Updated: Oct 19, 2019
I’m listening to a Czech version of Stupid Cupid Stop Picking On Me. I am a reluctant listener, but the builders’ radio is very loud. Loud enough to cut through the drilling and sawing that accompanies their attempts to fit ceiling plasterboard. There has been no back door for the last week, so the whole village benefits from Stupid Cupid and the other hits. I don’t understand most of the radio channel’s jingles, but I imagine they’re saying things like “Ghastly FM – Apocalypse with a Smile”.
At first, the absence of door coincided with a spell of warm weather. However, it’s now raining and the temperature has plunged. The central heating has been unplugged, (for reasons that would make Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Revolution movement lynch me if they ever found out). So it’s once again very cold, reminiscent of the winter of ’17, when we fended off two months of sub-minus-10 conditions with no roof and one wood burning stove.
A section of the living room, awaiting ceiling
The absence of door also allowed something to drop in during the night and consume a pigeon. The feathers were all we found in the morning. Probably one of our Beech martens.
I wait for Apocalypse FM to play The Doors’ Light My Fire, but it doesn’t. I’m tempted to pretend it does, just because it would fit this brief vignette very nicely. But I don’t.
The kids have been suffering a post-sugar malaise after the confectionery excesses of Easter. Yesterday, when I peeped in to see if Jan was awake and ready for the 6.40 school run (well, a walk to the bus stop, more accurately), a mouse poked out from the binful of sweet wrappers and orange peel, hopped onto Jan’s recumbent carcase, and nipped down the far side of the bed. Four more mice fled from the budgie cages, fat on millet. Something better change, as the Stranglers once sang.
Theo’s Easter basket. Plus sweets.
The origin of the kids’ sugar illness lies in an ancient Czech Easter tradition. On Easter Monday, the males of our village (and the country as a whole), processed from door to door in small gangs, wielding handmade willow wands called Pomlázka. The younger ones recited some traditional doggerel, which gave them ancient license to beat the women of the household with their sticks, and grab some sweets. The boys are sometimes given painted eggs too (we ended up with 12, all part of Theo’s impressive stash). Some of these were lovingly hand-decorated, most were dyed in gaudy primaries, and others were simply boiled eggs with half-hearted stickers attached.
The older men don’t recite any doggerel, they just shout a bit. They eschew the sweets, but are given bread, salami, cheese and gherkins, with optional shots of plum brandy, in return for the gentle beatings they administer.
This gender divide of the beaters and the beaten has been given a little balance in our part of the country (uniquely so, I believe), and on the previous weekend – Palm Sunday – the young girls were taken around the village by their Mums and Grans. They gave me and Theo (Jan failed to rise from his mouse-ridden bed) the gentlest of thrashings with their beautifully woven Pomlázka. They sang a traditional Easter ditty, and it was lovely, like Trick or Treat filtered through My Little Pony. We had stocked up on sweet things to give them, but only three gaggles of girls turned up, so we finished up with 92 of our original 100 sweets.
The missing door makes a mockery of our automatic locking and barring of the other main doors. But this is a part of the world where doors are routinely left open, and that’s a liberating thing. We’ve occasionally flushed out passing strangers who have ventured in out of curiosity, having known this building as a wrecked former pub from years ago. In fairness, it still looks like a wrecked former pub, and the strangers have no qualms about pointing this out to us.
I vaguely remember a similar open door policy from my childhood on a Grimsby council estate. Sadly, I doubt whether any location answering to the tags “Grimsby” and “council estate” has an open door policy these days. My poor auntie tells us how she can’t sleep at night due to the sounds of doors and windows being rattled and sheds being rummaged through. But 50-odd years ago, we used to view the sudden ingress of neighbours and hungry kids as interesting random footfalls on an otherwise routine and timetabled day.
So, a lack of door is no problem from a security or social point of view – until we’re all murdered in our sleep, that is – but it’s not good when your day job involves sitting with icy fingers poised over a keyboard. Hey-ho, the wind and the rain, as the numb-fingered Shakespeare once sang. And with Saffy on heat, the biggest no-door-related problem has been how to keep the neighbourhood dogs from forcing entry, in all senses of the phrase. A disassembled pallet proved the most effective barrier, but we’ll be glad when the door man arrives on Friday to seal the gap. Saffy, I’m sure, will flop to the floor with a melancholic sigh.
Two of the randy canine suitors are Saffy’s local friends Lucaš and Fast, a Shih Tzu and Border Collie respectively. The other regular butcher’s dog is a surly-faced monster built like one-and-a-half Alsatians. I hadn’t seen him before. He sits outside the gate or front door with a look that suggests he would gladly rip your throat out, in normal circumstances, but has alternative physical ambitions right now.
In conjunction with the North wind, the rain has now found the correct angle to pour through the no-door onto the supposedly drying concrete of our new floor. The concrete was the fourth and penultimate layer of a floor sandwich consisting of packed earth, concrete, polystyrene blocks, under-floor heating pipes, and more concrete. Tiles will complete the strata. With the original roof height lowered by the forthcoming ceiling, we must have lost about a metre of room height.
April 24th. The builders are still fitting the new ceiling. The radio is playing a Czech version of that slow Black Sabbath song whose name I can’t remember (not Changes – the other one). Saffy is still breaking doggy hearts. The painful process of creating a living room is nearing the endgame.
And our coal-burning central heating is still switched off. There, I’ve confessed now.