We have taken the house off the market.
We are staying put.
This is where we live.
This is our home.
We know that now.
We had to try to move in order to realise that we have to stay.
In order to realise that we love it here.
I took some photographs last Spring. Photographs of where we live. They have sat waiting for over a year. Now I want to write about them. Write about where we live.
Our house sits at the top of a track above The Yard. It is one of a pair. A pair that used to be one. Our houses used to be a storage barn for the Wheatland Fox Brewery. They were converted to residential use in Victorian times but are, in fact, much older. You can still see the scars of its former life – the outline of a bricked in gateway wide enough for a horse and cart loaded with grain or barrels.
There is no road that leads to our house. No road sign to tell visitors that they have arrived. To get here, you must pass through The Yard. The Yard is the gateway. The portal.
The Yard has been many things in its time. Once, it was a brewery. Once, a haulage yard. Then, a coach yard. When we moved in to our house, the Yard was full of old coaches. They were beautiful. I wish that I had thought to take photographs of them before the scrap men came in and stripped them down and away. Our cat, Tom, used to live in one of the coaches. He must have sensed that the scrap men were coming. Or, perhaps it was the result of that harsh winter. But, one Spring, he decided to come and live with us instead. He sleeps in our house, eats the food we buy for him but, in truth, he is the Yard’s cat. He eats at all the houses that abut the Yard. He is a very sociable cat. A very large cat. I think he is a happy cat.
The Yard is a happy place. A sociable place. Most lately, the Yard has been the place where Brian makes things. Brian is our neighbour. He used to live in the house where we now live. We bought the house from him. He is the best neighbour that you could hope for. When we moved in, he drove his trailer over to our old house and helped us move all our garden stuff – pots, plants, planters, special rocks, interesting bits of old tools that we have collected over the years. Brian likes trailers. He likes to strip down old trailers, paint them, oil them, give them new life, make them like new. He is very clever. A few years ago, Brian had the most beautiful old caravan stored in one of his sheds. 1950s. All curves and plunges. Grace and drama. A work of art. A thing apart from the dull white boxes that pass for caravans nowadays. We had a couple of Romany Gypsy story-tellers staying with us at the time. I took Pepo down to see the caravan. He liked it. At home, in France, he built full-on, old style, horse drawn Romany caravans, so he knew a thing or two. He said that the old caravan was three months hard work but well worth restoring. I toyed with the idea. But I am better with words than with my hands. Somebody bought it off Brian eventually. He got it for a song. Brian is not overly bothered about money but he hates to see things die and go to waste. He loves to offer objects a new lease of life.
Brian used to mostly make things out of old wooded pallets. He built our summerhouse. He built the summerhouse one year whilst we were away on holiday. My wife just mentioned in passing that she had a strong desire for a summerhouse in the back garden. Brian took note. A plan formed in his head and, the next thing you know, we return from our holiday to find that he has built us one. Entirely recycled from old pallets. Amazing. Brian is a very clever and very generous man.
He also built us this table. From pallets. Magic.
Another of our neighbours is Mrs Chad. She is 106 years old.
The Yard encourages longevity. Things hang around here. They are given space. Cared for. Not discarded simply because they are old or have no apparent use. Everything is useful to someone or something. The coaches were no longer road worthy but the cat made a place to live of them. The builders merchant could find no use for the pallets that Brian makes into furniture and summer houses. The swallows find homes in ruins. Bees and butterflies find comfort in the unruly clumps of nettles. The pot holes in the drive will fill up with mud and, later in the year, house-martins will use it to make their nests. Nature is not tidy. Neither is the Yard. I like that.
I also like the sense of History that envelopes the Yard. The sediments of Time that have slowly lain down their layers of Meaning are very plain to see in the Yard. There is respect for the Past and for the Future. This one place has been many places, served many functions, worn many masks. It will continue to do so.
At present, Brian has sold the land and there are plans to build four “executive homes” in the Yard. But there are difficulties and nothing has happened yet. I cannot say that I am disappointed. I accept that all things do change and must change, but I worry that executive change will not be for the best. Yes, as a result, we may have easier access to our drive, the monetary value of our house might increase, I might not have to drag the bins so far for them to be collected. But, I worry that this executive change will not show proper Respect. I fear that this change will seek to erase the residue of the Past from the Yard.
The sheds will be torn down. They will be in the way. Their particular beauty will be lost. Which is, partly, why I want to record them now.
I love the sheds. I love their rust. Their broken windows. Their stark, skeletal beauty.
I love the treasures that lie within them.
I love the way that they hold a fragile balance between Stasis and Change. Between What Has Been and What Is Becoming. The sheds softly hold remnants of human endeavour as Nature slowly but inevitably returns them to their origins. Cars gently return to the base elements from which they were constructed, in the meantime, providing nutrients for plants and shelter for animals.
Trees grow on ramps where coaches were serviced. Hedgehogs use them as nocturnal pathways. Owls perch on top of the sheds and call to their partners in the trees. Our roof-tops are as much a roost for jackdaws as they are shelters for our dreams of ownership.
Mankind loves opposites, division, duality. We like to classify. We see the world as a vast collection of differences. We feel safer when we can put things in boxes. That is Man-made. That is Natural. The Yard tells a different story. The Yard reminds me that it is all One. That Man is just part of Nature. The swallow does not care whether it roosts on a branch or a telephone wire. The hedgehog will happily nest in an abandoned pot. And all Mankind’s great monuments and achievements will, in Time, be dirt.
So, I guess, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the Yard is levelled for executive homes to be built. It is just the turning of the wheel and they too will crumble away. Providing yet another layer of sediment to the glorious, unruly accumulation that is the Yard. Still, I would prefer development to be slower. Less dismissive of the value of the messy Past. I would love it if a group of individuals got together to build their own homes in the Yard. Dwellings that were respectful of the Past and of Nature. Buildings that worked more with what is here already. But, I suppose, that is just an aesthetic prejudice on my part. What is here now was once an ugly imposition on what had been before. It is just that I happen to find it beautiful. I have always preferred second-hand and broken to shiny and new. I like things that don’t quite work properly. Things that require some care and attention. I much prefer the skip, crackle and sticking of vinyl records on a cranky turn-table to the sleek efficiency and easy immediacy of downloads. I love to find my clothes in the racks of charity shops and jumble sales. I like that every item is unique. Every jacket has a history. Every shirt a story to tell. I feel no such excitement searching in the high street stores where the ranks of mass produced items line up in strict order – S,M,L,XL – and a missing button is a problem rather than a starting point. I feel more comfortable with the sense of limitless possibilities in something that requires work and imagination than I do with the closed door of perfection. Life is messy. I think that you can be too tidy. I think that there is merit in resisting the urge to clear up. I much prefer sheds to executive homes. Long live The Yard.