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?"

5 comments:

Juliet said...

Lovely post, Jane. My previous house was only 200 years old, but even so, battling against damp and rot, and collapsing chimneys, and water pouring through ceilings with inconvenient frequency and persistently invasive slugs, not to mention plants sprouting through skirting boards with alarming frequency, was a constant battleground. I miss it, actually. But probably that's the rosy glow of nostalgia taking over . . .

Alison said...

LOVELY POST !!! More photo's and MORE about your home :-) love, Ali

Jane Badger said...

Thanks Juliet. We've had the plants through the skirting boards thing too. I hear the BBC is re-doing The Day of the Triffids. I'd like to know how the producer was inspired.

Thank you Alison. I will try and do some more photos, promise!

Gillian said...

My flat is in a hourse that's a mere 110 years old, or so. All the same, before the landlord got bullied into renovating and doing the roof 5 years ago, there was some squidgy brown fungus growing from the sloping ceiling of the spare room.
When the place was redone, I got new, double glazed windows to replace the draughty old sashes. For some reason the bathroon window they put in is clear glass. I like this, as it's the only window I have that actually looks out the front of the house (I'm in the attic, and mostly have skylights). A thick curtain hanging across the lower part of the window deals with the necessary privacy issues, and I can pull it aside to see what the neighbours are doing.

Bovey Belle said...

When we brought this crumbling old Welsh farmhouse (a similar age to yours, though Georgianized back in 1718) over 20 years ago, little did we know we would be living in a building site on and off for 16 years before most of it was habitable. You learn to live with the bits which are unsightly, or need "doing", but I was very glad we didn't realize QUITE how rotten one roof beam was from wet rot until it was finally re-roofed. We'd never have sleapt on windy nights otherwise.

We have always looked at ourselves as temporary custodians of our home. We could only sell it to the right sort of person who is worthy of being the next custodian and loving it as much as we do, for all we are the despised English. We need to downsize soon, but now have to wait until the market stablizes before we can put it on the market. I just hope we can find another home with so much character.