Saturday, June 27, 2009

Back in Wales

I love returning - it is one of my greatest pleasures. Much of my writing has an underlying theme of remembrance and familiarity; not quite nostalgia, but not far off. I think I could happily spend the rest of my life revisiting as few as half a dozen locations. One of them would certainly be here.

I'm back in Wales after a month away, a very long time for me: work has been frantic, commitments elsewhere, too much to do. So arriving yesterday was a joy, and today I want nothing else than to sit in the garden, read some books and catch up on the blog.

Our builder Emyr came round earlier to clear the rubble from the garden. He's pleased with the new roof, I can tell; I caught him gazing at it over his tea. I'm delighted too - funny, how something like a roof can give so much pleasure, at one time I'd have sneered at the very idea. But then I never thought I'd care much for any house, until I became involved with this one.

I bought this cottage nearly fifteen years ago. It wasn't quite derelict, but it had no hot water system, minimal electrics, no damp course, no kitchen, no roof in some parts... let's say it needed a lot of vision. Over the years I've renovated it, doing much of the work myself, but increasingly working with local builders and tradesmen. Gradually it has taken shape; it is far from perfect - never will be - but it feels more like home than where I spend my working week in Wiltshire.

Renovating, I've learned, is very different from simply 'doing up', especially when your cottage is made of rubble and mud and not a lot else. It helps that my next door neighbour is a stone mason at the cathedral - he rebuilt the entire front of the cottage using the stone from our garden. I remember him showing me how the bank was full of dressed stone that had originally been part of the house.

Back in the Sixties, the front face of the cottage was demolished and replaced with breeze blocks and plastic cladding - like I said, you needed vision to buy this place. So thirty years later we found ourselves putting it all back again - a different sense of returning, and one which also gives me pleasure.

I like knowing too that the floor boards and doors were made by Laurie and Nathan who have a small unit a mile from my house - another serendipitous find as I googled for oak doors and their business came out top of the list. Check them out if you need anything in oak; they are brilliant.

There are lots of other local finds: the fireplaces came from a friend's garden where they'd been rusting for years; much of the furniture is sourced from salvage yards; the paintings are by friends and acquaintances. But my favourite is the slate hearth - a colossal slab which we dragged from the sea at Porthgain harbour - we plonked it in front of the chimney breast and it hasn't moved since.

The artist John Knapp Fisher lives in the village next to mine. He is one of the best painters in Wales, famous for his broody landscapes and dark skies. I envy his talent, but I particularly like knowing that much of his work is centred on a five mile radius of his house (half of which is sea). That seems to me to be a wonderful thing - to find endless fascination and creative possibility in so small an area.

So today, that's what I'm doing too. Rambling about my house, enjoying the quiet - I might go for a run later - and feeling more at home than I have for weeks.

The new roof - an unexpected object of desire.
For a very quick slideshow of my house - see my other blog.

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