My builder has taken to breaking off large pieces of plaster board and writing messages in pencil on them. They say things like: "2 18" X 16" 4 M L" and "End bathroom right". Little arrows slide up and down and, alongside, numbers carrying fractions on their hips. It is all very Old Testament. I am daily expecting to read a larger chunk along the lines: "Thou shalt honour thy builder and his building mates. Thou shalt pay thy builder on time. Thou shalt hold thy builder above thine architect and shalt not take the name of thy builder in vain. Thou shalt not question thy builder about tea breaks. Thou shalt not covet thy builder's Saturdays and Sundays for in a number of months thy builder shalt make thy kitchen and thy bathroom and any number of other rooms for thee and thine and he hast need of the odd day off to resteth and to watcheth sport on TV. Thou shalt admire thy builder's craftsmanship and speak highly of him to all comers. Thou shalt abjure temples like B&Q and the false gods of DIY. Thou shalt appreciate thy builder is passing on his discount from his trade suppliers."
Even without a holy diktat, I am impressed by the skill I see around me in the cottage. I enjoy seeing the evidence of craftsmanship. There are things I have spent years learning how to do. Listening, for instance. When I talk to someone, I am all attention. I want to hear what they say, how they feel, what they think, what they do not realise they are feeling or thinking. I want to know. Not just for the sake of it but to understand their sorrow or their joy, to know them better. To make a friend. To keep a friend. To be a friend. To know, you have to listen. In the same way, I can appreciate the skill in a plaster perfect wall; the subtle, creamy finish of a painted room; a red clay flattened brick rescued from underneath the kitchen floor, cleaned and proud in a newly opened up hearth; a landing floor, quilt patched with wood rescued from that kitchen floor, each piece eased in and nailed down by a craftsman. It is not just a matter of a job and a bill. I can appreciate the efforts of a man trying to steam, sand, scrape and burn whitewash and distemper, clinging tight to the ceiling beams it has loved for years. I know his arms ache and his breath catches in the dust as he helps to build an idea of a house.
A friend told me that I am in a conversation with the house. True. My house speaks to me of the past, the present and the future. In that corner of what will be my living room, a pantry stood; that windowsill by a greasy wall was where the woman made her cream and butter; the hearth we have uncovered, once held a kitchen range. I have listened and learnt something of the house and those who lived here, in the rewriting of its rooms and passages. The present, of course, is around in all its brick dusted glory, patterns keyed in the render, electric cables hanging from the walls, strangers who have become friends marking the rooms with their skills. But I can see the future better than the present. As I stood on the landing looking down the painted corridor through the house, I saw soft painted walls and light from mended windows. The walls pushed back to open up the route between what were two houses, knitting the divide with space. I thought: "Perhaps this could be my home. Perhaps I could hang pictures along these walls."