15 September 2008

this is where we live

This is the front door sign on our house in Penarth. It seems to make people smile – which is part of the idea behind placing it there.

On the garage door there is an iron frog which appears to cause much delight to children. A brilliantly florally clad Grandmother—taking her granddaughter to school—accosted Caroline as she took out the recycling bags. She asked whether we would be replacing the iron frog on the garage door – because her granddaughter loved seeing it on the way to school and was a little upset that it had disappeared. The iron frog had temporarily been removed in order that Doc could give it a coating of rust converter. The poor little girl was a little tearsome – but once Caroline had told her it would be back in a day she beamed a radiant smile.

It is extraordinary how it is often the small things a person does that have an effect on others. The little girl’s reaction made us consider how important it can be simply to smile at people in the street – or to wish someone a merry ‘Good Morrow’. The garage doors hide the family bicycles and an assortment of deck chairs, seaside buckets and spades, tools, tins of paint, and an ancient double porringer. Ours is a small Georgian house built in 1849 – the year of the California Gold Rush.

There’s a house next door that may or may not have been part of our house – or ours part of theirs. We can’t quite see how the arrangement would have worked – but that’s what people say. When we first moved in, an elderly lady down the street told us that our front room was a sweet shop 80 years go. That would be 90 years ago in 2008. That is why our front downstairs window has no moulding around it. The window was enlarged and lowered so as to make it possible to sell confectionary and ice-cream through the window. It’s splendid to know these things about our house and delightful; to remember that no matter how much at home we feel here – we are simply passing through. If you look carefully you may be able to discern Caroline looking though the front window. One day—when we’re dead—someone will wonder about the previous occupiers and how various things came to be. There are a set of three cupboard doors under the stairs.

There was only one door when we moved in and it led to a darksome hole full of dust and small scale rubble. Now there are three doors with illuminated interiors. The small door nearest the floor opens up the shoe cupboard. That is where Caroline keeps her paddock boots – and her ‘Lady Balmoral’ boots.

Doc regrets that Grenson never made a ‘Lord Balmoral’ but he is happy to have pair of brown Oxfords which are dimly visible in the shoe cupboard. They are over 20 years old now – but promise to outlive him.

The large cupboard contains the vacuum cleaner (known affectionately as J Edgar) and all manner of cleaning materials. The small upper door is an act of lunacy. It came into being because the only replacement door we could find for the old broom cupboard door was two inches too short. It was a lovely little door and we didn’t want to cut down a larger (and more expensive) one. This gave us the idea of building a cupboard into the topmost section under the stairs. No one in their right mind would create a cupboard into which the stairs intruded – but that is exactly what we did.

The inside is now sanded and waxed and provides us with a shoe-polishing necessities cupboard, with a set of brass hooks for polishing brushes neatly laid out along the angle of a stair. Someone is going to wonder how that came to be – and it is pleasant to think that some future occupier might be pleased by it.

Being part of history—even an invisible insubstantial part of history—is something we can offer the world. If we care for our home—if we expend effort with ingenuity and imagination, someone else will receive the benefit of it. That is a cheering thought. A home is not merely for its temporary inhabitants. We’re happy that Robert and Ræchel like their home. Robert likes all the wood and white paint. Someone asked us—very diplomatically—whether we realised that stripped wood and white paint were démodé. We smiled. Given 100 years it’ll be de rigueur again. Who knows, it might be high fashion before we die. We enjoy being in our home. It’s full of old family heirlooms. The carpets were inherited from Gisela Kastning, Doc’s German Godmother. She had a collection of carpets from Kurdistan and Turkistan which passed down to us on her sad demise last year. Gisela Kastning was a wonderful old lady who was an ardent walker right up into her 80s. The chairs come from both sides of the family. We even have some old chairs from Doc’s German grandparents. It is pleasant to think that they could pass down the generations. They will need work from time to time – but as long as no one decides fashion is more important than history they could last into the next century.

Here is a drawing by Ræchel. It is of Robert sitting in one of the old family armchairs. His strange leg arrangement depicts Robert with his legs crossed and if you imagine him in an armchair (not shown in the drawing) his leg arrangement becomes more-or-less evident. The colours on the line drawing were added with Photoshop at Raechel’s request. She selected the colours and Doc hit the ‘paintbucket’ on the selected area.

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