Dragons and Rats and Realities

Right.  This is complicated.  Before I start, there are a few bits of background you’ll need:

  • For those who don’t know, I spend a fair bit of my time making steampunk miniatures.  Recently I have been making ‘time dragons’ – an ecclectic mix of papier maché, modelling clay, old watch parts, intention and creativity.
  • Steampunk, for those not familiar with the term, is an imaginary retro-futuristic existence, something like the sci-fi worlds created by HG Wells and Jules Verne.
  • As well as this, my metaphysical pondering blog, I also write one called Steampunk-Shrunk, which contains whimsical back stories about the models I make.
  • Finally, you need to know that I live in an end terrace cottage and my neighbour has recently had a problem with rats in her loft, so her landlord called in pest control.

OK.  Now for what happened.  I’ll try to put it in chronological order, but I suspect time is somehow absent from parts of it.

As I said, I’d made these strange model dragons.  It was fun.  I then wrote a rather dark little story about them to publish on my other blog.  It said that they formed out of the rubbish that collects in corners and crannies of steampunk inventors’ workshops, coalesced into living creatures and flew away to inhabit caves in an undiscovered canyon, where they had started to breed.  (If anyone wants to check the story, it’s here, but there’s no need to unless you’re so inclined.)

The following day, the pest control man came.  I heard him chatting to my neighbour in our shared entrance hall, heard him head upstairs and wished he could have been some magical pied piper … but rats are rats.  I’d had them in my roof a few years back, heard them gnawing purposefully at who-knows-what and although there is a fire wall up there between the two lofts, I’d recently heard the occasional brief scuttle above my bedroom, so I wasn’t sorry to hear that they were being dealt with.

That night I went to bed.  I’d been going through one of my frequent spells of insomnia, so was not really surprised to find I was still awake at 3.10 in the morning.  Having looked at the clock, I sighed, turned over yet again, and tried to lie still.

Then quite suddenly I found myself sitting on my sofa downstairs.  I was surprised, mainly, and disorientated.  What was I doing here?  How had I got here?  Was it real?  I checked the sofa.  Yes, definitely mine.  The colours of the fabric were the same, I could feel the cushions against my body.  This still surprised me.  I couldn’t work out what had happened to propel me here.  My coffee table was just in front of me, in its accustomed position, yet something was wrong.  I felt – I honestly did – as if I’d entered some place that was and yet wasn’t in my home.

The room was fairly dark; not (now I think about it) as dark as it should have been in the middle of the night, but there was a dimness about the whole place, as if space acted slightly differently here.  The rest of the room should have been visible, but I was only aware of this one area.  And yes, there was a difference – my model time dragons were under the corner of the coffee table, which is definitely not where I had put them.

As soon as I became aware of the dragons, I noticed that they were moving.  That was WRONG.  Now I was genuinely scared.  They were making a scuffling sound and suddenly, as if at some unseen signal, they erupted into the room, scuttling and flying outwards and upwards in all directions.

Cute, Rodent, Mouse, Small, AnimalImmediately I was back in my bed, eyes wide, heart pumping and body shaking.  A split second later, in the loft space above my head, there was a stampede of rats.  There must have been at least five or six of them.  I heard them race across from one side to the other.  Then silence again.

 

So what was that all about?

Yes, the most ‘rational’ explanation is that I’d finally fallen asleep for a few moments and the scuffling of the rats had woken me.  In my dream state their noise had become the noise of my dragons taking flight.  I’d then heard the rats running.

A few things didn’t fit, though.  Why was I so disorientated if I was dreaming?  We normally accept whatever reality we encounter in dreams quite comfortably.  Even before I noticed those dragons (and yes, as it happens they are roughly rat-sized) I felt uncomfortable, as if I’d strayed into one of those many-worlds/ alternate realities.

So now I’m left wondering.  Was it ‘just a dream’ or had I strayed – or been taken – into some alternate world where my ‘words became flesh’, so to speak?  Is there a reality out there now, in amongst all that strange dark matter, where my little dragons have indeed taken on an existence of their own?  Did I pay that world a fleeting visit, just to discover how ‘creative’ I really am?  Did (as my guides are suggesting) the same psychological trigger event occur in both worlds, causing the time dragons and poisoned rats to erupt into a frenzied movement at the same moment?

