Do places have spirit?
I’m guessing most people would say they do. Why else would people travel vast distances to holy, ancient or just plain incredible places? Why else would sitting in the Chalice Well Gardens be so much more powerful than sitting in the cafe at Morrisons?
Right. Places have spirit.
So does LIME Cottage have spirit?
I believe it does. I felt it the first time I entered the empty, abandoned, run-down place last January. It felt gentle, calm, resigned but welcoming. I’m not talking here about ghosts or presences, but about the very structure of the cottage.
In the early days I spoke to it – the way others speak to cats or dogs. I wandered around touching the walls, sharing my plans and dreams for it. We were hopeful then, LIME Cottage and I. Naive, certainly, and crazily optimistic, but committed to rescuing it from years of decay and turning it back into a home.
Then the others came – pen-pushers first: bureaucrats with endless forms to fill in, permissions to be sought, conditions to be met. Hot on their heels came the workmen – builders, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters… an endless stream of ‘two sugars, love, if you’d be so kind’ and ‘that’ll be okay if we just squirt a bit of foam in there’ and ‘won’t be able to make it until Thursday at the earliest, sweetheart, but we’ll get it sorted’.
Their energy took over. Decisions were made and corners were cut and I tried – really I did – to keep up with the comings and goings, the contractors and sub-contractors and the changes they were making.
For three long months these people took over. Occasionally I mustered the strength to query decisions or ask for clarification, but the fraternity closed ranks and sniggered, assuring me they knew what they were doing, and that another cuppa’d go down a treat.
My spirit was all but broken.
What about the spirit of the place?
It bided its time but the trust between us was wearing thin. When the workmen had left at the end of the day I felt lonely and alienated – cast adrift in a building site that bore no relation to the cottage of my dreams.
Things finally came to a head when the shower-room light stopped working. It sounds so trivial, but it was the proverbial straw that broke the back of this camel. It came after mistakes by plumbers, the central heating breaking down, unfinished work by builders, the return of the loft rats and several other small but distressing events. I’d come back from my holiday ready for anything and within 48 hours I was broken.
Pushing aside the white flag of surrender, I asked for advice from three of the wisest sources I know – Higher Will and two fellow WordPress bloggers whom I’m now proud to call friends. All of them responded. The messages were as kind and as uncompromising as I’d hoped. I was helped to see the reasons behind the problems; the reasons I’d invited such difficulties into my life; the way to treat each problem as if I were playing a game of chess, and then – right out of the blue – shown by one of them that the cottage was not happy.
Like any other geriatric, a sudden deluge of changes imposed without permission made it grumpy and stubborn. It no longer trusted that I was working in its best interests. It did not like the workmen. The glossy new shower room with its sleek white and chrome finish was definitely a step too far. I was urged to speak to the building, explain, comfort and compromise.
So I did.
Gently I explained the big picture, pointed out my own needs and agreed to do something about the shower room. My penance (actually a very pleasurable one) involved spending two days trawling around antique shops, charity shops and everything between to find delicate, beautiful items that would soften the room and give it the charm and beauty it needed.
As if by magic, the light began to work again, the cottage felt loved and loving again and I set to work to solve the rest of the problems.
The workmen are just about finished now, the cottage has been returned to the warm terracotta it was once painted, with the ugly cow-pat brown covered over and I have an afternoon free to finish clay-painting that shower room.
LIME Cottage has a spirit built up over centuries of partnership with here-today-and-gone-tomorrow humans. No wonder it’s cautious and lacking in trust. It’s still standing, though – and so am I… thanks to wise friends and a determination to see this project through.