Celtic Illumination, part 250, When is a house not a house?
New Year was a great time to be at Shotley Gate. We sat on a little peninsula where the Rivers Stour and Orwell met. Looking out to sea, on our right hand side, we had the port of Harwich and, on our left hand side, we had the port of Felixstowe. At midnight, on New Year’s Eve, every vessel in port would sound their horn. If it was a clear night with all the lights and horns it was a fantastic atmosphere. After joining in with the passing of the hour we would all then turn to the serious business of getting legless. I had been elevated in the local civilian society and had been asked to join in with the private party at the local pub. This was a lavish affair, with free booze and free food until you could no longer walk. My sort of party.
Somewhere around dawn we decided that we should all go to someone’s house for breakfast. Chris and Aurora invited a good half dozen of us to their house. which was quite close and so we all staggered off in that general direction. We were all in good form and were monkeying around; in fact Chris took it one step further and climbed up the tree in his front garden imitating a baboon. Normally, well; the results of most of the scientific experiments I had carried out on behalf of, and for the benefit of, mankind, proved that the consumption of vast amounts of alcohol brought about rubber bone syndrome. It’s very technical so I shall not bore you with the thesis but suffice to say this time my research was proven to be incomplete, for when Chris fell out of his tree, he didn’t bounce, as one might have expected, nor did his bones have any degree of flexibility, for he broke both of his legs. I can remember the snap and the yell quite clearly.
As you may expect breakfast was ruined, so was Chris’s life, because I was introduced to the reality of civilian life, something that I had never been exposed to before and something I was reasonably unaware of. Chris lived in a small bungalow that he had bought. He had also bought a Thames barge which was moored at Pin Mill and which he would spend his non-drinking free time working on. The plan was to convert the barge into a four bedroomed domestic vessel, a house boat. Chris was a self-employed pipe fitter and welder who worked in London, leaving Shotley, early on a Monday morning, sleeping on friend’s floors in London during the week and returning on a Friday evening. Now, with two broken legs he couldn’t drive to London, couldn’t work, so couldn’t earn, couldn’t pay the mortgage and, in what seemed to be quite a short amount of time, was having his house repossessed.
Chris was a lovely straight talking fellow so for him this was not an embarrassment but a mere fact of life. The emphasis was now to complete the Thames barge project so that on eviction he his wife and child would have somewhere to live. And with no money coming in this would have to be done on the cheap. The air force took up the challenge and offered to help him in any way that they could, the air force didn’t know this, but I’m sure if they had they would have been very proud of themselves. No one even questioned why battle fight needed anti-fouling paint, a specialist paint used on the hull of boats and ships to add to their durability and act as a barrier against corrosion. The barge when complete was to be lived in, so I was able to provide a good deal of the basics ranging from beds and blankets to even the most basic cooking utensils.
The scrounging, I felt, was taken to another level for whole bathroom suites were turning up and he even managed to get his hands on an actual bar counter that had been taken out of a pub undergoing renovation. It was interesting to see how everyone else reacted to Chris and his situation; it was as if it were a shot across the bows for most of them, as what had happened to Chris could happen to any of them. It couldn’t happen to me, because I was living in air force married quarters and when we got to Ireland all I needed was a field and I would build my own house. While most people in the UK were busy ‘investing in property’ and ‘climbing the property ladder’ while discussing their equity some of us, Wing commander Operations and myself, were busy researching how to build our own house.
There seemed to be a madness surrounding the property market and because I was involved arranging mortgages for people I was lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of property deals. I couldn’t believe the ridiculous prices some people were paying for houses and the absolute bollocks they would use to validate their purchase. Initially I looked at actually building my own house brick by brick, I couldn’t see why anyone would move into a house that nearly suited their needs, why not design your own house, build it and then move in? I had been studying some books one day in flight planning when the Wing Commander came in. He explained that he too was interested in building his own house and we began to discuss ideas and problems that we thought we might encounter.
My greatest problem was that I had no construction skills and I wasn’t convinced that I could master enough of those skills to produce a suitable house so I would have to employ professional builders. I could see that the organisation and coordination would be enormous and although I could see that it would be one massive headache, I could also see that you could end up with exactly the house you wanted to have and save a few hundred thousand into the bargain. But I came across a company called Heritage Potton. They produced timber framed, prefabricated, houses to order and I promise you their brochure ( http://www.potton.co.uk/ ) would have most interested people drooling. You could design your own house, which they would construct and deliver to anywhere in the world. You could employ your own construction team or they would do it for you. For me this was the perfect solution to my problem.
So as you can see, all I needed when I got to Ireland was a field, I already had my house. Irene and I had spent many an evening and quite a few bottles of wine planning and dreaming about our perfect house. I never knew exactly how much Rioja was involved in the planning process, but we battled on regardless. We had eventually agreed on the final design, knew the cost and the time limitations and all we had to do now was find a field and build the thing. Of course there would be minor details like planning permission and the like but those sorts of problems I could take in my stride. I had no intention of joining the property market or climbing any fecking ladders. I was going to build a house that would suit our needs and live in the thing. Because I was the only one of the three youngest family members interested in returning to Ireland I had been told that our family house in Glenarm would be given to me on the death of my aunt who was living there.
The house in Glenarm was so much more than a house. I was normally a little uncomfortable when there for I knew I was not on my own, there was more than memories living in that house, but nothing that worried or scared me. You just knew that you were not alone. To sit in the front room with just the tick tock of the large grandfather clock in the hall echo through the house would be a perfect way to spend a few quiet hours. Lying on a straw mattress reading Don Quixote, under the yellow light of a ginormous light bulb, would be my first and perhaps fondest memory of the place. The house would be passed on to my youngest child, when the time came, and I would have expected them to follow suit, property markets and property ladders were not in my world.
All the clocks in my world were ticking, from the grandfather clock in Glenarm to the clock that was counting down the time I had left in the air force. In fact the day that I could actually stop going in to work with the air force was fast approaching and it was something I was looking forward to. So it was no surprise to find Tim Hirschman turn up at Tony’s one day, with the standard bottle of single malt, that he seemed to use as a business card. The three of us sat in Tony’s living room and raised a glass to ourselves and wishing luck on all present when Tim apologised. Ever feel the life drain out of you from the tip of your head downwards? That’s what it felt like, like sitting in a bath while the water drained out, the life just flowed right out of me. Tim Hirschman was apologising, the bottom had fallen out of the market, something called a recession was hitting the markets, he couldn’t afford to pay his salesmen in England so there was no way he could even consider sending me to Ireland. There was no job, no way of stopping the clocks and most certainly no way of turning any of them back.