The time dragons here are quite inanimate now and so too, it seems, are the rats in the loft.  Strange, though, and interesting to ponder…

 

Home?

Box, Sheet, Saying, StorageHere I am then.  Back in the strange little 17th century stone cottage I own in beautiful Somerset.

At least, my body is.  My possessions are here too – many still waiting to be unpacked as I try to remember where on earth I used to keep them.  The rest of me, though, hasn’t quite landed yet.

These two lives I’ve been living this year are so utterly different.  When I moved to the East, I had to adjust instantly; there was so much to do.  Here, there is no urgency.  The days are not planned for me.  I don’t need to be in specific places at specific times.  I don’t have a list of tasks with completion dates.  I just have Life – and I can choose how frenetic or leisurely to make it.

Then there’s the space.  My house is tiny by most people’s standards, but after seven months of single-room living I’m finding it strange to have a separate room for almost every activity.  It feels almost decadent.  I will readjust, but I haven’t yet.

Oh and the people!  I am a solitary soul by nature – quite happy with my own company.  Living alone suits me well and there were many occasions when, at the end of a frantic day with the grandchildren, I could shut myself into the little studio flat and unwind.  They were always nearby, though, and while I didn’t see them every day, there were never more than two or three days without company.  Here there are friends, and no doubt I’ll see all of them soon – when the missing bits of me have landed…

So what is it that is really bugging me?

Home.  That’s what.

‘Home is where your heart is’, so they say.  Trouble is, my heart is one of the bits of me that hasn’t landed yet.  It’s scattered in several different places.

You see, the town I’ve been living in for the last half-year is the town I called home for over thirty years.  It’s where I gave birth to and raised my three children, where I taught hundreds of others, where I forged all the most significant relationships in my life.  It’s also the place I ran from when my job and my marriage and my wellbeing became so compromised that I knew I needed a new start.

I ended up here, convinced that I’d found what I grandly called my ‘spiritual home’.  Glastonbury is a powerful place.  People say it chooses you, rather than the other way about.  Certainly, over the ten years I’ve lived here, I’ve seen many arrive with plans to make changes and give the place what they decide it needs.  Within six months, they are scuttling off, tails between their legs.  Glastonbury chews that sort up and spits them out.  Me?  Oh, it tolerates me well enough.  It shares it’s history and beauty and energy with me.  It accepts that I refuse to join any of its tribes (Pagans, Sufis, Goddesses, Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans, Alternatives etc.) and quietly plough my own furrow, but it doesn’t welcome me into the fold.

In the East, there are tribes, too, of course – the famed ‘Essex girls’ with their madly manicured nails, immaculately tinted hair, fake tans and glitzy fashion; the overweight mothers, bulging out of skin-tight lycra and screaming obscenities into their phones or at their children; the young men with smart suits and fast cars, chattering into their bluetooth headsets as they scurry hither and thither, and the cheery but dreary housewives, who have always lived there and always will, and thank providence for their uneventful lives.  I feel a stranger amongst them, too.

I often wonder if there’s a place where I’d fit – where my tribe can be found.  Certainly there are places I’m drawn to – places whose beauty leaves me gasping, and this is certainly one of them.  Is that a sufficient reason to stay here?

Well, why not?

After all, if this strange year has taught me anything, it’s that my body and my possessions will happily settle anywhere.  Maybe my heart and soul just need to float for a while longer…

 

 

 

 

Lime Cottage Update

Living room - then

Living room – then

A few words of explanation to those who are new to Janonlife and haven’t been following the LIME story…

Last year I took a huge step into the unknown and bought an empty, ruined shell of a place – against the advice of many, I might add – because, despite the collapsed ceiling, the cracks in the walls, the leaking roof and the rats, it felt like home in some strange way.

Owning an ancient cottage had always been a distant dream, although I have to admit, my reveries had revolved around buildings with a little more superficial charm than this one at first presented.  It was an ugly dung brown colour with peeling paintwork and an unpleasant 1950s extension at the back.  A neglectful landlord had literally left it to rot over many years.

The first six months of 2014 were taken up with structural surveyors, planning officers, solicitors and insurers.  Not fun.

