This house was a sad thing. She’d sat, weeping, for decades – unloved, undone. I wanted her because she was cheap, but also for her long upstairs corridor and her proximity to both sea and river.
She’s not fancy, not in the slightest. She’s a red-brick Victorian semi, just one shabby old lady amongst millions in this country. That said, she’ll smarten up just fine, given a few years. It’s slow progress, with two full-time workers in charge of her. Both of whom would rather be doing anything but filling holes in walls.
But in these six months, she’s a home. Some rooms are still filled with boxes up to the ceiling, but I have an office with a cleanly sanded floor and one pink wall painted so far. The floor in our bedroom is finished with hard wax oil – a labour of love on our hands and knees. My mam, when not filling, sanding or painting, has ordered works like a general, strategising from the shifting list in my mind. Pink Post-its work for me; spreadsheets, phone notes and night-time obsessing do not.
We’ve replaced rotten floorboards with reclaimed timber, had the terrible damp fixed and cleared the woefully neglected garden of rubbish and waist-high grass. As its original form has emerged, we’ve discovered mature trees of many varieties, roses in every colour, lilac, wisteria, agapanthus and grape vines. Twenty years ago, this was a very loved garden. It’s miraculous to bring it back.
We have a best friend to our right, Lovely Sean Next Door, who is a pub buddy and tool-lender of extreme kindness. I’ve made friends with the owner of our local coffee house, started pole fitness and ballet. I have mudlarking spots and walking routes, favoured running paths and shortcuts to the beach. Behind my house is a mirabelle plum tree, and apples are now fruiting by the causeway of the Yar.
These are the things that have filled up this house with home. A life. I’ve had no regret, even fleeting, about leaving West Sussex. I have sadness that I’m not with my best friend and my best Arabella, coming up to two years old, but that’s not the same. They just need to move here and that would be everything I need.
Pete, without his sister, is like a toddler prince. He lounges about this house, undisturbed and constantly hungry. Always dirty from the dust that will be with us for years. It’s so hot now, he flops suddenly on any floor, in any pile of sawdust or sweepings. Nothing’s ever really clean, but I’m used to it now.
There’s things that have to be done before winter. Two window panes being replaced to keep the weather out, rotten bargeboards to repair, chimneys to check before autumn fires and certainly a roof valley to clear if we’d like the upstairs walls to stay dry. I know once I’m spending less time outdoors, the reality of living in a work-in-progress will be harder. But, hopefully, we’ll get through things quicker without the lure of dancing sunlight on the sea.
I didn’t mean to buy a house in distress. But it was an opportunity to get on the island without ruining ourselves, and somehow it turned out to be exactly right. The people and the land around us are perfect, everything we could have dreamed of. The house is falling apart, but I think we started our fight against time at just the right moment to keep her going another hundred years.
So many plans, so much decay. But such a life.