Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Corbels

I showed you a picture of our corbels covered in snow in an earlier blog and here it is again.  We have three on the back wall and found another in the garden wall.  According to Wikipedia (don't tell my students!), a corbel is a piece of masonry jutting out of a wall to carry any superincumbent weight.  The technique of 'corbelling', where rows of corbels that are deeply keyed inside a wall support a projecting wall or parapet, has been used since Neolithic times and was also common in Medieval architecture.

The following information is from the Historical Society, talking about the corbels and the datestone or plaque that accompanies them:

There are two earlier items of interest on the west side of the property, a datestone and three corbels.   Located on the wall of the chimney and facing out towards the L....... Road these are in what would have been a formerly prominent position where they would have been clearly seen by passers by. It appears that this wall was originally rendered. The corbels are proud of the rest of the walling and the datestone and the heads stand out. They are now obscured from the road by a later extension to the house. These may have been reset from their original position. The datestone bears the date of 1581, initials and a craft or trade sign. Datestones are notorious when it comes to dating property as they may have been moved from another position or added at a later date to the original build.  The three medieval corbels are interesting as they would have supported something like the springing of an arch which is why they are broad at the top. These can be seen in churches where the arches spring from corbels rather than pillars. There is a possibility that these were removed from St M......’s Church at some point during the Reformation.

Corbel in the Garden Wall - Centre of Picture

They're looking a bit the worse for wear, the detail of the faces beginning to dissolve in the rain.  I know the feeling.  So, having taken some advice from the local council History Centre, we have added a conservator to the growing list of specialists whose skills we need.

The Winter of Our Disconnect

In 2011, the Winter of Our Disconnect was the Woman's Hour book of the week.  Susie Maushart wrote about imposing a six month ban on technology in her home.  Not just banning her use but her three teenagers were banned too.  Of course, it all ends happily ever after.  They learn to live without it.  They become a loving, creative and literate nuclear family.  But obviously go straight back to using it once the six month experiment is over.

We moved in October 2012.  Picture the scene.  It is the digital age, the computer age, the information age.  Call it what you will.  The industrial revolution is long gone and we are no longer an agrarian society.  Our national economy (what's left of it) is based on digital industries and a knowledge-based society operating in a high tech global economy.  Technology dominates our daily lives.

So, why, oh, why, oh, why, did it take British Telecom two weeks to get us connected to anything electronic???  Was I annoyed?  Slightly ruffled, perhaps.  We'd moved into a house that had been a business specialising in marketing for about twenty years.  There are at least 40 (if not more) telephone points around the building, not to mention computer points.  (Which don't work because some idiot took out the server and simply cut through all the wires so that we can never have the networked house that we dreamed of...)  One day, when I have nothing better to do (highly unlikely given what we have taken on here), I will count the telephone points for my faithful reader.  And the lightbulbs.  (There are 24 in our bedroom alone - and that's not counting the lamps.)  There is so much for the reader of this blog to look forward to in future instalments.

Telephone Points and BT Boxes in the Server Room aka H's En-Suite
Server No More
Anyhow, so we had no telephone.  Which meant no internet access.  And I can't get a signal on my mobile from inside the house.  And the television aerial didn't work.  So no television either.  And with the gates closed, it feels oddly isolated here.  Even though the lane runs by on one side and there is a main road just a few yards away on the other.  With the gates closed and no communication, it felt like we'd slipped back in time and were not only living in a Georgian house but in the Georgian era.  Not only were we discombobulated because of the move, we were completely disorientated by being cut off from the digital economy!

I didn't like it.  At all.  Susie Maushart may have rediscovered Scrabble but I felt like I'd lost my ears.  Luckily, my mum had the boxed set of Tanamara (!) and we managed to get the video to work.  But that simply served to make me feel even more disorientated.  How on earth did they get away with such horrendous, hammy acting in the '80s or whenever it was filmed?