Living room - now

Living room – now

The next three months revolved around electricians, carpenters, plumbers and builders.  The cottage was encased in scaffolding; the garden was lost under ever-expanding piles of builders’ rubbish and I was hiding somewhere inside amongst the dark and dust. Drilling, hammering and inane banter on tinny radios had become the backdrop to my everyday life.

I’m not pretending it wasn’t stressful and difficult, but I was kept together by the kindness of others and the endless synchronicities and small miracles that took place.  I adopted the belief that Life Is Miracles Expected, which is how the cottage earned its name.  I found that I needed only to focus on a desired outcome to any situation, and the resolution would be perfect.  The cottage’s main gift to me has been to enable me to see the whole of LIFE that way.

In mid autumn, the workmen drifted away and the cottage and I finally had the chance to bond.

“Well, at least you’ve got a blank canvas,” a friend remarked grimly, when he looked around.  True.   I’d never tackled solo decorating before, but having started on the tiny pantry and been pleased and surprised with the result, my confidence started to grow and I moved on to work on whole rooms.

The kitchen - then

The kitchen – then

I know my limits, and have a loyal, friendly band of workmen/handymen to draw on when a task is beyond me, but those limits of mine have grown fewer as I’ve mastered new skills.

When a man arrived yesterday to dismantle and freecycle an unwanted wardrobe, I was able to offer him the use of my power screwdriver.
“That’s a tidy little piece of kit,” he told me, as he finished.
Certainly is!

The kitchen - now

The kitchen – now

Even drilling holes in the 350 year old stone walls no longer holds fears for me (well not many, anyhow).

This week a specialist lime plasterer is coming to give the upstairs walls a new spring coat in traditional style.  Then I’ll be back to the paint catalogues, vintage furniture boutiques and charity shops to begin the next stage.

I suspect it will be never-ending.  I hope so, because despite the costs and the effort involved, I’m loving the creative process of renovating Lime Cottage, and I feel that the cottage is enjoying it too.

Spirit of Place

Do places have spirit?

English: Chalice Well Gardens

English: Chalice Well Gardens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

2014-10-25 22.53.00Gently 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 ch2014-10-25 22.52.25arm 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.

 

 

 

Bonding with LIME

Vintage lace and St Michael window

Vintage lace and St Michael window

Back to LIME Cottage this week.  Regular readers will notice that I’ve gone a bit quiet on it since moving in, so it’s time for an update.

For those of you who have stumbled across this blog without the previous build-up, I’ve recently moved into a derelict 17th century cottage in the heart of Somerset.  As I went through the buying and moving process, just about everything I needed fell into place, allowing me to adopt the maxim that Life Is Miracles Expected.  Hence the cottage’s name.

For the first week or two, camping out in the cracked and leaking shell of what was due to be my dream home felt exciting and intriguing.  It was hot and dry, high summer, and the living was easy.

Then the rains came.  The sky became dark and overcast for days on end.  The drip of raindrops into the buckets under the leaks started to get on my nerves.

Finally the scaffolders arrived.  They were jolly fellows.  They passed the time having Who-Can-Shout-The-Loudest contests and providing How-To-Clank-Bits-Of-Metal-Really-Noisily demonstrations to anyone in the vicinity.  I provided rather more cups of tea than necessary in order to gain short bursts of calm.

With the scaffolding up, the house was incredibly dark and the rain continued, so the builder still couldn’t start.

cottage scaffoldingI felt isolated, vulnerable and uneasy, rattling around by myself inside what was to be a building site.  My dream home was beginning to feel uncomfortable, unfriendly and threatening.

It was then that I decided to check on the Listed Building Consent application I’d put in, back in the spring, to have the various works done.  The roof repairs were exempt from this, but the vital re-pointing of the chimney, repairs to cracks in the walls and so forth were all on hold until the permission was released.

To my horror I was told the consent would be ‘conditional’ on the admin people receiving the answers to a huge list of technical queries. (What mix of lime would be used for the plastering?  How was the old paintwork on the stone windows to be cleaned?  What type of breathable insulation would be used?  and so on, to cover an entire A4 sheet.)

It appeared I would have to request an extension (another month) to sort this out.  The other alternative was to accept the conditional consent, give them the information at my leisure and wait a further six to eight weeks for them to spend more time considering.

Not happy.

