Sunday, March 4, 2012

Whole house smells of vinegar today. Why? Because my beautiful pine doors, fresh from their dipping and stripping, have now had a week to dry out and must be brushed down with a 50/50 mixture of water and malt vinegar. Winter has made a comeback up here in the mountains, with a chill nor'-westerly and handfuls of refreshing sleet in your face, so brushing the doors up in the open air is not an option. That's why the place smells like the back of a Harry Ramsden's, which just adds to the general feeling of chaos and living on a building site that you get when working on the house that you are also living in. Getting me down, I don't mind telling you, what with the freezing weather as well.

Old Slate fireplace, lovely but battered
But I did have a coup today. For months I've been looking at restoring the fireplace in my living room, which I use every day, but which has cracked and missing tiles surrounding it. Matching these tiles has seemed an impossible job, leaving me having to replace all of them (a shame, since the other fireplaces in the house all have the same tiles. We'd be looking at a tile mismatch! - and I've been told  in no uncertain terms that features and colours should 'flow' through a house, and should not be a clashing of shades...)

Today I happened to come across an architectural salvage yard by the coast. That title probably makes it a bit grander than it is. Tucked behind an old WW2 airfield and a caravan park on the salt flats, hard to find in the meandering lanes that go down to the sea, it is a glorious pile of every kind of curio and resource:  tiles, slates, pub signs, scrap cars, deckchairs, old farm machinery, every kind of  toilet and bathroom fixture, hospital lamps, school clocks - and fireplaces, rusty metal ones leaning up against the wall outside, sniffed at (and probably piddled over) by the two Alsatians that have the run of the place.

I saw the tiles from across the yard, my eye drawn straight to them, fixed in the surround of one of the less rusty steel fireplaces - an exact match! I had to buy the whole fire surround and lug the bloody thing home so I could start prising the tiles out of it, of course, but I'm chuffed. Another tiny triumph of renovation! And believe me that's as good as it gets, some days.

Matching tiles, still set in the metal fire surround

Something about the salvage place - they always  have an air of sadness, of unwanted treasures piled up, ripped from their former glory at the centre of some respectable concern and now living out their last days trying to catch some restoration man's eye - made me think of the Cleveland Wrecking Yard, Richard Brautigan's lovely fantasy in his novel 'Trout Fishing In America'.  The Cleveland Wrecking Yard is a scrapyard which sells natural landscapes : you can buy lengths of a trout stream, stacked up at the back of the yard, and each length comes with clear water, waving fronds of river weed and fat brown speckled fish waiting to be caught. Nothing so charming as that in the Llandwrog salvage yard of course, although you do have the sound of the ocean, whispering to itself a field or two away.

I've written elsewhere about Richard Brautigan, the great counter-culture San Francisco writer who eventually took his own life. He had a strange other worldly take on reality (another of his books has '186,000 endings per second') and I am always rather sad to think of his suicide. He said of himself, '"All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds.'

I suppose this is not something that would normally appear in an account of an eco-conversion or whatever  you want to call this blog. But then I'm just going along writing about what interests me, as any regulars are probably aware by now, and anyway - it takes my mind off the smell of vinegar!

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