Community Spirit: Wk 42 – Day Seven

Much has been said here about our resolution to create a home for our little family but admittedly very little…other than references to boundary disputes and piles of rubbish scarring the view for the opposite side of the road….has been said about the position of that home within its neighbouring environment. This week we took steps to better integrate ourselves within our own street…discovering as we did so an entertainingly motley mix of community for which London is so well known.

With the (sad) eviction of the kindly Somalian family next door….something to do, I’ve been reliably informed by the neighbour flanking their other side, with benefit squeezing….both myself and said neighbour grasped at the opportunity to put pressure on the landlord to deal with a few issues affecting both our properties – the first being the damp (manifesting itself in ours as a patch in the snug and in our neighbours as a more ominous fungus) and the second being the cocksure mice (who, having been excluded from entering our actual house are still unwilling to vacate completely and are thus being heard nocturnally tunnelling beneath). The landlord cordially replied to say that necessary maintenance would indeed be conducted and the subsequent arrival of a skip and a team of builders soon halted our disbelieving humphing. Realising that I was at risk of being accused of throwing stones whilst cowering in a glasshouse……criticising our neighbours apparent disregard for the appearance of his property when ours, to the outside world, was still a-clutter with unsightly building waste…. I resumed the earnest search of a cost effective way to rid ourselves of our latest contribution to landfill when an idea struck me. Scooping up O (a two year old is always a good thing to be carrying where neighbourly bargaining is concerned) I knocked at their open door.
“Hi” I began as the foreman appeared within its frame ‘I’m from next door…”
A brief conversation followed including a polite enquiry into their progress, an update on the booking of pest control and the outcome of our damp survey…..our neighbour, it turns out, holding no culpability for the patch in the snug….and finally I came to my point.
“I wondered….would we be able to offer you some money in exchange for putting our rubbish in your skip?”
He nodded his immediate agreement.
“I’m encouraging Mr A to gut this place, replaster and rewire. If he agrees I’ll have several more skips. You are more than welcome, if that’s the case, to chuck it in.”
Thanking him profusely I took O for a celebratory cycle around the park.

It turned out that this neighbourly gesture was to be considerably better than I’d dared hope. Returning from work on Thursday I was greeted for the first time in a very long time by what an estate agent might optimistically call ‘kerb appeal’. Our crazy paving, grey and pink slabbed hard standing, terracotta-painted steps, yellow render, sky blue door and….well….pebbledash admittedly still remain (further stretching the definition of ‘appeal’ in this particular context….) but the rubbish pile had vanished and all without a finger (of ours) having been lifted. As I stood appreciating the view and lack of effort expended in creating it I caught sight of another neighbour returning home from a church service he had, I can only assume by his flamboyant dress, been delivering.
“Ta dah!” I sang at him, gesturing in a flourished curtesy the cleared chequered paving upon which I was standing.
“Its been a long time since I’ve seen it like that!” he responded approvingly.
“We promise to try and keep it clear from now on…..” I vowed.
“Are you coming to the community quiz night tomorrow?” he asked.
“Oh……I forgot about that….”
“Did you get a leaflet?”
“Yes…I think I did….we could come actually…my Nan and sister will be here and my Nan likes quizzes…”
“7.30pm at the church hall. Bring a bottle and food if you like. There will be prizes….right…..best go and feed the cats at number Seventeen. They are away.” and with a sweep of his skirts he departed.
Meanwhile I was left considering.
“Prizes you say?” I murmured to no-one but myself.

Arriving bearing supplies which we readily shared with the pink-haired curate and mother-of-ten joining our team (“I’ve never in my life seen a curate look less like one….” remarked my Nan in a less-than-hushed whisper) my Nan, sister and I did indeed scoop a prize.
Clutching our consolatory packets of Percy Pigs and despite my sisters futile attempt at bagging the spare box of winners chocs (tables of six were catered for but the winning table consisted of only five….and in our humiliated defence I’d like to point out that three of them were teachers and one a chef who readily filled in the blanks on the Food and Drinks round….) we headed towards home accompanied by a small cluster of merry neighbours, one of whom ….the German lady from opposite…..also revelling in the clear view she now had from her lounge window since our rubbish had been removed .
“Your lounge is so zen” she said peering into our curtain-less windows as we stood on the pavement outside poised to go our separate ways.
“Well…” I hesitated…”I can’t say its intended to be……it’s not quite finished…pictures are yet to go up and there’s a bit of rearranging etc to do….”
“Well I must come and see it before you do as I love it like it is.”
“You would be welcome” I said.
“Would you like to come in for a drink?” she invited, turning to all present company – the Australian from number Twenty Two who will apparently happily transform bags of your apples into fruit leather or jelly and will, unprompted, regularly proffer recipes for environmentally responsible cleaning solutions, the pointy bearded, ear-pierced gentleman with an elegant limp from Eighty Four, my Nan and my sister.
“That said, ” she checked herself “I’m not sure who is in….”
“Come to ours.” I said, “we’ve plenty of wine. And you can see what all the mess has been for….” and in they eagerly piled.