After about a week, the aerial man finally arrived.  I nearly kissed him.  He must have thought me very odd as I chased around the house after him, explaining my delight and chattering furiously, so pleased to be able to communicate with someone other than my mum.  With a bemused look on his face, he managed to get mum's TV working but there was a dilemma about our sitting room.  The choice was to take a wire across the front of the house, which I thought the Conservation Officer might not like, or having a big long black wire stretching from the dining room through the hall to the TV in the far corner of the sitting room.  Which was the option that I went for.  But at least we had TV.  The news!  People in 21st Century costume, moving about and talking normally.  It was all a far cry from Tanamara.

The black wire thing lasted through Christmas and beyond but S has since sorted it out, cleverly drilling a small hole in the wall of the dining room, attaching the wire discreetly on the outside of the house at the foot of the front wall and then taking it down into the cellar to bypass the porch before it arrives in his study and then goes through the wall into the sitting room.  But at least we have TV!!

Spot the Wire Competition - Leads into the Cellar
The telephone and internet proved to be more of a problem.  I had it in my diary, 7th November, 0800-1300, BT Engineer.  In my imagination, he would arrive, fiddle with one of the four telephone lines coming into the house on the north side and miraculously sort out the telephone, giving us connection to the internet.  But it didn't work like that.  Because, nowadays, you don't get a nice BT engineer.  Someone just switches a switch somewhere and then you have connection.  Which they did at 0730hrs, as we discovered at about 1430hrs.  And what switch where?  As I said, about 40 telephone points in this house.

I rang BT.  The woman who answered was in Bangladesh, of course.  Just plug the telephone into the socket, she said.  Yes, but you see, it was a business, this house, I explained.  There are at least 40 telephone points.  I don't know which one it is.  Just plug the telephone into the socket, she said.  If you are alert, reader, you may be wondering how I had this telephone call with no telephone.  You might wish you hadn't asked.  S had managed to get hold of me to tell me the line was up and running.  Which line?  Try looking outside and seeing where the lines go into the house.  (He is a genius.)  I ended up in the server room aka H's en suite.  And plugged the telephone into one of the sockets and got a dialling tone.  Eureka! But after another couple of hours, I still had no internet connection.

Just Plug the Telephone into the Socket
So, I was already pretty irritated when I rang BT.  The line you are calling on has been disconnected, she assured me, and that is why you can't get the internet.  But it evidently isn't disconnected because I am calling you on it.  Just plug the telephone into the socket, she said.  Yes, but you see, it was a business this house.  There are at least 40 telephone points.  We went on in this vein for some time.  I'm ashamed to say that, in the end, I put the telephone down on her and her annoying 'just plug the telephone into the socket'.  And began the task of plugging the telephone into the socket.  I finally found the right one.  In a cupboard in my mum's sitting room.  A stroke of luck as who would have thought of looking in there.  My delight at internet access dissipated my fury with BT.  But only slightly.  And now I had the internet at my finger tips, I couldn't be bothered to tell the Chief Exec exactly where he could plug his telephone.

Socket in Mum's Sitting Room Cupboard!
That evening, I took my mum to get her hearing aids.  (God bless the NHS for these evening appointments, by the way.)  Now we are all truly wired for sound!

P.S.  And another thing.  BT don't give you a 'new' number anymore.  It is a recycled one.  Which means that if you get Mr Moore's number and he has run up some serious debt, you get lots of nuisance telephone calls.  From Bangladesh.  But not BT this time.  We put up with it for a few weeks and then rang BT.  Just put the telephone in the socket...  No, seriously, the only thing they could offer was to change the number.  So, yet again, a new number, which we had to advise everyone of.  Well, one or two people and then I couldn't be bothered to do it all again.  And then we started to get nuisance calls again.  And we're on the telephone preference service.  So, I took a leaf out of my friend D's book and have started threatening anyone who rings without a prior appointment that I will report them to the Information Commissioner.  They probably don't know who the heck the Information Commissioner is in Bangladesh but, nevertheless, they seem to defer to authority and, for now, it is working.

