Stone Mullions

2014-02-28 11.01.26A lovely word – mullions – don’t you think? And the sheer romance of having stone mullions (window frames) was one of the factors that induced me to buy LIME Cottage.

Of course they’d been painted and were yellowing and peeling when I first saw the house, but my meticulous builder and his lads cleaned the outside windows back to the original stonework, even going to the local quarry at Doulting (from where the original stone came, all those centuries ago) and bringing back stone dust to mix with the filler for any cracks that needed repair.

The results were fantastic.  I was delighted.

IMG_20150708_100309Then I began decorating the upstairs front room.  Without a thought I started removing the flaking paint on the window frame, expecting to sand it down and paint over it.  That was when I discovered that with minimal effort, I was revealing the stone on the inside too.

Exciting!

I beavered away with the paint scraper – some parts were easier than others, and had soon exposed a decent sized chunk of stone.

My Man Monday arrived the next day.  LIME Cottage and I like our Man Monday.  He’s a wonderful, intuitive odd-job man who adores old buildings and knows exactly how to treat them.  He comes on Mondays because that’s his day off from running his organic wholefood restaurant.  He was as thrilled as I was to see the stonework and agreed that it had to be cleared.  He showed me how to use various parts of a chisel to remove the paint and buff up the surface.  IMG_20150708_100316A YouTube video taught me how to re-putty the glass (surprisingly easy and fun – like playing with Plasticine) and I was happy.

I suspect the stone had remained untouched for centuries.  Then someone – probably in the 1950s, judging by the materials used, had skimmed a layer of plaster over the stone and covered it with a thick golden lacquer of some sort.  I remember the front door of my parents’ new-build house, in 1956, being covered with this same material, and my father’s deep delight and pride at having this new state-of-the-art finish applied to it.  Maybe whoever was the cottage’s custodian back in those days was equally proud of their work.

The next layer – in the sixties perhaps – was a very pretty pale turquoise – just the colour I probably would have chosen myself, had the mullions not decided it was their time to breathe again.  A few coats of ‘brilliant white’ gloss topped things off, but sun and many years of neglect had worked their magic, providing cracks and crannies for my chisel to get a hold.

IMG_20150711_172246I’ve left flecks of the earlier coats here and there.  They are, after all, part of the cottage’s rich history, as are the dents and chips in the stone.

Sometime in the future, no doubt someone will decide to cover the stone again, with some new technological breakthrough.  That’s fine, and as it should be.  History doesn’t stop.  The cottage will do as it’s always done, adapt and change with the ages.

The stone mullions will continue to look out on the road below, The camper vans and hatchbacks, delivery lorries and tankers, tourists and neo-pagans added to their store of memories.

I love to imagine black-clad puritans and straw-chewing ploughmen passing beneath them; earnest men with pitchforks and muskets rallying to Monmouth’s rebellion; gents in curly wigs, smoking long clay pipes; ladies in lace and sprigged muslin frocks; farm carts and haywains; ponies and traps; horse-drawn coaches filled with journeying Victorians, keen to view the Abbey’s ruins; Dion Fortune and her retinue heading to secret ceremonies at her house, just down the road; eager young farm boys hurrying to sign up to fight in the Great War; heartbroken parents heading to church to mourn for them; hippies with flowers in their hair off to climb the Tor…

My beautiful stone mullion windows have seen all that and more, and caked as I am in stone dust and lead paint chippings, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my intimate encounter with their story.

 

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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.

 

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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