Monday, 28 June 2010
This is an old house. The oldest parts of the roof are dated to about 1580. The party wall to next door - equally old, as are most of the houses in the street - are wattle and daub. At the front there is the usual apparent chaos of flint and brick, a large area of wall seemingly rebuilt where, we suppose, something once crashed into it. Flint is local material, both knapped (that's to say with a straight polished face) or, as in our house, just as it is. At the front it has been rendered over. The walls are roughly seventeenth century, but there is a nineteenth century addition at the back that forms the kitchen upstairs. That kitchen is a leftover of the days when the house was a series of restaurants with the business kitchen downstairs in what is now the main book room and the private, owner's kitchen upstairs. Where I sit is another extension from the mid-1980s, with a spare bedroom above and the bathroom next to it.
In the early part of the century the house was a butcher's shop and old photographs show the butcher and his assistant standing at the door with a row of carcasses next to them. At that time, the house that is now behind was the slaughterhouse, with a barn opposite it.
After the first restaurant moved on, the place was divided into two so the slaughterhouse and the barn became a separate property. Our neighbour now inhabits the much altered slaughterhouse and the barn is a store of various things.
The first two restaurants were successful, the third wasn't. The proprietor contracted MS, his wife left him, and the business folded. After that it was bought by Kate who had a deep throaty voice, sang now and then, and ran the house as a gift shop, 'Present Time', which was not a great success at the point we bought it.
The walls being thick the house retains more or less the same temperature throughout the year, and even on a hot day like this I wear a cardigan at my desk. You come in off the street into the cool.
I love old houses, especially those that feel benign, as this does. Because, over the centuries, good and bad things will have happened in it, people have been happy and unhappy, but the walls seem to bear no trace of resentment or froideur, they radiate instead this gentle humane coolness. The house has a wooden frame so it moulds itself to conditions. The roof dips, then rises in a curve. Like any house it is soon filled up - in our case with books and pictures, some musical instruments and accumulated sacred, semi-sacred, and negligible objects.
I have never cared for the fully designed, for the untroubled sheer spaces of the modernist dream. The most perfect place for me is the Pazzi Chapel. I like serenity in its limited place. Brunelleschi's version of it appeals to me more than Corbu's. Le Corbusier's modulor is a rational set of proportions that I can feel elsewhere but don't desire. Brunelleschi's spaces are a kind of background singing. Le Corbusier's a mixture of the voluptuous and the sternly grandiose. If I were very rich I might like to stay occasionally in the Villa Savoye, but something about it tastes ever so distantly of murder. I know that's unfair, for why should it? It's not even a sixth sense, more a seventh one. A horror, if you like, of the absolutely pristine that has no room for the careless and chaotic.
But then I have never desired wealth either. What I like best is the sense of being within life, in some vital cell of it. It is night now but the sky is not entirely dark. It retains a faint luminosity, a glassy indigo. The desk is a mess again. I must clear it. The book room is non-functional because of plastering work, the plaster still drying. A little less clutter would also be good. I drop another word into place.