Foxes in the Snow

A Fox in the Snow

It was eight o'clock in the morning on the Saturday after the Friday snowfall that brought traffic around Highworth to a standstill.  And all was silent and still.  I got out of bed to go and get a cup of tea, stopping by the window to admire the perfect icing of snow covering the garden, deep and crisp and even.  But it wasn't perfect anymore.  It was covered in footprints that led from the fallen-down wall around the lawn and back again.  And the creators of those footprints were still there.  Two foxes.  One a bit scraggy and rabid looking (probably the mother) and the other with a fine coat looking fit and healthy (probably the daughter).  They wandered around the garden for some time, playing in the snow, rolling about and generally enjoying having the garden and the lane to themselves in the daytime.

Two Foxes in the Snow

We took some pictures with Simon's i-phone, which aren't up to my usual standard, obviously.  But, hopefully, you can make out lots of snow and some vague figures that may or may not be foxes.

 I guess that puts paid to my idea of a henhouse.

One Fox in the Henhouse

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Per Ardua Ad Astra

My dear old dad died three years ago today.  It hardly seems possible that it has been so long.  You'll soon forget me, he said, when I was pleading with him to fight on and he'd had enough.  But I miss him painfully still.

He would have loved living here.  He would have been so proud.  And he would have driven me mad. The thought of him as well as my mum in that small kitchen is hard to take.  He would have been full of ideas on how to make do and mend.  But he would have helped us as much as he could and created a wonderful garden.  I think his dad was a gardener or, at least, grew leeks on a buried mattress that he pee'd on regularly.  And my childhood memories are of a garden that was intermittently full of weeds in between bouts of horticulture.  But he was a true gardener and that came to the fore in his later years.

I'm printing the reading from his memorial service below because my memories are filled with laughter as well as sadness.  My dad.  Sorely missed.

A Classic Pose - Complete with Smiling Face!

JM 1925-2010
A Tribute from his Family 

We are here today because we all have something in common: we all hold a thread that links us to the life of J.  We all have different memories of him, memories that tie us together.  Since he died, we, his family, have been remembering stories of the times we shared with him, memories that will travel with us as we journey through life.  And in amongst the tears he still makes us smile.  Even in his final days, J was ever ready with a topical joke.  When K was leaving to go back north, he couldn’t get his car started.  A went to J’s bedside to say, ‘The Toyota won’t start’.  ‘I thought they wouldn’t stop!’ he replied with barely a pause for thought.

J’s family is an extended one.  There are his three children, K, E and A with their respective spouses and partners, and his granddaughters, H and M.  However, beyond this are some special people who have featured as part of the M family for many years: H, whose father J served with him in the War, and her husband, C; B, who worked with D as a nurse, and her husband, C, their children, J and D, and their three grandchildren.  We’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for being part of our family.  They share our memories of J.  They provided invaluable help and support as his condition deteriorated.  They have shared our tears and grief at his loss.

The story of J and D’s wedding day has gone down in the annals of family history.  J met D on a blind date when she was a nurse and she was singularly unimpressed with him.  However, they celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversary on 21st January this year with a message from the Queen, which should teach us all that first impressions don’t always count! 

Somehow the couple arrived too early at the Church, before the guests, who were filing in as the wedding was ending.  Neither J nor D recognised the vicar.  Then when it came to exchanging their vows, the Vicar said ‘Joseph, do you take this woman, Florence, to be your wife?’  To which J said, ‘Yes, I do, but the name’s J and this is D’.

It was the tradition to throw coins out of the car for the children on the way to the wedding but J forgot to open the car window so the coins were scattered back into the car with some ending up in the turn ups of J’s trousers.  When he knelt at the altar, they fell on to the floor.  After the ceremony, the couple walked up the aisle arm in arm.  After a few steps, J realised that he was missing his bride.  She was gathering up the sixpences behind him. 

J had a love of all things mechanical, aeroplanes, obviously, but also motor bikes.  He owned a Royal Ruby and the family had many holidays on the bike and sidecar and even made the momentous ten hour drive to the north.  To ease the monotony, K and E, the pilot and navigator, fitted out the sidecar with a Lancaster control panel in the front.  A, being the youngest and only girl, was consigned to the back as rear gunner and usually ‘bought it’ within the first few miles, making the journey particularly dull for her.

