writing

Another American Buys a House in England

1 Comment 28 June 2017

We wanted a house with character. Modern or old, that category didn’t matter. We wanted a house that knew what it was without us telling it.

What we got was a house with magic. No evil, just magic. Because someone with foresight carved special symbols in the beams to keep evil out. Apotropaic marks, I believe they’re called. (I’m now reassured that I am not, nor is anyone who has visited so far, evil. Otherwise they couldn’t get in, right?) But the magic is deeper than carvings on old beams. And that is part of its character.

I loved our previous house. I loved creating a home where people walked in and said, ‘oh, this is nice.’ Even deliverymen would comment. ‘It has a really good feel about it,’ more than one said. I got this from my mother. I always heard people asking her advice on how to decorate, complimenting new things she’d done in the kitchen or living room, and telling me no one could transform a space like she could. When I cleared out her things after she died, I found stacks of photos of her turning houses into pretty homes. Not before and after pics, but during and after. It was the process she loved, the transformation by her hands.

But what I found frustrating about our previous house was how hard we had to try to give it character. And without even moving our belongings into this new (old) house, it has character.

One definition of character is: strength of mind, resolution, independence, individuality, moral strength. Yes, this house we’ve moved into does seem resolute in its time-hardened beams and individual in its shape and aspect and it does feel good.

Another definition of character is: a unique or extraordinary individual; a person characterised by peculiar or notable traits, especially charisma. While a house with magic may not be unique on this island, there is the look of it that gives it individuality. This building was not built to a plan but to requirements that changed across the centuries so it has a playful look (borrowing one of my (step)daughter’s descriptions after her first viewing before we bought it) with four staircases, a little room up in the eaves we call the Cat Room, almost every room on a different level and a couple of big inglenook fireplaces. And yes, it is a very charismatic house—it has enchanted us.

OH found this house first. We’d been looking online and he saw it and said he knew it. He’d cycled past it. And he loved it. ‘Oh wow,’ were his words. We booked an appointment. I was curious about looking at an old house. (I keep saying ‘old’ without context. Here’s some: This house is older than every house in the fifty United States apart from some ancient pueblos in New Mexico. Read that again.)

Here’s a digression: one of the things I’ve always loved best about living in England is living amongst the history. Have you read The Making of the English Landscape, by WG Hoskins? If you’re at all interested in this stuff like I am, read it. The book shows how the English landscape was formed by a thousand years of humans fighting and moving and living across this land, and tells how to read clues in the landscape showing the way we lived 400, 800, 1000 years ago. And I love that because imagining the stories of real people just like you and me played out through all of that time (and before) is reassuring. Proof that humans are enduring, if not always endearing. Our story is on going. And living in such an old property pings that chord on my soul that loves living in the tuck between hills in the ancient human landscape of England.

(Second level digression: I also love the wildest wilderness where I feel like no other human has ever been. To explore, to see the new, to find who-knows-what but to go for the sake of adventure!)

In spite of that enthusiasm for history, I was dubious of living in an old old old old house. I’ve had a couple of friends tell me they hated living in old houses because there isn’t a straight line anywhere, or because they’re dusty or or or… Sometimes also people assume modern is automatically better. Nope. Character is better, no matter the age.

So we booked an appointment. I was curious even if dubious. Then as I walked around this house something happened. Our first visit was early November. The sunlight falling through the windows left a golden autumn colour in the air lighting the house with its glow. And I fell for this neat cosmic trick.

It was the first place we viewed so I was still cautious. OH less so. He knew it was right for us, knew true contentment had settled in the old oak beams and that appealed mightily to him.

Well, you know the rest.

OH tells people he loved it from the beginning. That he could see a beautiful new chapter here. I don’t mind the neon hint of ‘I told you so’ in his story. On moving day when I arrived before him and the movers were carrying stuff over the threshold (‘where’s bedroom four, again, Michelle?’ and I had to think before answering, ‘up these stairs, not those’) I stood in the kitchen and looked out across the house with no straight lines and again that light fell though the windows. Even though now it was late spring, the light was still warm and golden and enchanted… and I felt with one hundred per cent certainty that the home was happy. The word that came into my head was ‘people’. It liked having people here. I have felt nothing but happiness in and from this house. The contentment OH felt here was real. The spirit of this house is like Tolkien’s Ents, far older than the humans who have passed through these beamed rooms. It has had plenty of time to figure out who it is and what it needs.

And like surrounding yourself with the right people who will nourish you and help you grow and be good influences and care for you through the dark times… placing yourself in the right surroundings is important as well.

Bad things will still happen. Grief and illness and whatever ugly shit humans face will still happen. I don’t imagine we are protected from that stuff by this house’s magic but the beauty and love and enchantment of this new chapter will help us face those bad times when they next come. What a good investment.

Your Comments

1 comment

  1. Koos says:

    Yes, I saw it and I knew that it was right for us, the missing ingredient in our complex harmony.
    After years of searching, we can now relax and grow, love and take love from our surroundings. If there was to be a neon sign it would say “Truthful contentment”. I have discovered happiness and I want to share it with you always.


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