Faulty Towers is meant to be our 'forever' house. We saw this house and dreamt of creating a wonderful home, filled with laughter and lots of children. We bought it on a whim. We weren’t planning to move, our own house wasn't even on the market. Within a couple of weeks it was, a week later it was under offer and we were in the race to buy a dilapidated old wreck, the phrase 'carpe diem' cursing through us from vein to brain.
A year on, we're coming up to our first anniversary in residence, and I look back and wonder if we were seized by madness for the month of November last year. The obvious plus points of the house were the size and scale compared to our old house, the size of the garden, the 'location, location, location', and the fact that we could afford it. The small matter of there being 47 steps from the bottom of the house to the top, and the fact the ground floor was on three different levels, was of no consequence. And therein lay the compromise - buy complete topsy-turvy wreck of house to do up ourselves, which otherwise we would never have been able to afford.
As potential purchasers, we did not appreciate the enormity of the challenge before us. Sometimes I wonder what the hell we were thinking. Big Daddy's DIY skills are pretty much limited to banging a nail in the wall to hang a picture. I can daub the odd bit of emulsion on the walls, but am not known for my skill at 'cutting in'. On our first night here we sat on the steps leading down to the kitchen with a bottle of wine, drunk and in silent shock. What had we done? I honestly thought I might cry.
In the following days, the neighbours made themselves known, or eyed us up from a distance, with smiling, sympathetic eyes. Silently I felt that they were mocking; 'You fools’, although they seemed happy enough that someone had taken on the challenge. Others were kinder, 'It needs someone young and with the energy to spend time on it.' Young? Full of energy? Oh dear, I hadn't realised they were prerequisites for a renovation project. A friend popped by to see our new abode and described it as a ‘beast of a house’. A beast? I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but a year on it seems that there was some truth in her comment, it is a bit of a beast. On occasion, I do feel like this old place is pulling and tearing at me. It’s almost as though it doesn’t want to be bought back to life.
The place in which you live can affect your state of mind. I had never really thought about this or experienced it, until living here. One day, I hope this house will be everything we have dreamed of, but sometimes, living with it as it is now, challenges my sanity and gives me the black dog. Pretty much everything here is broken, in bad repair and needs to be restored or replaced. The entire back of the building needs to be pulled off and rebuilt. It needs a new roof, the floor levels need to be changed (a ground floor on three different levels is ridiculous.) And then there’s the new ceilings, new floors, new skirting boards, new windows, new plumbing, new electrics. Yes, new everything. The outside façade will stay the same, but everything else will either be restored or replaced, including the dry rot, woodworm and damp.
We haven’t started any of the work that needs to be done yet, all we’ve done this past year is complete the necessary red tape. Finally, this week, after months and months of delays, the council approved our planning application, and the local conservation society finally got down off their high horse about the design of the front fence and gave their seal of approval too. A long time coming, but we finally have a reason to celebrate.
Sometimes it does feel like we are camping in our own house. Has it felt like home this last year? What makes a home anyway? Not flashy fixtures or fittings. Not the latest trends in wallpaper or interior design. For me, home is a secure, private place where we can all be together, happily and safely. It’s a place for us to laugh, to cry, to play, to eat together, to talk together, to make music, to share memories. A place where, when we lay our heads on the pillow at night, we all sleep easy, a place we’d rather be than anywhere else. But it still takes time to feel at ease somewhere, to feel this way about a place. That it’s your place, that it is more than just a house, that it is a home.
I think we’re getting there. We've put paid to the mice - courtesy of the council's last supper. I've stopped thinking that the painted birds in the stained glass windows are quite as evil as I did. And I can actually be in the house on my own with Pip for the night, without feeling scared. The cellar; damp, dark, and still full of the previous occupants unwanted furniture, still freaks me out, but Little Pip's affectionate moniker of 'The Gruffalo's Cave' has made it seem less scary. The heating also seems to work most of the time now and I have found that walking up and down the many stairs day to day is great for building calf muscle strength. I would however, love it, if the moths could all bugger off. Yesterday I found the gorgeous slipper socks I got for Christmas last year, with the soles completely eaten away. Likewise, I wish we could identify where the wasp’s nest is; the odd sleepy wasp crawling about is rather perilous when walking around in bare feet in the middle of the night.
In the new year we will start work on our grand design. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to making the house look festive, I might even paint the lounge wall a bright jolly red colour. Garish? Who cares? It’s going to be knocked down anyway. I’m looking forward to hanging Little Pip’s stocking on the big old fireplace and explaining to him, that on Christmas morning Santa will have come, and if he has been a good boy, he’ll find some presents in it. And I’m also silently hoping, that this time next year I might be able to hang another stocking on the fireplace, because now we’re here, this old house really does seem rather large for just the three of us to rattle round in. But, if not, I’ve decided I might just get a cat, or even two cats. Leafing through Old Possum’s book I’ve decided that I’m not going to christen them with a typically West London pretentious name. Mistoffellees and Deuteronomy will have to reside elsewhere; Faulty Towers is going to be the home of Teacup and Mr Spoon.