Wednesday 29 January 2014

Going primitive

I have just made an offer for a house. Or, to be accurate, a converted Primitive Methodist chapel, built with an eye to eternity in 1875.

I like to think that the Hann family will be fitting occupants since my two sons are indisputably primitive, if not knowingly Methodist. While my wife’s assertion that she is a Muslim (only ever made to callers hoping that she might become a witness for Jehovah) will surely have added piquancy when delivered from a quasi-ecclesiastical doorstep.

My late mother was raised a Presbyterian and regarded other nonconformist sects with due suspicion. She liked to quote the neighbour who came round each Christmas and announced self-righteously: “I’ll take no strong drink, thank you, I’m a Methodist. I’ll just have a glass of port.”

My parents duly had me christened by the Presbyterian Church of England, which was a godsend for a cynic as it allowed me to joke that they had entrusted the care of my immortal soul to an organisation that had disappeared (through a merger with the Congregationalists) by the time I was 18.

The old lady who currently occupies our prospective home tells me that she receives occasional visits from people who were married or baptised there. If our purchase goes through, I shall try to treat these callers with good grace.

I have never understood the mentality of those who live in converted railway stations, signal boxes and goods sheds, and then festoon them with notices designed to repel the train nerds they inevitably attract. (Though I write that as a bit of a train nerd myself.)

At least I imagine that chapel spotters are rather less obsessive than their railway equivalents.

It undoubtedly helps that the chapel is not registered as being of any particular architectural or historic interest, and that it does not possess a burial ground. Someone I vaguely know bought a converted parish church where the graveyard was still in occasional use. Although not in the least superstitious himself, he did admit that it was vaguely disconcerting to pull back the curtains of a morning and find a black-clad party clustered around an open grave just beyond his hardy perennials.

Mrs Hann and I first visited the chapel on our own the weekend before last, and decided to make an offer after a second tour accompanied by our children. Four-year-old Charlie’s tactlessly loud assertion that it was “rubbish” was just the confirmation we felt we needed. Added to which, it is just down the road from his very good state school.

We now have to overcome three major hurdles. First, a structural survey to determine whether the uneven roof line and numerous loose tiles obvious even to me require a bit of tidying up or a full scale reconstruction. (If the latter, I wonder how far I might get with one of those church roof appeals, with a thermometer-like sign tracking progress to date?)

Second, finding someone daft enough to lend me the money until my current house sells.

And finally, extricating the present incumbent, who has clearly devoted much of her life to collecting stuff in a way with which I can sympathise all too well. I naturally agreed on Saturday that we would like to keep the pews and refectory-style table which fit so well in the kitchen. Then she suggested that each of our boys would surely like one of her Victorian school desks.

At this point Mrs Hann took me to one side for “a quiet word” about my propensity to act as an open door when anyone has stuff to give away.

She is right, of course, as she usually is. Sometime this year I shall be forced to make some tough decisions about which of the many thousands of books I own, have never read and am never likely to read, I really must sell or give away.

If anyone would like to buy a house in Northumberland with stunningly lovely views and a ready-made library, majoring on classic and modern fiction, history, biography and railways, do please drop me a line.

Two unruly children and a fine pair of Border terriers may also be available by separate negotiation.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

CC said...

Wish I could.
The dogs and DARLING boys included!!

Good luck!!