Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Old houses good; new houses bad

(with apologies to George Orwell!)

We were in a dilemma with the bins all last week in our village. While the snow lingered, the postman managed to deliver from his little red van (still wearing his shorts), and the intrepid milkman skated his milk float of chattering bottles across the ice, the bin men were nowhere to be seen. Lawrence and Geraldine’s recycling bin remained halted half way up their drive, as if it didn’t know whether to go in our out. Then the bin men made an unscheduled collection last weekend, and we all flew down to the roadside dragging our bins behinds us, as soon as we heard the lorry coming. Of course now we don’t know which bin is next due for emptying.

          ‘What bin are they going to collect this week, do you know?’ asked Jim as I passed him today on my walk with Tramp.

          ‘Who knows?’ I replied, ‘I’m leaving both mine out, just in case.’

          My eye was drawn to yet more planning application notices pasted to Jim’s fence; they seemed to be reproducing at an alarming rate.

          ‘You won’t have to creosote this fence this year, Jim; you’ve got enough of these to wallpaper it!’

          ‘Humph,’ was all I heard as he turned on his heel.

Jim’s house extends around the corner where the foot of Lawrence and Geraldine’s drive meets Main Road; indeed it is called ‘Corner Cottage’, rather unimaginatively. From the roofline, it looks as through it may have been two cottages at one time, so the ‘s’ on ‘cottages’ must have been dropped when they were knocked through.

As an inveterate DIYer – he would say ‘property restorer’, Jim’s declared aim is to restore his property to its original state, using all traditional materials and techniques of course. Nevertheless, I see no moves afoot re-instate it as two small houses and so restrict his living space.

          Jim has been working on his house for all the years I have lived in the village, but the noise of his industry seems disproportionate to any noticeable results. Two of the windows have been boarded up for as long as I can remember, and the rusting guttering on one corner will never now join the downpipe – still, it is made of cast iron.

In the meantime high wood panelled fences have gradually enclosed the property, erected by neighbours to shield them from the sight of the junkyard within of Jim’s ‘salvaged’ and ‘reclaimed’ materials, and to halt the gradual incursion of lengths of wrought iron, old paint tins and collapsing piles of bricks into their gardens. Jim of course has objected strongly to the planning authorities about the fences; he would have preferred ‘traditional’ post and rail, which is ‘more cottagy’.

I paused before continuing on our walk to read a couple of Jim’s newer planning applications. I couldn’t help but smile to read one for double glazed units -- wooden sashes, of course, but double-glazed, just the same. As usual, Jim was rather selective in what he considered worthy and ‘old’.

It is a truism in our village that the age of one’s property affords a far more elevated social status than its size. If, like Jim’s, your property is listed, then you can join the village aristocracy – although Jim’s will probably need to be less derelict before he can come out from behind his enclosure.

Last year, when a couple had the audacity to put in for planning for an extension to their old house (listed) which was dominated by steel beams and sliding glass walls, the council website was clogged with complaints – some from people who lived as far as 20 miles away. A local ringleader took it upon himself to call a special village meeting to ‘give the village a voice’ on what became termed ‘that monstrosity’ in casual conversation beforehand.

          The meeting filled the church hall to the rafters. A top table, as at a wedding, stretched across the stage at one end, seemingly reserved for those whose houses clocked up at least 150 years. A fairly decent wine was served and people at ground level chatted in groups, clinking glasses.

Just as the meeting was called to order and people drifted to their seats, I heard Lawrence’s voice boom, ‘Isn’t it good, us all getting together like this in the village?’

Meanwhile, rather like Lawrence’s recycling bin last week, the couple whose fate was to be decided hovered in the doorway, not sure whether to stay or make a run for it in case the crowd turned into a lynch mob. When the self-elected Chairman mentioned that the design was in line for an architectural award, a large number of people even sneered, loudly and cruelly.

All the well rehearsed objections voiced previously in the pub and the shop were re-stated. One of the top table elite appeared to be noting them down. Little or nothing was said in favour of the extension.

Suddenly a feint voice came from the doorway, ‘What if we painted the steel frames in a rustic pale olive, incorporated some glazing bars and added an elevated skylight… so as to make it into an orangery?’

Murmurs of approval, tinged with victory, spread round the hall like wildfire, competing only with the audible sighs of relief from the couple as they stepped forward and to be included in the circle of neighbours.



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