Round and Round and Back

Big is not always better

The house has benefitted hugely from its first dry year in possibly decades. Today the sun was out and proud, and – though I couldn’t feel my  fingers or toes – the house basked. Even the water in the cellar is drying out, thanks to the new roof

This house never complains. It doesn’t threaten or stamp its feet. There’s no drama, it is just chilled and calm and forgiving. I love this house

We had talked of moving the kitchen into part of the cave/garage to allow more space, but now we have decided to keep it where it is. We can keep the floor tiles, the floor to ceiling two-metre wide larder, the chimney breast with its bottle shelf and the cute sink/drainer in the corner. What we will have to lose is the quaint old coke-fuelled range, the horrid Formica cupboards and the frill (Sorry, I just cannot live with that frill)

A simple kitchen, but enough for us. And enough for the house

When I told our builder yesterday that I had changed my mind again, he said it was good that we’d taken time to decide how the house will work best for us. And that’s true, because the mind can run riot in a house like this – all the possibilities – but the ‘feel good’ factor is important too

And this feels right. For us and for the house



Room with a Temporary View

The sky may be grey rather than blue, but it’s still the sky

In the builders’ lunch area, two large paint pots and a board had been used to create a third seat at the Formica-topped table, and there were thermos flasks, bread, a frying pan and a camping gas stove. They may be the first people to sit down and eat a hot meal here in over forty years

That’s a wonderful thing, a landmark. Life is creeping back into the house


The removal of the roof began. It’s been windy and very cold but the guys really cracked on with removing the tiles. Almost all the original 17th Century beams are past saving and need to be replaced, which is disappointing, but an essential compromise toward stopping the decay in the rest of the house


Seeing the sky come into view (albeit a flat grey that even F and B would struggle to glamourise) through the open roof was a beautiful thing and it reassured me that anything is possible, that we will overcome whatever obstacles we face and rescue this house

But we need to earn some more money first 🙂



Formica – it had its place

I promise I will not normally post EVERY day, but this week is an exception.

Quillan is a town haunted by the loss of major industry – and amongst those in recent memory is Formica. Many people remember this particular product with horror, but one local lady is leading a crusade to collate memories of Formica from local people, and she was one of the lovely characters we met this weekend. When I told her that our kitchen table was made of Formica she asked me to send her some jottings, and I was surprised by how happy it made me to remember, and how clearly and easily it all came back. Indulge me:

Late 1960s in Southgate, London. Our kitchen table had a pale red Formica top with white flecks in it. It had a metal trim around the edge with various dents and scratches. We ate all our meals together around it unless we had guests, when we would be in the dining room next door. My mum sat at the end to my left and my place was next to my dad, opposite my brother. It was quite snug. My favourite meal was Sunday lunch, when I would help my mother to make sauces and desserts and she would serve up a plate of meat and dishes of vegetables along with my favourite part – roast potatoes. I was the youngest and I had my own smaller plate and set of cutlery but I had a huge appetite. My dad and I would share the last of the potatoes after everyone else was full and as a ritual after dessert I would sit on his lap, squeezing his arm muscles and practising joke-telling.

It was my favourite time of the week. The table top is etched on my subconscious as clearly as any other element of my childhood. Whenever I see a similar table it takes me back to this time, when I could cuddle up to my father whenever I wanted and when eating a big meal was something to be congratulated.

My dad worked at the London meat market and we would always wait for him to get home before we had dinner during the week. He would bring the cold into the kitchen with him after walking a mile and a half from the station, carrying bacon, lamb or gammon in a cardboard box tied with string for the next night’s meal. As soon as he had taken off his coat and kissed my mum I would call my brother and sister down for dinner and they would thunder down the stairs, starving. After dinner it was my job to clear the plates and push the chairs under the table.

My parents remodelled the house in the early 1970s, my older siblings became teenagers and mealtimes became less rigid. The table may have been used later by my brother in his bedroom, where he dismantled car and motorbike engines at weekends. I think he possibly took it with him when my parents moved away soon after 1980 and we all moved apart. I asked him the other day if he still has the table, but he doesn’t remember what happened to it.

While I realise that discussing the Formica table was only the catalyst for all this, I see how the dinner table was central to our family, and when I picture the colour and finish of the well-worn table top, it also brings back very exact visual pictures of the coloured napkin rings, which my mother still has, and the serviettes we used to have. I can actually feel the atmosphere and the steam in that kitchen, see the ginger tom who often sat at the sash window and our own black cat with her basket in the corner.  I can see the old grey and blue vinyl tiles on the floor, the floor to ceiling white painted units with the (1950s?) pull down sections and the coke-fuelled Aga. It is a sense of well-being and childhood that I rarely think of, and I am grateful for the unexpected meeting that led me to revisit that time