For eight years we’ve all learned the best route to walk across the landing (which is known as the Prayer Landing) between our bedroom and the kids’ rooms. Depending upon the time of day, you pick your path and run the gauntlet. During the day you charge straight ahead, anticipating precisely each of the gun shot cracks, horror movie creaks and haunted house groans that emerge from the floor boards. At night when anyone is asleep you pretty much have to leap across the creakiest boards or the entire house is woken up. Then when you get outside our bedroom you have to walk the tightrope. The key is to avoid the floorboard on the left (which isn’t fastened down, so does the comic-strip flick-up into your face if you stand at one end of it), and the floorboard on the right (which has three or four 18th century nails which protrude and are even worse than lego to stand on in bare feet).
The prayer landing is just one tiny item which made it’s way onto my beloved husband’s spreadsheet over the Christmas break. We’d had our annual how-can-we-carry-on-living-in-this-madhouse conversation. Last year the end result of the conversation was to move my office out of the kitchen and to create a safe zone for the family where on your average day we can have a shower/ yell at the kids/ be examined by a midwife without someone popping their head around the door (all true examples from the pre safe-zone days). This year the end result was that we decided to confront the feeling that the house is falling down around our ears.
We are so lucky to have Martin and the team at St Clere. Between them, they can pretty much do anything regular, and anything they can’t do (or don’t want to do) they know a man who can. And usually that man is called Steve With this extraordinary team, you wouldn’t be crazy to wonder why it is the house is falling down. It’s two reasons.
Firstly, this house is not regular. It was built centuries ago, the plumbing is a foreign language. What should be a simple job is nothing but. When the light switch outside my office started giving us electric shocks we all assumed the switch needed fixing; but the switch is a work of art from a hundred years ago, and nobody alive knows how to make it work. When we last pulled up floorboards we discovered live wires from decades ago when the maintenance man was not so capable. When the telephone handset stopped working we found out it was installed as part of a system in the 1980’s and in order to make it work we need to replace the entire system.
Secondly, because the team rarely steps foot in the house. We, like all our tenants, notify Sue about something that needs doing. She makes a job sheet which either goes into the maintenance plan or into the bat-file (don’t ask, it goes with the bat-cave) and Martin does some magic juggling and prioritises the job sheets. The thing is, he never prioritises our job sheets because he understands that keeping tenants happy keeps the roof on.
So on his first day back after New Year Martin was given the three page spreadsheet. The light-switches that still gives you shocks, window panes that are cracked, painting jobs that never got finished; you get the picture. He and Richard spent two full days in the house and the transformation is just gob-smacking despite the fact there’s still a huge amount left to do and the things left to do tend to be the impossible-to-solve things. It’s taking a while for my body to learn that I now can switch on that light without bracing for electrical impact, but psychologically it is a game changer. I realise that on my way between the kitchen and my bedroom I used to note about 20 things that needed doing every single time I walked that route for eight years. Now I am behaving like Mary Poppins and literally skipping around the house. And as for the prayer landing, now we simply walk across it. And, fingers crossed, that is going to keep us happy until next year.