Sunday 22 December 2013

Good Reasons for Optimism

It’s the shortest day of the year; Christmas and New Year are just around the corner and, from here on, we get a little more daylight each day. A new year, new veg growing in the potager and a boat to launch in spring (if I get the renovation done in time), and as a bonus, I have been asked to undertake a twenty day project for my old employer, so there will be a little extra in the budget – reasons to be optimistic? You bet – especially when I look back in my diary to this time last year.

The plan had been a three phase development of this little cottage and barn. The first phase was a new-build extension on the ground floor to the north with a new kitchen installed.  Phase two should have been a refurbishment of the existing ground floor, removal of old kitchen, installation of a new log-burner, a new tiled floor with under-floor heating, new dry-lining and an insulated ceiling between the beams. The third phase would have been a conversion of the barn into a workshop and utility room on the ground floor and a play-room above. When I say play-room I mean a place were we can make our music, do our art, and hang out with friends – maybe put a pinball machine and an old juke-box in there just for fun.

Well plans don’t always work out quite as expected. Halfway through the building of the Kitchen, the builder advised that it would be a bad idea to complete phase one until all the dirty work of phase two was completed. The problem was that the only viable access to the living room would be via the new extension – better to rip out the floor and dry-lining and get the liquid concrete into the living room now, before the extension is finished otherwise we would have been dragging concrete and rubble through the new kitchen. ‘Oh and by the way’ he added, ‘if you want power, water and drains into the barn, we need to dig those channels before we lay these new floors’.
So phases one two and three became one single effort to sort the ground floor of the entire property. It also
meant that stuff had to be ripped out before new stuff could be installed. By this time last year we had a home with no floors, no kitchen, bare stone walls, no doors, no running water, except for a standpipe outside, no sink and only one working electric socket. Everything was covered in plaster dust and we were surviving in one upstairs room.

At such times you realise how important friends can be – and, given that we had only lived here six months at that time, it serves as a strong reminder that people are naturally friendly and helpful. We were offered free accommodation in several homes and camping cars – and we had a different invitation for every meal and celebration through the holiday period. We even managed to throw a party ourselves using space heaters and a cooker that we took off the boat. I have no idea how we stayed so cheerful that winter but I’m pretty sure it had much to do with the warmth and friendliness of people who live in this neck of the woods – Is it like this anywhere or is there something special about this place and its people?

Well you might know better than me – I haven’t travelled outside of Europe but I suspect there is something quite special about people here. It’s a village that has traditionally made its living from the sea. The men signed up for long and dangerous voyages to Newfoundland – fishing for cod. The women were left to grub what living they could on the parcels of land they managed to buy or inherit. They would naturally support each other during the long months of the cod fishing season. The men, as seafarers, were cosmopolitan and broad in their outlook and they were used to getting on with people in the close confines of their vessels – in effect they were all in the same boat – and that culture of mutual support and openness still seems to characterise people here.

It extends even to people like us – newcomers.  People make places, and collectively they make the
‘culture’. We were lucky to land among a group of friends who could tolerate and even enjoy the differences between us. Some people I know parachute into an unfamiliar community simply because real estate prices are particularly good or the scenery captures them. I wonder how they are received and how they make out. Ah well, Happy New Year everyone


No comments:

Post a Comment