I am not a tidy person. My wife, Bernie, is much better than I am but even she admits that, as a couple, we have to work at it.
At the bottom of our garden is a large stone building called ‘The Saltpetre’. Built around 1820, this ‘expense magazine’ (and no, I haven’t just made that up) used to house gunpowder awaiting transportation the following morning via the canal that was once next to it. I’ve mentioned it before, but this post is nothing to do with the history of the village… other than the legacy of caring for something that old.
The ‘Salty Pete’ as we’ve come to know it, is not a particularly pleasant place to inhabit. The old stone walls are unrendered and it’s cold and draughty in winter. If you wanted a classy man-cave, you wouldn’t start here.
The floor still comprises the original cobbles, which are impossible to sweep clean. They are also the reason there isn’t a truly level surface in the whole edifice.
My study in the house is much more hospitable… but you can’t drill, saw and sing Meatloaf to yourself in a study. And, somewhere in the old ‘shed’ near the back wall, was a set of power tools my father bought me for assorted birthdays and Christmases… He used to sell them in what had been a converted fruit and veg shop, driven out of business by Morrison’s supermarket opening across the road. So there was some buried sentimental treasure in the dark stone interior of the Saltpetre… which may feature later in our story.
We’ve lived here for 10 years, and each year another layer of our stuff has been pushed into this cavernous storage space. I did have the decency to fund a new roof and door, and at the same time took advantage of somebody else’s building skills to have an interior loft installed, thereby increasing the already vast storage capabilities for yet more stuff…
Year on year, as it filled, the task of cleaning it out ballooned in my consciousness, as things do when put off for a decade…
Then came March’s virus lockdown… But that wasn’t an immediate problem, as there was a list of ‘unperformed other jobs’ that were actually much easier – like power washing the flags around the house. That took two days. Then we had the major task of tidying up the study (me) and the next door room (Bernie) that looks out, via a tiny balcony, over the garden, and which we always planned to use for a morning coffee on bright summer days… That took two weeks, but both rooms looked wonderful when we’d finished…. Which had the unfortunate consequence of giving us an appetite for getting things done. Hmmm, dangerous that!
An assortment of sweaty garden jobs in the hot sun followed, but finally, there was nothing left of the list but the Saltpetre. Bernie assured me that I would at least have a true man-cave at the end of the job. I saw through this shallow ploy, of course..
Desperately seeking reasons not to begin, I clutched at “But it will cost a fortune!” She just smiled at me – with that inmate skill that women have – and said, “Well, let’s make it a double challenge: don’t spend any money at all…”
She watched the cogs work… I do like challenges.
The day was ending. We had been successful in our work in the garden and opened a bottle of New Zealand white wine. We sat at the garden table, watching the sun descend behind the ash trees and discussing the feasibility of doing ‘Salty Pete’ at zero cost.
An hour and a bottle later, with Bernie agreeing to lead the charge by sorting out the gardening tools, we agreed that it would be fun to try.
It must have been the wine…
To be continued…