Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A matter of life and death

Out here in the fragrant English spring countryside of gamboling lambs with cat-kin tails (another world) I thought of our home back in London today. When I met a lovely woman who's also suffering a house direly in need of refurbishment (and can't). I sympathised. We're in the same boat (boat?!). But let's talk positive. Admittedly, our home can offer one antidote to lovely-Kentish-village-withdrawal-symptoms: ours is a rather dilapidated (but!) detached house with a dreamily mature immense garden (at least for London)...that view from the master bedroom windows stretching down the garden and over the sports field beyond, and beyond, towards the row of elms in the distance.

(That’s why we garotted ourselves with a heavy mortgage right in the thick of real estate overpricing. This view. So that we could feel we’re not in London, but somewhere else in the countryside. The irony does strike me but I don’t care. That view saves me from insanity).

“Master bedroom”, we’re not hedge-funders, FX traders, or even close (and yes they still appear to own their mansions, swishy cars and self-satisfied wives (and I mean that politely, I would be too), lifestyle intact despite the dreaded C/, we...we are just a couple struggling to give ourselves and our children a better quality of life. Struggling being the operative word.

Our home may be detached. It may have a heavenly garden. And re-development potential (lots of redevelopment, that is). But now, let's talk negative. Inside, it’s a nightmare of browns and beiges and...yes, more browns. Not much has been done to it since the 1930’s. Depression era...

Depression era...depression...the holes in the kitchen wall (where I single-handedly pulled off a cabinet to make the area more roomy – and we haven’t had time to plaster)...the olive and brown battered kitchen (my dinner plates in drawers, pressure cookers and pans piled on TOP of cabinets at ceiling level - no space!)...the loo with grey tiles falling off the walls (my son touched one once with a finger tip and nearly broke a toe as it crashed down)...the fireplace we ripped out and haven’t got the money to fill in/plaster over as we really need that wall taking down...the boxy, cramped spaces. The ants in the kitchen. The lack of homeliness, lack of space to entertain properly, or really at all...
For a woman at home all day yearning for a bit of comfort...depression?...BUT: patience...patience...patience...

No, as aesthetically bad as it is, it’s an exercise in positive thinking (and delayed gratification!, see my earlier posting with this title). And, I cannot forget, there are worse things in life. Like the history of our home.

Our home was sold to us by a charming, correct, and old-fashioned old gentleman. A true gentleman. Real endangered species, sadly, nowadays. We didn’t get a bad price, for the overblown year we purchased it. He wanted a family in. Developers wanted it. He stood firm. We offered, cheekily low. Declined. I gave up my dream. Developers wanted it. Dodgy money-laundering-types wanted it. Developers wanted it. Families did not (too much work). He dropped the price and called us, I gasped. We met at the property, me with kid in tow. He was charmed by my daughter. We met in the middle. Documents were drawn-up. A developer tried to gazump. The gentleman stood firm: “I am a man of my word”. Documents were exchanged, completed. The old gentleman was truly grateful to hand over his family home to our young family. Me, I didn’t have much time to contemplate. I had to move our possessions in single-handedly (as we couldn’t afford the removal company beyond the table and the beds at that point!)

A few months later I was chatting happily to the neighbour over the garden fence (lovely neighbours – another reason to ignore the interior!) when...I found out a story. I cried.
I told a friend, she cried too. I told my husband. My husband was speechless.

The old gentleman and his wife had a son who was born, was weaned, learned to walk, to run, to talk. Went to school. Had his nappies changed as a baby, his knees patched as a toddler, his homework corrected as a schoolboy. Went on to University. Came home for the weekend to see his parents, wanted to tinker with an old gadget he was clearing out, set it carefully out on the patio, beyond the kitchen window. Came inside. Two drops of rain fell. Went outside, touched two wires together.
His mother stood at the sink in the kitchen and saw a lifetime of care and love dissolve in a moment. And was never the same again.

I said to my husband: “Let’s hope our two lovely children will bless this house with their happiness, blow away a dark cloud of tragedy, we’ll represent a new beginning!”

So I don’t really think 25-year old carpets in the entranceway and the wrong layout are cause for concern in life. They’re not matters of life and death.

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