We bought this house nearly four years ago and whilst it was perfectly habitable it hadn’t been lavished with the love it requires. It’s not a particularly old house by British standards. It was built in the Victorian times around 1880 we think, for the local vicar. I wouldn’t call it a pretty house, but he is proud and handsome, solid with thick walls. I would love to see the original plans, for the bathrooms have been squeezed in, and new layers of pipework (and endless electrical cables) put on old. We had to remove some original old lead piping from the family bathroom which had just been plastered over, leaving it more of a curve than a corner. In summer it is cool. In winter it is freezing. In strong winds it is stoic and immovable. In rain or melting snow, it is occasionally permeable.
Yesterday the spring clean took on a new meaning as I climbed out of the loft room window and onto the narrow flat valley between our two pitched roofs in the rain (and once again in my slippers) as the light grew dim and gloomy. I pulled up the weeds which had set in amongst all the moss. They were preventing the water from draining away as it should. I know this house and if I had left them you can be sure that before long there would be another leak appearing. We have had three or four leaks in the past year all in rooms I had just finished decorating, not all weather related, (a previous tradesman or owner had nailed a floorboard down directly above a pipe and the intervening years of tread had slowly dinked away between nail and pipe, until corrosion and weight had opened a small hole in the heating pipe, of which we were unaware until the water poured through the ceiling of the snug) but you can understand my paranoia. I sometimes wonder if this house hates me, and I don’t entirely trust it. For a while when it rained I used to run round the outside of the house to see which bits of the old Victorian guttering were blocked and overflowing. I spent one afternoon with my dad clearing out a downpipe and associated drain. The rain would cascade down the wall instead of the pipe and was causing damp in the snug. Arms reaching along to pull out the accumulated muck and mud and the roots from an out-of-control-honeysuckle.
But slowly, we are fixing the leaks, we will fix the roof this summer, we are clearing the gutters. Slowly we are loving it back to life. (We now have all the kit, if you need any recommendations or hints and tips.) And slowly, with every little repair and update, we keep the old man going for the next generation – for that’s how I see it, we’re merely custodians for a brief time before it’s someone else’s turn. And for a nearly 140 year old, he’s not looking too shabby.