I tried  frantic emails and phone calls to the knight in shining armour who had promised (and been paid) to take me through this process.  He was nowhere to be found.  Headed off on some hunt for a holy grail on a sun-soaked beach somewhere at my expense, no doubt.

So as the rats tripped the light fantastic on the scaffolding outside my bedroom, I lay awake at 3 in the morning feeling more than a little sorry for myself.  This was supposed to be my miracle cottage.  How could my dream have unravelled so completely?  Why was everything going so wrong?

Why…

Hang on…

Realisation was beginning to dawn…

Why was I inviting this experience into my life?

Expect a miracle!

Expect a miracle!

Finally the RIGHT question!

I realised that somewhere along the line, not only had I stopped expecting miracles, I had started to expect delays and problems.

The next morning I took a good, long look around my cottage.  “You’ve been neglected and left for way too long,” I told it .  “You deserve some love and attention.  We’re going to get this sorted, now!”

I could feel the energy changing as I bonded with my cottage and began to believe that together we could create another miracle.  On Tuesday, I invited the conservation officer and the builder to sit around a table with me to sort out all remaining problems.  Before they arrived, I put out the intention that each of us would be working to resolve any difficulties and provide solutions.  Even before they appeared, I knew, without any doubt, that everything would be sorted that day.

And so it was.  Both of them arrived with ideas and suggestions.  Agreements were easy and everything was sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction.  I had the go-ahead for all structural works to begin and the next day the builders were there bright and early.

cottage ceiling patchedThe hole in my ceiling had been given a temporary rat-proof patch and a good start made on stripping the roof by lunchtime.

More proof – should any still be needed – that we really do create our own reality.

 

The many-headed monster at the end of the level

Bad dream

Somewhere recently – can’t remember where, exactly – I read something to the effect that if your deepest dream comes true, that can turn into your greatest nightmare, because suddenly there’s no hiding place.

How very true that is.

There’s nothing quite as scary as getting exactly what you asked for!

Why is that?  Maybe because there’s no one and nothing to resent or blame, no excuses, no ‘if onlys’ to hide behind.  There is just this exciting but terrifying knowledge that NOTHING is holding you back, and you’re free to fulfil your dreams.

That’s about where I was for the past week or so. Having got past the euphoria of realising that my dream of owning an ancient English cottage with a garden in a beautiful town was coming true,  I descended deep in the mire of conveyancers and planning authorities and environmental searches.

That’s not to say it won’t all turn out fine in the end.  It will.  I know that.  It’s just that right at that moment, everything felt stressful and difficult and frightening and there were nasty little snags and problems sticking up all over the place.

The knee-jerk reaction was to hunt around for someone to blame, but I knew I could do better than that.

The next (slightly more mature?) step was to ask why all these problems were being dropped in my path.

Once I asked the right question, the answer appeared instantly.  In fact, I’d written it myself in my book LIFE: A PLAYER’S GUIDE.  I remembered the analogy I’d used of life being like a role-player video game, set up quite intentionally by our higher – or god – self in order to gain experience (EXP as it’s known to gamers).  Here’s the extract I was drawn to:

Be on the lookout for times when the odds seem truly stacked against you.

I’m reminded of a computer game my sons used to play some years ago.  They would move through each level, ducking and diving and successfully zapping all the little problems that came their way.  Suddenly, they’d turn a corner and some huge, many-headed monster would be blocking the path in front of them, breathing fire and attacking on all fronts.  None of their weapons or manoeuvres seemed to have any effect on this creature.  Laser rays bounced off it; firebombs fizzled and died.  It seemed quite invincible.  It always amazed me that they kept going, doggedly using the same – apparently useless – arsenal of weapons and refusing to give up.  Their energy levels were fading and all seemed lost until, quite suddenly, they won through.  The creature was finally weakened and vanished in a great explosion and they moved on to the next level.

Rejuvenate

In the Virtual Game, the ‘end-of-level monster’ is often many-headed.  Friends you’ve always relied on seem unaccountably inaccessible; aspects of life that have served you well suddenly turn and challenge you; finances that have seemed stable and predictable rear up and attack.  You find yourself floundering out of your depth and with no apparent support.  Just as you begin throwing up your hands in horror and wondering what life is going to hurl at you next, stop and remember what you’ve read here.  Recognise this for what it is.  You/God have brought yourself to a huge end-of-level crisis to test whether you have the skills and resolve to get through it.  You do.  You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t already gained all the necessary tools and EXP to defeat the monster.  All you have to do is to keep on working through each problem – slicing off each of the creature’s heads – in the certain knowledge that if you keep at it, you will win through to the next level.

