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Wow moments

Coming, as we have, direct from our sailing voyage around Britain, something that has occupied the best part of the first two years of our lives since retirement from work, and en route having negotiated many of the more scary headlands, fast-flowing channels and rock-fringed islands around these isles, one might be tempted to think that excitement and satisfaction has been hard for us to find in a house refurbishment project. Scraping wallpaper from the walls, ripping out old carpets, pulling off wall and ceiling cladding, decorating one room after another with fresh paint, none of these things have quite the same cachet as sailing around the coast of Scotland, for example.

But strangely, there is a real feeling of excitement about watching our living space change before our eyes. Some changes are small, like a new lampshade or some fresh paint around a door, but much of what we have done of late has been of the ‘stand back and admire the difference’ variety, what the presenters on a certain TV property programme insist on calling the ‘wow factor’. The change in our environment that demolishing an internal wall brought about, converting our downstairs space into one, was one big ‘wow’ for us. But then there was another when we first applied some paint, covering up for good the last of the children’s pencilled scribbles and the remnants of original paint layer, the one underneath the terrible wallpaper which was hidden again under more paint. Another ‘wow’ escaped when the new supporting beam, now covered by its smooth plasterwork, joined the colour of its neighbouring walls, this removing the last visual barrier between the two former rooms. The final touch, for me, was when I stood back after applying a contrasting ‘warm terracotta’ to the alcoves either side of our false chimney-breast. Suddenly The Space had acquired some character, some depth and a little of our own personality. Kate’s reaction when she saw the effect was rather less enthusiastic as the fresh paint had taken on a pink glow in the early evening – natural light was fading and we had seen the last of the sun for the day. Pink is not a colour Kate will ever admit to admiring, least of all on the walls of her own house and immediately I could see her thinking that the colour choice was wrong, not what the brochure implied it might be.

But colour is a strange thing inside a house. No colour will stand alone unaffected by what is around it. It will always reflect or be reflected or it will absorb a tint from a nearby surface. Our white ceilings rarely look white – they pick up colour from the walls, the lights, anything. Then there is the light itself which if natural, changes moment by moment as the day (and the year) progresses. In artificial light, colour will depend on the ‘temperature’ of the source, whether it is tungsten or fluorescent, and what it passes through before it reaches our eyes. Though the paint is barely dry, already the colour we are seeing has shifted more than once, to such an extent that even Kate will admit that her fearful first reaction was a little too hasty. Which is comforting as I am not really enthusiastic about applying another layer. I’m just about painted out for the time being.

We can predict a few more of these ‘wow’ moments to come before our Space is complete. We still have a floor to lay, tile-imitating laminate from window to window across the house, and then beyond this someone has to destroy the kitchen then fit a new one. Oh, that would be me! Mal with Jelly in the gardenThere will be a few challenging moments in all of this, of this I am sure, so no change from piloting the Western Isles there then.

While all this has been going on inside our house, life goes on for one colourful character who spends much of her time in our front garden. This is our neighbour’s cat, who we believe is named ‘Jelly’. She belongs to a house nearby (in the sense that this is where she is fed) which she shares with three small, and rather grumpy, dogs. These are taken for walks morning and evening and Jelly, being elderly and just a little confused about what she should do on these occasions, starts off following. She is completely ignored by the three canines, who by contrast will snap at anything and anyone else who comes near, then by the time she reaches our house she has had enough, or perhaps has reached the conclusion that going for a brisk walk is really not a very suitable thing for a cat to be doing. Whatever it is, her behaviour is the same most days, which perhaps tells us that feline dementia is not far away.

Her favourite of all places to hang out used to be in the corner of our garden, tucked away under a shrub behind our garden wall, a place from where she could observe life pass by. Presumably as a result of living with three of them, no dog, large or small, bothers her at all. She will sit there quite still and let them give her a sniff then, gazing into a space just beside them, a technique which most dogs seem to find quite unsettling, wait until they have been called away by their owners. I can’t help but imagine she has some unearthly powers, telepathy perhaps, which she uses to convince them she is not worth the effort of disturbing.

With our garden wall being no more, Jelly has been keen to show that this change in her life can also be taken in her stride. Far from being stoical about it, she seems pleased since she can now take a shortcut direct to her favourite shrub without having to get physical and deal with the wall. What is more she can now get to the trunk of our tree which she has shown makes an excellent clawing post. Having thinned out the higher branches in which we hang our bird feeders, we like to think that Jelly’s continued presence in our front garden will dissuade other more able cats from hunting here. Jelly’s own tree-climbing days, however, are well past.

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