Anyone want to buy a lovely old house?

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Well friends, it looks as though we will be selling our lovely old house.

It has been quite a journey over the last year or so. Back in 2012 I took redundancy from my job as a social work Area Manager. It was a move into the unknown really- I wanted to write more, and to find a more creative way of making a living. Of course the first thing we had to do was to consider our costs- foremost of these was our house.

We started out with a bit of an epiphany- perhaps the house could be part of the means by which we could support ourselves. It used to be a hotel (it had 9 bedrooms then!) but we had slowly renovated it to be a family house, in which we loved to offer hospitality to others. Michaela also ran craft evenings and pottery classes.

So, we took advice from wherever we could, transformed a couple of bedrooms, and offered our annex out for holiday lets. It was all brand new to us with more potential than certainty in everything we did. Along the way there was the inevitable investment in all sorts of things- renovations, furniture, websites, graphic design, on line publicity.

We have a shared narrow driveway up to the house, which goes over land belonging to a neighbour. After they were refused planning permission to convert outhouses into holiday accommodation, they complained to the planning department about what we were doing. More than this, they engaged high powered planning consultants to fight their corner. What may have started as sour grapes seems to have became a campaign of righteous indignation.

Despite previous verbal advice that we did not need planing permission to do the small scale things we were using the house for, the planning department decided that the combination of things were not commensurate with a domestic dwelling, even with the historical usage of the house. They advised us to submit a planning application to convert the house to a hotel. We did this after great complication and expense, over a year ago only to be told in the last month that it would need to go to the planning committee (local councilors) but planning officers would recommend a refusal.

At committee, local councilors were split in their opinions and decided on a site visit to talk to us all and consider things anew. It all hinged on the vehicular access. This has not happened yet.

In the interim however, we were hit with the news that huge amounts of money would need to be spent on the house because of building control/fire regulations. Remember that we only have two bedrooms (out of 6 in our part of the house) that are used for B and B, but these will need to be sound proofed, new fire proofing added to walls, door added to the top of the stairs, etc etc. These adaptations are not needed for a small B and B, but are for a ‘hotel’.

It was the final straw.

So, we decided to revert to plan A- it is time to sell up, simplify and find a place where there is enough space to live and to set up workshop space for pottery etc.

Now begins another phase in our lives- the end of something, but perhaps the beginning of something else. It means packing up our family home, dealing with a decade of accumulation, and finding something new. It also means developing different ways of earning a living. As they say, there ain’t no money in poetry, that’s what sets the poet free.

It would be easy to feel great bitterness- towards our neighbours (who seem to have a history of being involved in neighbourhood disputes) and towards the blind bureaucracy of the local council. We are determined to feel bitterness towards neither. People act out of their own frame of reference and many are unable to transcend this, either because of rules and regulations or because of personalities.

There are some things worth fighting for, but there is also the path of grace.

Last year I wrote a post reflecting on the nature of home ownership, and what it may be doing to our society. I was trying hard to get to grips with this in the on going context of what was happening above. It seems all the more prescient now.

Happy New Year…

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It is the morning after the night before.

We had a night full of music and friendship- this morning my fingers are very sore as playing for hours is a rarity for me these days. Head is OK though as I was restrained in the drinking.

Blessings to you all this new year.

This is our group photo of those actually sleeping at the house;

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Cowal open studios…

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Over the next few days we will be hosting an ‘open studios’ event as part of ‘Cowal Open Studios’. (This is our page.)

This involves showing people the spaces in which we create things- the pottery, my shed- and also displaying and selling stuff we have made.

Currently our dining room is full of all sorts of lovely things.

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It made me think again about how we create spaces for particular uses. Our old house has changed hugely over the last ten years, not just in the sense that we have spent a lot of time money and energy in restoring and mending, but also because we have given space purpose. The main purposes have been either to provide hospitality, or to create. The Open Studios event combines both, and so it is a great thing to be part of.

If you are in the area, please come along. You can have a play with some clay and share a cup of tea.

I will be round the back in a cloud of dust, shaping wood and listening to music. Probably best avoided, but I am happy to show you my space…

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The patience of the potter…

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It is a wild wet day here- the first storm of the autumn. Emily is home from university for some TLC (tonsillitis no doubt brought about by loss of sleep and excessive parties) and will is stretched out on a floor cushion in his onesy nursing a cold.

Michaela is potting. She has been making some large bowls based around pebble designs.

No matter how much you might like to rush the process of making pots, it is simply not possible. One of the most important skills employed seems to be a process of learning patience.

First you take a lump of raw clay. You then work the clay to ensure it is smooth and free of air bubbles (which would result in the pot exploding in the Kiln) then you use your hands and imagination to shape a pot. It takes Michaela several hours to get to this point;

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Next you have to wait for the pot to air dry- getting as much moisture out as possible. If you do this too fast, the pot with crack, if you do not do it enough it will be destroyed in the kiln. This can take around 4-5 days, depending on the thickness of the clay and the weather conditions.

Next you carefully stack your pots in the kiln, using ‘kiln furniture’ (carefully covered in bat wash so nothing sticks.) The kiln then as to warm up over several stages, taking around 11 hours to get up to around 1000 degrees centigrade.

Michaela and the kiln

It will then take another 10 hours to cool down sufficiently so that you can open the kiln. Some pots will have survived the firing, some may not. Even then, you do not have a completed pot- you have something that has been biscuit fired- it is hard and porous. Next you need to glaze the pot.

This involves brushing one or more glazes in liquid form on to the pot, carefully layering and sponging. This too can take an hour on some of the big pots. Many potters hate this stage as it is the least creative.

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Then the pot goes back in the kiln. Carefully stacked on bat-washed kiln furniture. Glaze sets like glass so if two pots touch they are like Siamese twins, only separated by risky surgery. Another 11 hours getting up to temperature, and the same to cool, and you open the kiln with excitement and trepidation.

The colours of the glazes are fickle- they often depend on subtle differences in temperature in different parts of the kiln. Sometimes Michaela has fired pots three times to get the right colour.

All of this is one of the reasons why I am no potter…

But I love watching the things work, helping out when I can, and I am so proud of Michaela’s pots.

I should add that for those of you who want to try your hand at pottery- Michaela and Pauline run courses- which are very busy-  I think the next few 4 session introductory courses are almost full. However, we will also be hopefully running to residential weekends over the winter- watch this space!

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Where the wind comes from…

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The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3;8

A few months ago, my friend (and former next door neighbour) Terry, looked up at the pointy bit of our house and said “That needs a weather vane. I’ll make you one.” Terry is a man who has a gift with all things metal and mechanical- he mends steam traction engines for a living at the moment, so he certainly has the skills.

A few weeks ago, they were passing through on their way on holiday in a camper van, when good as his word he handed me a lovely weather vane, made in his workshop down in Leyland, Lancashire.

He has placed an old Christian symbol on the top, an Ichthys, used in the early church as a sign of meeting, of hospitality.

The next task was to summon up the courage to actually put the vane up on the highest point of our house. Today I managed to overcome shaky knees and do the deed.

Thanks a million Terry!

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