I moved back to the UK from Lima, Peru. Lima is a modern city. Seriously modern. I lived there for four years and watched apartment blocks being thrown up all around me. The whole place looks brand new or half built. Because it is.
The UK is different. I lived in a 200 year old (I am guessing there, but I don’t expect I am much wrong) building in Edinburgh. My brother still owns it. In Britain we have the National Trust. This is a marvelous charity. It is also the biggest land owner in the UK. They maintain many large country houses – think of things like Downton Abbey – and the grounds that they sit in. It is a very middle class activity to spend weekends in Wellington boots, wandering around the well preserved grounds of these stately homes and then to have a bun and a cup of tea in the National Trust Tea Room.
I joined the National Trust more to just be a member, than to have access to their tea rooms. It is the sort of thing you should do. And I do like preserving our old things.
We like to preserve our old stuff, as a rule. You can wander around Scotland and easily find buildings older than America. And many will still have people living in them. And I don’t mean just big stately homes. There are houses and flats in Edinburgh that are astonishingly old.
I am currently living in a very old farm house myself. I have no good idea of how old, but I suspect at least hundreds of years old. The house itself, along with 70 acres of land, was originally purchased in the late 70’s or early 80’s by my father for his father to live on and farm.
When he passed away, further renovations were made to the inside. The original, dark, artificial wall coverings known as “Beauty board” was ripped out and replaced with lovely tongue and groove wood. The avocado bathroom upstairs was taken out and shot. The two small rooms upstairs were refitted so they are warm and airy. The kitchen was rebuilt, a shower was put in. Central heating was added so that we didn’t die from exposure in the winter.
But the main features of the house remained. The low doorways that everyone bangs their heads on , are still a major part of the house. The half loft, looming over the main living room is still there. Apparently that is where the family would originally have slept, with the animals underneath to keep everyone warm (the loft has been repurposed as a TV lounge). The huge open fire with the traditional Irish cooking implements dominates the downstairs living area.
Outside there are hand built drystone walls to separate the front yard or “street” from the fields that surround the house. The, 100m, tree lined, lane that leads from the main road to the house has grass growing up the middle. In spring time it is lined with wild flowers and the branches of the trees on either side stretch out over your head.
There are three outhouses on one side of the yard/street.
These are my problem.
As a member of the National Trust, I understand that keeping old things just for the sake of keeping old things is how we do things. It is in our national psyche. The Queen is old, we keep her. She lives in a huge old house, we keep that. The Catholics and the Protestants fight each other over something that happened a long time ago, we keep fighting.
These outhouses serve no purpose any more. They don’t keep animals safe at night. They don’t store farm equipment. They aren’t even doing a good job at keeping themselves up. Years of neglect has left their roofs rusted and falling through. As the roofs deteriorate the walls are suffering. They are not looking their best.
They are old. They are part of this whole property. They are part of what this place is. There white walls and red roof make them the little brothers and sisters to the big red roof that is the house. Without the outhouses this main house is just an old house that has been modernised on the inside.
However, these outhouses just need a little repair work done to them. Then need new roofs and doors. This will secure them for many years to come. Then they can be useful again. We can store things in them. We can…well to be honest that is all we can do.
The new roof wouldn’t be the same as the old roof. It would be more modern, and so last longer. It would preserve what is best about the out houses, and improve them. Just like what has been done to the inside of the house I am living in.
But we should do it. We should take care of the things that are old. Pulling them down might be easier, but is it better?
We could pull them down and there would be a large space. We could reminisce about the old out houses and how we missed them. Better, I think, to keep them.