Out in the Cold

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

snowy house

Spring is in the air

One of the challenges we faced when moving in was what to do with the several tons of semi-rotting timber and firewood in the attic. Over the next two months it was sorted, sawn, and stacked in a vast semi-circle like an art installation that turned out to be too big to remove from the workshop.

We were proud of the transformation of rubbish into fuel. That wood was going to last us through several winters. However, with two months of deep freeze to go, the wood has all gone. That’s how much it takes to keep a big house a couple of degrees above freezing when all you have is a single wood-burning stove.

So we’ve had to invest in electric heaters, as the planned underfloor central heating system is currently a cellar full of polystyrene and pipes, a large cement mixer and a lot of wishful thinking. Our team of frozen Ukrainians is probably up to the task, but it seems a herculean one. And one not aided by the fact that our funds have run dry.

Born with a plastic spoon rather than a silver one, I’d not had the opportunity before to see how easy it is to spend a huge amount of money. The house ate it in a series of incremental improvements, a bit of roof here, a day of plaster and a cloud of poisonous fumes there, some makeshift floors and walls… and that was it. There was an additional sum put aside to pay for the last two thirds of the roof, but nothing more. So much for the mortgage-free utopia sketched out on the back of a beer mat in Oxford two years ago.

We bought new caps so that we could go, cap in hand, to the bank. Would you, we enquired, lend us some money? Their response was drawn out, involved lots of forms and intense phone calls, but can be summed up as “fuck off”.

We went home to our stoical Ukrainian builders, wondering how they would respond when they found out we couldn’t actually pay them. Magda imagined deferred bills, understanding nods, and further trips to potential lenders. I imagined slit throats and burning rubble. That kind of sums up one of the many differences between us.

The Ukrainians were philosophical. They were paid by their employer, they pointed out, not by us directly. He was the one with the knives and matches, they hinted.

Magda had a plan. We took the money put aside for the roof, and paid the builders. All we had to do now was worry about the weaponry and ire of the roofers. This clearly couldn’t go on. Luckily, the frozen landscape wasn’t one into which any sane roofer was going to venture. We just needed the weather to remain snowbound long enough for us to rustle up a couple of million Czech crowns.

Right now, we’re vacating the ground floor of the house so that the cement mixers can move in. The only thing we lack upstairs is water, so we’ve had to incorporate an emergency stairway to the loo and bathroom. I can’t bring myself to describe the full impact of a bathroom with an ambient temperature on the wrong side of zero. Showers, suffice to say, are swift.

frozen ground

The bathroom. Well, almost…

So, it feels like moving house all over again. New rooms to settle into upstairs, some sweeping views we didn’t even realise we had, and a grudging relationship with electric heaters that singlehandedly shatter the illusion that we’re living in a bit of 19th century Wessex Thomas Hardy couldn’t bring himself to write about.

I’ll report on the ingenious solution to the problem of being skint as soon as we think of it. The signs are actually quite good, work wise, and I’m currently in a cycle of 12 hour days, 7 days a week, writing for eight different organisations. That’s why current blog posts are a bit of a rarity: writing is the last thing I want to do in my spare time. But, even now, I look down into the garden and see a flock of 30 siskins, and four fat fieldfares still finding flesh on last year’s withered apples. And the dogs are barking at passing tractors. And the kids are home soon. So all is well.

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