Wine, it turned out, was not required as within seconds cava and bowls of cheesy biscuits were being extracted from plastic bags in the manner of Mary Poppins and with drinks in hand and seats taken the conversation turned inevitably to our renovations. All listened politely to stories of deliveries of jumbled wooden planks which had subsequently been calmed and smoothed into the floor on which they were seated but with the man from Eighty Four having retired only the previous day from his work as a period house restorer, interest was soon piqued by my tales of hidden Victorian fireplaces.
‘Would you like to see?” I asked and encouraged by his eager nod I obliged with a tour. …starting with the snug.
“We found this beneath ply” I said gesturing to the fireplace. “This was wallpapered over” I indicated the cast iron surround “and the concrete mantle was painted cream with plaster decorations stuck on.”
“It won’t be concrete” he said with conviction, running his hands over the mantle. “It will be black slate. The Victorians installed black railings and slate in their houses as a sign of mourning when Prince Albert died.”
“Really?”
“Oh yes. It’s not concrete. Paint it black. It will look delightful.”
“So…” I said leading him through to the lounge “this we also found beneath ply.” I indicated towards the fireplace.
“You see? Here is the black slate again…yes…..with these painted panels” he smoothed his hands over the marbled inserts. “And this? What is this painted with?” He gestured towards the new iron work installed by the renovation company.
“I’m not sure…the company did it.” I said hesitatingly, “They gave me a can….it’s next door in the snug, I could show you…..”
“Lead black.” He said with a dismissive shake of the head. “That’s what you need to ask for, you polish it up with a shoe brush to a shine.”
“Really?” I found myself saying again.
“Yes.” He said authoritatively. “Go to the hardware store. They will know….not B&Q, they don’t know anything. A proper hardware store with proper people. There’s one in the village.”
I nodded obediently.
“And this hearth….” He said straightening up.
“Yes” I said quickly, “the one we found was hideous. We saved a few tiles, they are here, and tiled it over in these quarry tiles.”
“Well” he said fingering the saved tiles piled on the mantelpiece awaiting their new role in life…possibly as some kind of hanging wall decoration, “its inoffensive….but it’s not right
He angled himself towards the windows.
“And you are going to have curtains I presume?”
“Oh yes!”
“Puddled on the floor?”
I nodded enthusiastically.
“Interlined?”
My nod became a little more measured.
Expensive?”
I remained still. Did Ikea count?
He appeared not to notice and with a nod of approval said “Buy them once and you never need to again” and satisfied he wandered into the hallway.
“Original floor?”
“Originally Fired Earth…..” I responded but I’m not sure he heard. With attention pulled to the banister he let out a cry.
“Oh….what have you done here?”
Moving deftly past me he caressed the post.
“They were painted” I explained in a hesitant voice as his eyes bored into mine in an accusatory stare.
“This” he said patting at the wood “should be French Polish. You have put some kind of awful stain on them…”
“It was oil” I said meekly
And a stain….” he insisted knowingly.
Feeling like the child who had explained away the gap in her eyebrows to her all-knowing mother as ‘walking into a door’ when in fact I’d tried to thin them out with a razor… I held my defiant stare. It had been tinted oil….but I knew he knew that.
Luckily, or unluckily, his attention was now pulled to the woodwork.
“You young people….” he sighed in exasperation. “Why must you always use grey? Its ghastly……”
He turned with raised eyebrow awaiting, I realised, an answer.
“I thought it went with the carpet and the floor….” I reasoned, my voice tiny.
“Hmmm” he said turning back to run his hands across it. “Well. I’m not sure it does. And your painter didn’t sand this down, the cutting in is dreadful and why did you take the colour to here? Architrave finishes here.”
I looked.
“You would take it to there?”
“Of course. You might want to think about getting that done again….and reconsidering the colour while you are at it…..”
He paused.
“But,” he said with a bright smile “your floor in here is beautiful….” and with a gesture towards our reclaimed wood he limped his way back to the table.

The drinking and chat continued into the small hours with the German lady catching a quick hour of shut eye at the table before pinging awake suddenly, smashing a champagne glass as she did so. A suitable sign, I thought as I eyed the clock, that it might be sensible to conclude the evening and with bed beckoning all were ushered home.

In the morning a knock sounded at the door.
“Remember me?” said the man from Eighty Four.
‘I do” I said as he stepped inside “but I don’t think I ever asked your name….”
“Nor I yours…” he admitted with a bow of the head and with names belatedly exchanged and an introduction made to S (ironically busily putting up the pole to hold those expensive curtains) he withdrew a piece of plasterwork from his pocket.
“I can do you three of these to replace those missing from here.” he said, pointing above the front door.
S and I looked blankly at each other before realising that indeed, three pieces were amiss.
“I’ve never noticed those were missing” remarked S.
“Well… it was the first thing I saw” he said.
“That’s very kind of you. You must tell us what it would cost” I said.
He gave a shrug of his expensively tailored jacket.
“Nothing. A bag of Plaster of Paris.” and, hand raised in a nonchalant wave to bat away our thanks, he made his way out of the door.
“I’ll be in touch…” he called back and with that he was gone.

Community spirit, it seems, is not……

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7 thoughts on “Community Spirit: Wk 42 – Day Seven

  1. Hilarious 🙂 Hope your neighbour never comes round our place, we’ve got that nasty sticky stuff all over the place. I do need to make a plaster cast to repair our mouldings, mind – do feel free to share a post on the process once yours are finished 🙂

      • Ha! Maybe you could ask Mr 84 if he uses a particular brand of plaster and moulding material, on behalf of a blog friend in the north? Just don’t mention our non-expensive non-puddled curtains!!

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