In the little wooden house in the garden live my neighbours chickens: Salt, Pepper, Tommy and Twm (all female). Tonight they are the only residents in Tanygrisiau with lighting. The first bad weather of the autumn, torrential rain that seems excessive even in this little microclimate it he highest rain in the UK, and the power lines are down. The house is littered with magnetic lights running LEDs on batteries and torches in every room and the power cut came after we’d Skyped with Seth in South Africa, but it’s my least favourite feature of life in this remote village – the all-too regular power cuts. But a line of fairy lights and a cluster of blue flashing lights around the hen hut continue to twinkle on and off, powered by their own batteries to warn off foxes.
It’s been a bad day. Cottia, Jake and I dismantled and emptied my wardrobe to get into the loft (silly little hatch in a stupid place) so that we could store away some of Cottia’s boxes while she’s home for a year doing a post-grad certificate in mental health care. The boxes never made it up there. Jake discovered instead that he boxes already stored are all piled in one spot on boards that haven’t been properly laid on the joists – one of the bodged jobs that Meirion House suffers from that we inch towards righting year on year. We did get a rather gorgeous book cover designed and chatted to Seth briefly – I was about to transfer some money for him when I noticed a large bank account transaction for some sound equipment I’ve never even dreamt of buying. Two extremely long phone calls later and bank card blocked and destroyed I’m looking forward to filling in fraud forms and trying to puny account back together. I managed a bit more conversation with Seth before the lights went out.
I’ve just finished reading Booker short listed novel, The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. It’s exquisitely lyrical prose, bitter-sweet and never loses sight of ambiguity. One key phrase is, ‘Tomorrow’s rain is already on the horizon.’ It is. But even with the rain pouring down, the power cut and the darkness deep, the chickens still have their lights.
Yesterday, during a huge deluge of rain, I heard an ominous dripping noise. I’m largely deaf in my left ear and amuse my family by not having much sense of direction for sound, but I eventually tracked down the steady beat to the chimney; fat drops of rain falling behind the wood-burning stove. I rang a local builder (who specialises in restoring beautiful slate roves, but is wonderful for many jobs) and he promised to take pictures and see what can be done, but the worst-case scenario is a dire amount of money. I left the rain falling indoors to make more phone calls – organising the return of a computer that doesn’t work; the annual check up from the Child Benefit office to ask (again) why I home educate and whether I am really doing so; chasing up paperwork for my daughter’s new flat that was several days overdue; wrestling with a new service for emails that had proved a nightmare to set up. The days dose of bureaucracy over, I turned to editing a poetry collection that is wonderful, but is proving a leviathan at this stage: a trilogy in one volume with each of the three books in sections and around fourteen line drawings scattered throughout. The final files numbered forty-four pdfs and, of course, when I combined them into the master document there was a page more than there should have been and I had to spend time searching for the point from which the page numbers had gone awry and redoing all the pdf documents affected. By lunch time the rain had stopped and I was feeling optimistic about my progress with the trilogy. After lunch one of my sons took a shower and the other called me to see the waterfall splashing down the newly painted hallway wall on its way to the bottom floor. The seal on the bath, over which the shower is installed, had perished (again). I tracked the water down to the bottom floor to find not only more wet walls, but also that the cat had decided against using her litter tray. Later, when we cleaned the house ready for guests arriving on Monday, the hoover blew the trip for the top two floors and we discovered that a wall socket attached to the extension cord had fallen into several pieces. Sometimes I think that a neat little modern house with actual plumbing and central heating instead of dodgy chimneys and wood burners that need constant work would make for a saner life. Some days there are so many maintenance jobs – for the house, for family events, for minor crises… that I wonder how I manage to find time for actual work. In a world of political and economic uncertainty that is rife with injustice and casual in the face of ecological disaster, bad plumbing and the quirks of an old building are as nothing. And as for a saner life… What could be better for sanity than walking into my kitchen/dining area to admire the tiling and decorating that my sons and I have done over the last couple of weeks – or teaching myself how to apply sealant to the bath to stop the leaks (despite it being noxious and very hard to wash off hands) – or walking through the village on a grey, but beautiful August day, in awe for the thousand thousandth time by the view of the Moelwyns and charmed by the steam train running by? What could be a better way to make a living (if sometimes precariously so) than working with words? As the main character, David, says in the movie Vanilla Sky:
The little things… there’s nothing bigger, is there?