J was always the life and soul of any family gathering and, usually, the last man standing.  He loved to dance, although his style was rather unorthodox.  And he always chose the largest lady in the room as his dancing partner, applying engineering principles, like ball bearings, the bigger the lady, the better she’d glide.

He also loved to sing and a sing-song was always a major feature of any family gathering with Geordie folk songs, such as ‘Keep Your Feet Still, Geordie Hinnie’ and ‘Wor Nanny’s a Mazer’.  The family will sorely miss his Christmas rendition of ‘The Little Boy that Santa Claus Forgot’, which always reduced them to tears.  His tale of ‘Tommy the Horse’, the sad demise of Tommy on the farm where he worked as a boy, also had the same effect.  However, he also made his children laugh with recitations, such as ‘A Long Strong Black Pudding…’  It wasn’t until much later that they realised how rude it actually was!

After his retirement, J decided to continue working to make money for frequent trips to Tokyo to visit E, S and M.  His first job was as a dinner lady.  However, he found the children troublesome.  They played him up and refused to leave the dining hall to go out into the playground.  After one particular incident when he threatened a child with a broom, he decided that, rather than end up in the European Court of Human Rights, it might be wise to rethink his career options.

So he became a trolley boy at Sainsbury’s.  This turned out to be quite beneficial on a number of fronts, not least the fact that so many people leave items behind in their trolleys.  J often came home with Turkey-sized Bacofoil and other such goodies.  Later, he was moved to the wines.  J loved nothing better than a bargain and bought an interesting array from the ‘reduced section’ for his 80th birthday party: Welsh gin, Malibu and Tunisian red wine – only £1.50.  ‘That’s a bargain’ said A, ‘£1.50 a bottle’.  ‘No’, he replied proudly, ‘It was £1.50 for six!’

J was one of the first eco-warriors and one of life’s great recyclers.  The door number at their previous house was proudly displayed on a painted bread board.  When the M family first moved into this house, it had a huge TV aerial in the back garden.  When this was decommissioned, the six inch piping was carefully cut up, reshaped, bolted together with solid joints and made into a very robust swing for the children.

J left school at 14 in June 1939 and cycled many miles to get a job that would keep him out of the pits.  But to no avail.  Despite a difficult start in life, he went on to put his three children through university, providing them with the education that, throughout his life, he felt he lacked.  He recognised the importance of education, being largely self-taught.  He had a lively mind, an eclectic knowledge, considered opinions and a house full of books. 

As his family, we pay tribute to JM, who thought he had achieved so little but who had, in fact, achieved so much.  We are lucky to have had him in our lives for so long.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Poison Ivy

We finally managed to get out in the garden the other weekend.  In between the rugby matches, obviously.  We began trying to clear the bed by the gin terrace just after we moved in.  It was covered with ivy, which has obviously been there for years and has a fierce grip on just about everything.  It takes some pulling out, I can tell you.  You grab a strand and then just pull and pull.  Sometimes it comes away.  Sometimes some of the wall comes with it.  Sometimes you can't shift it and have to take the shears to it.  However, slowly, slowly, we are making progress and this flower bed is reappearing.

We've now got huge piles of ivy all around the house.  The pile at the north side, which covered the entire side of the house and two huge piles on the terrace here.  S has been shredding like a thing possessed but we think that the more sensible option might be to get a skip, before his shredder bursts into flames with the effort.

Whilst I was doing this, S tackled the log shed.  This must be the only remaining of the original outhouses.  We pulled away the ivy to reveal lovely stonework with brick quoins.

And the ivy came away in great sheets.

We laid down our shears last weekend in favour of the rugby.

But hopefully we'll get back to it this weekend.  It's quite therapeutic really, hauling on long ropes of ivy and seeing loamy soil gradually reappearing.  And the robins hop about (we've got two of them) looking for worms and insects.  I think that you can just make one out to the right of the shears.  The wall at the back of this bed is a bit worrying (we've got very nervous of the garden walls now!) but I'm hoping to learn a thing or two about pointing when the builders finally arrive.  How difficult can it be?

Danger, Danger!!

The good news is that the insurance company have agreed to pay for the wall.  We've found some builders who provided us with a quote and then made the site safe.  It now looks much more spectacular than it did before.  Previously, we might have got away with claiming that it was a somewhat eccentric rockery.  Now it looks like there's been a major landslide.

