Renovation and change…

More work on the old house.

The back bedroom/spare room this time- a ceiling that has been hanging on a horse hair thread, because of previous water damage.

Renovation as an analogy of change? Here we go-

  • Renovation is not the same thing as restoration.
  • It always involves a lot of mess at first.
  • It is possible, either through lack of resources, or unwillingness to make the mess, to fiddle around at the surface, and try to ignore the deeper problems. If you do, you will regret it later.
  • Get people to help who know what they are doing.
  • The use we put the house to is very different from the use it was put to in the past- so we need different materials, and to create different kinds of spaces.


Kind of reminds me of an old poem, written in a prayer room a few years ago-



I can hear a creaking

A groaning from the joists

Pipes and drains are leaking

Floor boards are tearing loose


Can you smell the horsehair plaster

Stripping off from lath?

This could bring disaster

Or perhaps could clear a freedom path


There’s a time for all things

The good book says

To reap, to weep, to build, to sing

To mourn then turn the journey on


The marshal yards are empty now

And the cranes stand fixed and rusty

The shipyards moved to other towns

And the churches all lie empty


Lord teach me to move like water

Running from these mountains


Tear out my feet from concrete shoes

And dance me till I flutter

For freedom comes to those who find

Your keys amongst our clutter




We are in the middle of various renovations of the old house. It is a constant process, but there is a particular burst of activity at present.

  • New ceilings (one collapsed a couple of weeks ago, so we are being extra careful!)
  • Redecorating Emily’s room. This was the first room we decorated when we moved here- so I reckon this is some kind of milestone- the first part of the house we have decorated twice.

  • New kitchen flooring. We had discovered that flotex, even though it is very expensive, is impossible to keep clean.
  • Clearing out all sorts of accumulations of toys, books and clutter to make space for new things to happen. Including (gulp) the cellar, which is chock full of things- wood, bits of metal, almost empty paint tins, broken furniture- that might have come in useful. But now we need the space to install a kiln.

And in stripping back the surface coverings of this old house, you always come face to face with it’s mostly mysterious past. The flowery pencil marks of workmen on the bare horsehair plaster, old brass fittings from doors long gone, bell circuits to summon servants, all hidden under bad renovations done to the building in the 1960s and 70s when the house was a converted into a guest house.

It is impossible not to wonder at the lives lived by previous generations in our old houses.

This house was built in 1840, in a small town on the up. A regular ferry service was established across the Clyde around 1820, and by the 1840’s you could travel direct from Glasgow to Dunoon courtesy of the new fangled steamers. It became fashionable for prosperous Glasgow merchants to have a house ‘doon the watter’ for weekends and holy days. Merchants whose prosperity rested on the commerce of an expanding empire- whose booty poured into Glasgow from plantations of sugar, cotton and tea. A prosperity that rested on the back of slavery and oppression.

Our house was obviously not built by merchants in the top rank. It is one of two identical buildings next to one another and the story goes that they were built for two brothers. They had cornices, but not of the very ornate kind, and the proportions of the rooms were generous rather than expansive. They were sober in their success.

1840. How much has changed, and how much still is the same.

It was the year when the world’s first self adhesive postage stamp was issued- the penny black.

It was the year of the first steam crossing of the Atlantic, by the wooden paddle wheel steamer RMS Britannia.

Napoleon Bonaparte died and his body was brought back to France.

Missionary Scot David Livingstone left Britain for Africa.

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert.

And some great British workmen were knocking in the last nail of a brand new house in Dunoon, Argyll.

Curtains were chosen, and carts lined up to take heavy furniture from the shore up the hill.

A family gathered, excited and thrilled by the smell of new paint.

And here we are, 170 years later.

Screwing together flatpack furniture.

Such progress.

Renovation as a spiritual discipline…

This week I am on annual leave, and am taking the opportunity to do some work on the house.

Our house is old and well lived in so is always in need of renovation and repair. When time, energy and money allows, I will start a project, and work like a slave until it is done. I get stressed as I feel responsible for getting the thing finished.

This time, however, things are different- as I am the understudy to a craftsman.

Michaela’s uncle is up here to upgrade the plumbing.  This involves ripping out a massive inefficient old boiler that is asthmatic and rusty, and virtually rebuilding the boiler room around a sleek and compact new model. We will then rip out the old hot water tank, which is surrounded by a network of pipes- many of which are redundant.

What we will be left with is something that still burns the same gas, but quite a bit less of it, and will provide the house with heat and hot water just like the old one- only it will be reliable, and cleaner.

And after a day testing my bad back carrying huge bits of old plumbing, and sawing and drilling, I am tired, but not stressed. I am working with a man who has been a plumber for 40 plus years. There is next to nothing he does not know about pipes and plungers. And he has pride in a job not just done, but well done.

So, this left me thinking…

We, the church, are in need also of constant renovation. Some (perhaps me sometimes) would even wish to demolish and rebuild. Houses are to be lived in, and as we live in them, they become tired and worn. Plumbing leaks and boilers break down.

Technology brings new innovations- new gadgets and household appliances, new ways of using space, and so the building evolves and changes- or it’s value will plummet, and it might find itself only fit for selling on to property developers, or- dereliction and demolition.

But- people still need a roof- a place of warmth and shelter, where family can be nurtured and loved.

So renovation- which is born of hope, nurtured in vision and achieved through hard work, broken finger nails and skinned knuckles.

And as we renovate- how we need to learn under skilled craftsmen- men who need to prove nothing, and take no personal glory from the acts of resurrection they release. Rather the quiet satisfaction of a life lived well.