LIME Cottage – A Year On

The Big Room at the start

The Big Room at the start

Almost exactly a year ago, a few weeks before I moved into the cottage, I wrote a post here about my lack of progress in getting contractors to do the necessary structural work on the place before I had to try living here.  It finished with these words:

Any remaining challenges are simply Life working out the way ‘I’ – at some level – have chosen to prove to myself that I can play this game and have this particular adventure.

How very true that was.  I decided it’s about time I commented on how the adventure is going, and what changes it has made to the aspect of myself who has spent the last year wallowing about in plaster, paint and tradesmen.

To give a little background here…  I was married for about 30 years to a man who was a consummate craftsman, able to turn his hand to any kind of carpentry, renovation and decorating project and complete it brilliantly.  In that respect, we made an excellent team: he did all the non-bendy stuff – wood, glass, brickwork etc. while I did the floppy stuff – curtains, soft furnishings and finishing touches.  We shared the painting and wallpapering.  So in short, I was no stranger to doing up oldish houses, but I’d never had any cause to use a hammer, chisel, screwdriver or power drill.

Living alone was pretty easy for the first few years.  When something needed doing in a rented house, I simply called the landlord’s agent and a jolly tradesman appeared within a day or two.

So how scared and inadequate did I feel about moving into a 350 year old wreck and only having enough money to pay for big, vital structural repairs, knowing that just about everything else was down to me?  Very, very, very to both.  I’m not exactly in my first flush of youth; I have the white hair and pensioner’s bus pass to prove it.  I had all sorts of excuses to back down, go on renting and have an easy life.

Would I have gone ahead if I’d known that I’d have to spend three months in the company of scaffolding, workmen and rats?

Probably.

You see there was this insistent little voice deep inside me that kept saying, “You’re up for this.  You can do things you’d no idea you could manage.  You have resources you have never tapped, and you’re going to feel SO good about yourself and LIME Cottage when you come out the other side.”

And you know what?  It was right.

The Big Room now

The Big Room now

In the last two weeks I’ve gone through 2.5 litres of wax floor finish, at least 8 litres of paint and used a hammer, chisel, screwdriver and power drill.  The ‘big room’ I barely set foot in for months, as it needed so much work, is now a guest room/ textile studio.  There’s still work to be done – ‘floppy stuff’, which includes reupholstering a teal velvet chesterfield sofa – but I’m confident that I’ll be able to do it.  Webbing, springs, hessian, various fillings and a cover: how hard can that be?

This is the new me talking – the one who has looked Impossible in the face many times over the last year, applied the LIME principle (Life Is Miracles Expected) and – by many of those miracles – made changes not just to my home, but to my Self.

Any remaining challenges are simply Life working out the way ‘I’ – at some level – have chosen to prove to myself that I can play this game and have this particular adventure.

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Lime Cottage’s garden goes large

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Watering my plants, aged 2

I’ve adored plants for as long as I can remember.  Walks with Grandma Grace on the Sussex Downs were always magical, as she told me the country names for the wild flowers we spotted.
“Those are Milkmaids, in their little bonnets,” she’d say, or, “That’s Jack-by-the-Hedge.  This is Bird’s Foot Trefoil.  See how the flower looks like a little sparrow’s foot?”

I found the names and the flowers equally enchanting.

When I was still too young to read, she bought me the Observer Book of Wild Flowers.
“I know it’s rather grown up for you,” she said. “But I thought you could tick the ones you see, very lightly with a pencil, until you’re bigger and you can read all about the flowers.”

I loved that book.  It went everywhere with me and spotting a new specimen was always a tremendous joy.

Grandma Grace is, naturally, long gone.  What fun she’d have in the garden of Lime Cottage, though, if she were able to visit.  There are some cultivated plants here, of course, but much of the colour and beauty is provided by the native species she loved so much.

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Yellow Loosestrife at Lime Cottage

The spring brings Bluebells and Herb Robert.  Forget-me-nots follow, then Yellow Flags, Foxgloves, Soapwort, Yellow and Purple Loosestrife along with sundry Cranesbills, Speedwells and Dead Nettles.

Most are welcome (Bindweed and Goosegrass less so) but just occasionally I’m thoroughly perplexed by some unfamiliar arrival.

This spring a very vigorous something began to entrench itself in the centre of a flowerbed.  I couldn’t decide whether it belonged on the compost heap or deserved a place in the garden, but since I was curious, I gave it a stay of execution and waited to see what it would be.

The leaves were soft and downy, their shape familiar, but I couldn’t recall seeing anything quite like this.  With the most amazing rapidity, the stem became a trunk and the plant was peering down at me from at least 8 feet in the air.  I’d never seen anything like it.  Even if I’d been able to hack through it, by now I had no intention of doing so.  It’s sheer rampant energy and determination had earned it a place in the garden.

Clusters of buds began to form.  Now these DID look familiar – I’d seen this species many times before, but only at a tiny fraction of the size.  The clusters of buds multiplied by the day – there must be several hundred now.  Each day, I’d hurry down to see if any had opened.  If this was what I thought it was, I would be in for a spectacular show.

Yesterday I finally got my reward.  This huge beauty was smiling down at me.