The Conservation Officer called and we had a consultation along with the builders.  It looks like the tree will have to go.  It's a self-planted sycamore, growing out of the wall and probably far too close to the house.  And in the way of rebuilding the wall.  But we're in a conservation area so we need to get permission.  And we also need to get planning permission for the repair, along with Listed Building Consent.  The builders have offered to sort this out for us, which is a relief as it probably would have taken us ages, given our busy working lives.  However, it means that there will be a delay of two to three months while we wait to receive the go-ahead.  At least it means that the weather might be more clement!

The Old Rectory in the Snow

We've had two falls of snow recently.  Proper snow, that is.  The first fell overnight on a Thursday.  Friday dawned silently.  The main road at the end of the garden was empty of traffic.  For some time, we were cut off.  Living at the top of a hill meant that there was no access from any direction.  It was peaceful and the snow was beautiful.  There is nothing as nice as being 'snowed in' when the house is warm, a fire is burning in the grate and the pantry is full of food.  And if it only lasts for a day.  We stayed inside with our gates firmly closed.

Our corbels were snow covered.  Which is not a phrase that you get to use everyday.

Our arbor had a cushion of snow.

It reached up to the window of S's study aka Mr Bennett's Library.  Mind you, the window is only six inches from the ground so perhaps not as spectacular as it looks.

And the house looked beautiful.  To my eyes, anyway.  The surveyor who came to check that the bathroom was in fact a bathroom thought otherwise.  But what would he know?

 The view from my study was like a black and white photograph.

But the the first hints of spring were undaunted.

MJW, 1925-2012

We moved in October and the plan was to move S's mum, M, at Christmas.  She would come for her usual visit but then stay on to become the third full time resident, with me and my mum.  S, of course, is weekending and the three kids come and go.  However, she fell on the Monday two weeks before Christmas.  Then again on the Tuesday.  S went up on the Thursday in the hope of bringing her back  that day.  However, she was in bed when he arrived.  He called in the medics and she was taken to hospital.  We thought that they would stabilise her and then we would work out how to get her back to the Old Rectory for Christmas.  But she didn't leave hospital, dying from a heart attack on Sunday evening.  The funeral was on Friday, 4th January.

It is a terrible loss.  We had such hopes that bringing her here would revitalise her.  That she would be interested in the house and garden.  That she would enjoy the company, me and my mum, along with our constant stream of visitors.  And it was taken as read that she would love seeing more of S.  Sadly, she never saw the house, although we showed her the hundred or so photographs that we took on our various visits when we were in the process of buying it.

Simon gave a wonderful eulogy at the funeral without notes yet amazingly fluent, reflecting on how she had been born in the Edwardian era and musing on the changes that she had witnessed throughout her life.  He talked about how accident prone she was, surviving a road traffic accident relatively unscathed, almost setting fire to herself and falling off a ladder to lose the sight in one of her eyes.  He talked about her stubborn independence and how she had managed to live by herself until the end.  She was so proud of him and would have been completely overcome at his words.

M had been alone for a long time.  She didn't see people that often, other than the occasional visits from her family.  Yet there was a real fun side to her.  With a drink or two inside me, there is nothing I like better than the Gypsy Kings and a bit of flamenco dancing.  I remember her 'pole-dancing' along with me one Christmas, clutching the bannister at the Horseblock, our previous home.  Like S, she lacked tact and diplomacy and would say the most outrageous things, the sort of things that you would think but not say.  Normally.  Funny things but not for repeating here for fear of causing offence.

I liked to make a fuss of her when she came to stay with us, making sure that the room was hotel standard, that she had a hot water bottle, tucking her up at night like a small child and waking her in the morning with a cup of tea.  I liked her and I think she liked me.

Although I was daunted at the thought of caring for two elderly ladies, I am devastated that I will not get the chance to try to make her life a little better.  The room at the back of the house with a window facing south and a window facing west, usually filled with light and looking out over the trees that are now budding with the hope of spring, this room will always be M's room in my mind.