You have ten seconds to name any friend that moved into a new home without wanting to change a single thing.
10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.
How many names did you manage?
Truthfully, I’ll be impressed if your list held a single name. Even if you named just one, pat yourself on the back: it’s more than I managed in a much longer time frame.
So, it stands to reason that we should want to change some things about this place we now call home. It’s inevitable.
Yet, all things considered, we feel as if we unearthed a gem.
The location, for starters, is idyllic. The house rests nestled into the elbow of the valley and looks down along its whole length to the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains. We can see the Skirrid and the Sugar Loaf, hazy in the distance. At night, the lights wink and flirt from Pontypool, from Usk, from Abergavenny.
On a balmy evening, we sit on the decking or the porch steps, watching a bleeding sun as it rolls down between two distant hills, tugging night’s dark cloak in its wake, and feel as if we have landed in our own little patch of heaven.
Take note, if ever you do come to visit, it’s best to use the main bathroom on the first floor for an opportunity to take in the view seated and at your own leisure. Although, I haven’t tried this from the toilet, too, and probably won’t be anytime soon, as according to my mother, lounging with your bare botty sagging into the pan is a sure-fire route to piles.
Anyway, as I was saying, a little slice of heaven is now ours.
Except that we have a mouse. In the house.
Let me just reiterate that: we have a mouse in the house.
I am reluctant to type these words, but thankfully, I am yet to see it myself. Rhys assures me that it is very small, and whilst it seems to be keeping itself to itself in his study, I am disinclined to worry excessively about it.
I was expecting mice outdoors, in my stables, and in winter. I had even been making initial enquiries about kittens that would have grown big enough to start mousing during the colder months. I wasn’t expecting that their first target would be an ambitious little critter that made a premiere appearance half-way through one of Rhys’ video conferences in early June. I wasn’t prepared for that.
I rang pest control when I also found a wasp’s nest lurking ominously in the shed. I mentioned mousy.
‘Although, he seems to have vacated,’ I said, probably sub-consciously trying to console my own nerves.
‘Mrs Simon,’ he said. ‘It won’t be a he, it will be a they. And he will just be staying out of view.’
‘Great. That’s comforting.’ (My sarcastic retort.)
‘Ye. Just to reassure you.’ Was his equally sardonic comeback. ‘But don’t worry, I’ll be round tomorrow.’
True to his word, around he came the next morning, and issued more bright notes of encouragement to the tune of, ‘I’ve been here before to rats. And hornets’; ‘You’re an ongoing target with a water feature just outside’; and ‘see you soon’.
So it seems our little house has a number of quirks and surprises in store.
The doorbell is located inside the porch, which was evidently erected in a hurry one Sunday afternoon. I imagine it was supper-time by the time the constructors noticed the faux-pas and retired nonchalant, driven by grumbling bellies. The outside light can only be accessed from inside the house too. So if you get home in the dark, you won’t have light to unlock the door, but you will have light to retrieve your key should you drop them as you cross the threshold.
The cupboard-handles in the kitchen come off in my hands, and the little lever that should regulate the heat from the AGA thinks it’s being hilarious sticking resolutely to tropical temperatures during a heat wave. Still, I like my kitchen, and with the exception of a lick of paint, that won’t be changing anytime soon.
Yesterday, mid-way through conducting a phone interview, a thunderstorm unleashed its fury. In doing so, it also unleashed a blocked drain right through my office window, flooding the carpet. It happened quickly. ‘I’ll have to call you back,’ I said, pallid.
Outside, it is a similar story.
I’ll admit, I was naïve, and there is more sorting to be done than I anticipated.
There is a distinct lack of fencing and the ground is pocked and rutted. In fact, if it was possible for the earth to resemble a giant green crumpet, then my field would resemble just that.
I stumbled across it when I walked the boundary fence. I could have cried. If it wasn’t for the view and a certain bewildered feeling that it was ours, and I had to deal with it, I probably would have.
What to do and who to call? Especially, in lockdown! I looked across the valley and stalked the area on Google to find the farm directly opposite us then picked up the phone. There’s nothing like local knowledge.
Thankfully, my new neighbour – let’s call her Mary – could give me a name. This I took to a friend and she gave me a Facebook profile. Eventually, the stars aligned to drop me a phone number, and I got hold of a man – Sam – with the equipment to sort me out. That is, to sort me out with a level field.
It so happens I caught the team in a lull and I fist-pumped the air having never been so pleased to see a man with a tractor in my life as I was later that day.
I attempted to take him a cup of coffee mid-way through the job and ended up handing up half a cup. Spilling the contents as I tripped my way down the slope, I decided that it would make for a far stiffer competition than the old egg-and-spoon race. From now on, I’ll be offering half a cup of coffee to save myself embarrassment and the recipient some disappointment, as that’s all that will be left by the time I’ve made it down the field.
Still, there was common ground and shared acquaintances. I’d forgotten how small the farming and rural communities can be, and how tight; how accommodating they can be if you know the right faces to ask and ask at opportune moments. I know if a ‘newbie’ called my father – as often our neighbour does – for a hand, he would gladly give it if he could. Likewise, our neighbours turn out to help us, even when the jobs are grimy and don’t start till after dark. These are the marks etched into a character by generations of leaning on neighbours, of those shared acquaintances – even distant ones – and of that common ground.
I’ve bales stacked in the yard, an empty muck trailer, and a newly rolled front field. When I see the whole thing fenced and the back fields harrowed into conforming to my vision, I swear there’ll be dancing. Perhaps just as importantly, I’ve names for contacts, and for the little jobs that need doing here-and-there, numbers to call for this and for that, for those little changes we do want to make. Steadily, mouse or no-mouse, we are finding our feet.