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Out came the Concise British Flora (the Observer Book having long since vanished) and I hunted for a species of mallow that grows like a triffid.  There it was – a Tree Mallow!  Apparently they’re very rare in England – only found occasionally on Cornish cliffs.  How it had found its way into my garden is a complete mystery.

It’s not perhaps as tidy as its cultivated cousins, and it has certainly laid claim to a huge patch of ground, but I’m delighted with my ‘tree’.  It flowers, the book tells me, from July to September, so it seems that I’ll have a flower-filled summer.

Being biennial, it will go out in a blaze of glory – leaving as suddenly as it arrived.  I have a feeling, though, that its offspring will return.

Wise, sometimes then, to wait before making a judgement.  So glad I did.

A Little More than a Like?

‘It’s Lucy’s birthday’ Facebook tells me.  It asks whether I’d like to send her a greeting.

Lucy was in one of my primary school classes long ago – the first of many classes of 10-11 year olds I taught.

An interesting age group, that.  Somewhere between child and adolescent.  Somewhere between being the big ones at little kids’ school and the little ones at big kids’ school.  Somewhere between being revolted and fascinated by the opposite sex.  Somewhere between trying to look cool and disaffected, and having an absolute thirst for knowledge.  Quite a challenge, all in all, but it was still my favourite age group, and Lucy’s class was – by and large – one of my favourite classes.

So I clicked the ‘Write on Lucy’s timeline’ button and discovered that she is now 24.  I sent a little message, wishing her a great birthday, and thought no more of it.  Later in the day, though, I found she’d replied.

“Thank you,” she said, “but it will never be the same as when you wrote it up on the whiteboard.”

Happy Birthday

For a moment I was puzzled.  Then I remembered.  Yes, I DID do that!  I used to keep a note of the birthdays of every child in my class.  Then, when their big day arrived, I’d go in before school and cover the classroom whiteboard with a large, multicoloured message, decorated with flowers, balloons or whatever I felt would appeal to that child.  The rest of the class would see it as they came in and all – even the ones who didn’t know that child particularly well – would wish them a happy birthday.  A lot like what Facebook now does, I suppose.

I was amazed that Lucy had remembered that simple act over a decade later, especially when I’d completely forgotten.

Life’s like that, though, isn’t it?  We do the simplest of things and sometimes – just sometimes – they can have an effect that will last and last.

Happy Birthday, Lucy!

The Flow of Language

Homilies d'Organyà: First manuscript in Catalan Language is slippery.   It drifts and eddies through time and space, toying gently with syntax and vocabulary. Scholars and leaders may try to tame and subjugate it, but language – the true living vulgar language of the people, the ‘langue des oisons’ – resists. No sooner is it caught and caged in learned texts, than it laughs gently and, like some mythical sorceress, shape-shifts before the eyes of its captors and flies free once more.

I live on an island, one whose shores were, for millennia, invaded and settled by tribes from North, South and East. Each left their marks upon our languages: Celtic and Gallic, Latin and Norman, Angle, Saxon and Norse. The river of language swallowed up or skirted around new words and concepts and flowed along regardless. When The Conqueror’s men, with swords and the mediaeval equivalent of clipboards, arrived to question their subjects about the places they newly owned, language was of limited use.   The rational Normans were categorists.   There had to be a name for everything.

“What is its name?” they would demand of locals, pointing, perhaps, at a river.

“River,” the bemused peasants would answer, for why should it need a name?

English: River Piddle Behind Affpuddle Church

River Piddle  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In their tongue, the word for river was ‘afon’.  Thus the unsuspecting Normans duly wrote ‘River River’ on their maps – and England is littered with River Avons. If there were two rivers close by, of course, it might have been useful for the locals to have some linguistic means of differentiating between them.   One might be fast-flowing, for example, while another less so. It takes little imagination, then, to understand why the River Piddle in Dorset is so named.

The fluidity of the vulgar language allows for local diversity.  Where I grew up, in the south east of the land, we’d trot along the twitten to school. My children, born in East Anglia, would have used a folly.  Elsewhere these are snickets, alleys, cuts, twitches and footpaths. This gives each area – each neighbourhood, even – a private way of conversing, one which excludes outsiders.   Doubtless there have been many times in the history of this land when the ability to chat thus,  beneath the radar of the highborn and oppressors with their Norman French, Latin or King’s/Queen’s English, has been of considerable value in preserving customs, secrets and even lives.

English: The Mediterranean Sea in Banyalbufar,...

A recent visit to the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea revealed a similar linguistic heritage.  Theirs too is a history of occupation and assimilation: the mysterious ‘Sea People’, Spanish, Moors, Romans, Knights Templar and others have come and gone.  The current place names are a glorious mix of Arabic, Spanish and, most commonly, the two native languages of the island – Catalan (the island’s official language) and Mallorquin.

I was unaware of the existence of this latter tongue until I arrived there.  When spoken, it sounds like no language I’ve ever heard, although there are elements of French and Spanish lurking within.  Mallorquin is truly a ‘vulgar’ language – a language of the people.  Its words and cadences vary from village to village, town to town.  It’s not a language of books and scripts, but of concealed local gossip, heritage, history and legend – belonging to and confined within the island.  Its fluidity and rusticity are its salvation.  Outsiders will shrug and leave it well alone.  That way, it will flow and flourish.