I Wanted a Pony.
I wonder if that's why she's won out over artists who are arguably technically more accomplished? I know that when I voted in the rounds coming up to the final that the emotional pull of several of the dustjackets won out over the technical expertise of others.

Lionel Edwards is one who I think lost out because of this. In the initial round of over 60 books, there were 13 of his titles, with Anne Bullen having 8 and Sam Savitt, Sheila Rose and Peter Biegel (a Lionel Edwards pupil with a very similar style) following on behind with 3 each. There's absolutely no element of fantasy whatsoever in Lionel Edwards' style: he gives us horses and ponies straight - although one might argue that his portrayal of the Exmoor Moorland Mousie, who turns into a rather Thoroughbred-influenced being shows an element of wish fulfilment. Nice breedy types please: none of your hairy ponies.

I still love his illustrations; and if I had to choose between Lionel Edwards and Anne Bullen for something to put up on my wall, I'd go for Lionel, out of sheer appreciation for something wonderful to look at, but for that emotional pull to the dreams of childhood, it's Anne every time.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Fitting back into life

I'm always amazed by the sheer effort of extracting myself from my life for even a week, but we're now back, having had an excellent week, and I have now downloaded my emails. This has reminded me that I now of course have to lever myself back into my life..... Even after I'd deleted the 250+ spam, I still have 262 emails to deal with.

So, if you've emailed me over the past week, please be patient. It is going to take me a time to get through the backlog.