So here I stand, buoyed up by the advice I wrote then – so that I could rediscover it now – and ready to deal with each new problem as it arises.

Sooner or later, the many heads will all be gone and the final few fears will have receded.  Yes, it’s frightening to get exactly what you’d dreamed of, but it’s also profoundly invigorating.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

If you could do with a bit of help with the Game called Life we are all playing, take a look through LIFE: A PLAYER’S GUIDE by Jan Stone, if you haven’t already.  It’s available from Amazon throughout the world or to order from your local bookshop.

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Of rusty keys, unicorns and leaky roofs

Keys

Keys (Photo credit: glen edelson)

I didn’t even intend to enter the antique shop, but it was freezing cold, my companion was going in and I didn’t fancy standing outside.  We browsed for a while.  She bought nothing.     I bought a large, rusty key that somehow took my fancy.

“Now you just need the house to go with it,” she grinned.
“Fat chance,” I remember saying.
Unable to lay my hands on my capital (family stuff) I’ve been renting a pleasant enough little terraced house with a tiny courtyard and waiting, and dreaming.

Then – about a month later – I saw the picture.

Grade 2 listed 17th century cottage with stone mullion windows and a long garden right here in my town, at a suspiciously low price – one that, if I could lay my hands on my money, would just be within my reach.

I felt ridiculously excited.

Obviously, though, there were drawbacks.  Even the softly lit, flattering estate agent’s photos made it clear that not all was perfect.

‘In need of modernisation’ it said.  Well yes, that and major roof repairs, getting rid of the large gaping hole in an upstairs ceiling, damp issues, ill-fitting single-glazed windows, no doors that lock without extreme physical force being applied – or even open and close properly – and we’re getting closer.

So did that lot put me off?

Nope.

I couldn’t figure out why not.  So I chatted it over with a friend.  Telling her the story, I got to the point where the photo in the estate agent’s window had grabbed my attention.  The words, “and I knew it was my cottage” came out of my mouth.  I hadn’t consciously put them there.

Kew Gardens

At the same moment, I had a flashback to an event that had taken place several years before.  I’d been participating in a group meditation.  The leader had suggested we find our power animals.  I saw myself standing in a garden.  It was in a part of my town I had often passed through, but never stopped in.  As I stood there, a unicorn walked slowly towards me and I felt perfect peace and happiness.

As you’ve probably guessed, the location of this vision was exactly where the cottage is situated.

Now everything started to make sense to me.  This really was – in some strange, metaphysical way – my cottage.

The strangest things started to happen.  Every time I hit a problem, the solution appeared.

My money – tied up and unreachable for five years – suddenly was available.

My fears about planning restrictions on listed buildings were allayed by a quick call to the local conservation officers.  Not only did they patiently chat through the issues by phone – one of them is coming out to walk through the cottage with me and talk me through the options.

I seem to have found the most thorough and helpful surveyor in the county.

Even when I put out the thought that it would be helpful to talk to someone who knows that part of town and the neighbours well, the Universe delivered.  From out of nowhere, someone I hadn’t seen for a couple of years wandered up to me in the High Street and told me all I needed to know.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said, “Ideally, I’d like…” and received exactly that.

Magic.

Early days, but I’m staying  in the flow…

Ideally I’d like the surveyor’s report to highlight all the problems, but not find anything too structural that needs repairs beyond my rather limited means.

Ideally I’d like the conservation officer to tell me I can put in an upstairs bathroom and make the other changes I dream of.

Ideally I’d like the vendor to accept my offer, so that I’ll have enough left for the ‘modernisations’.

Ideally I’d like to find friendly, reliable local builders and craftsmen with traditional skills who could put this poor, neglected cottage back together.

Ideally, I’d love to be the custodian of an ancient cottage that feels warm, snug and comfortable, with a pretty and productive garden, by this time next year.

I’m more than happy to share it with a unicorn, and I bet the key will fit somewhere!

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