The village public address system has fallen silent. There used to be twice-weekly announcements over the PA telling of shop opening times, dates for pet rabies vaccinations, sales of potatoes and chickens, and other essential word-of-mouth. The PA volume was always just one notch under distortion, and the announcements were topped and tailed with a jingle vaguely reminiscent of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. As soon as the jingle sounded its first note, Fido would throw back his head and howl. The howling continued through all the important information, and only ended when the last note of the concluding jingle had faded.
All of which was inexplicably enjoyable, exerting the same comforting magnetic pull as the shipping forecast, or Alan Freeman jabbering through the Top 20.
Shortly before Christmas 2019, the village PA stopped broadcasting. Having run since the 1940s, morphing from a comradely call to action in the Communist era to a flea-market footnote to rural capitalism, it had ended at the very point in history when it had something meaningful to say and a genuinely useful role to fulfil as Coronavirus oracle. Instead of being informed about the latest lockdown rules and regs via the dalek-like tones of the PA harridan, we have to watch TV, surf local websites, or – and this is by far the most reliable method – phone our neighbour Šarka, who knows everything about everything.
Yes, we can now leave the house in groups of three; we can take off our face masks once we are beyond the village boundary (as long as there is no one else within 10 metres); we can visit the paint shop, if we give them prior notice of our intentions; and we can order a takeaway pizza, as long as we pick it up ourselves, masked and single-handed. All this is important information, and Šarka is its conduit, but I still really miss the PA version, and the Fido howls that underpinned it.
The dogs have refused to venture upstairs since we finished the building work up there. They preferred it in its former guise as a sprawling ground space with easy access to the rest of the attic. There were exciting things such as the whiff of roosting cats and stone marten poo to sniff though, and a sneaky alternative route back down using the old attic staircase. But now there are four pristine rooms, smelling of paint and new plumbing rather than cats and poo, and dogs don’t enjoy that kind of thing. There are also four new and potentially closed doors, which limits the dog-friendly floor space to a meagre landing; and access to the rest of the attic is blocked off by a three-metre high wall. The newly opened up view of the hillside and woodland beyond, the two-tone tiling and fancy lighting of the new bathroom, the feng shui austerity of the spare room, and the ‘No Muddy Paws’ rule in Magda’s new study, are all dog turn-offs. So they stay downstairs.
The poor animals are having problems in the garden, too. Formerly a free range dog park, there are now four large raised vegetable beds, on which they are not welcome. Saffy put the theory to the test by rooting around and having a dump in one of the beds. She wasn’t a popular dog at that point, although her radish seed-speckled nose and look of innocent confusion let her off the hook fairly quickly.
It’s interesting how things become invisible in a house when they’re not finished. Acres of plasterboard somehow fade from view, and a lick of paint makes then emerge anew, like switching on a light. In this manner, I acquired a new corridor this week, the pink and white plasterboard coalescing into a meaningful space once it was daubed in Dulux. It’s lovely to walk up and down it, simply because it’s there; and it also has a door giving unnecessary alternative access to the main entrance hall.
The plumber finished his work this morning by installing an outside tap. Magda mentioned to him that the new loo he had fitted upstairs was a little unstable. Having a loo that moves when you deposit yourself upon it is not ideal. The plumber stomped moodily upstairs, sat on the loo, and rubbed his huge, Frank Zappaesque moustache.
“It’s the silicon”, he explained.
“What about it?”, we asked.
“Well, when it cracks, let me know.”
On this not too encouraging note, he stomped downstairs and left.
The stone martens are doing something mysteriously metallic in the space beneath our bedroom floor. For three nights now they have kept a 2am tryst, dragging something noisily through the confined space, and then combining their high-pitched growls with metal percussion, which we assume must involve the iron supports on the beams. It does not make for a good night’s sleep.
But there may be more worrying things to… well, to worry about. As I was writing the middle part of this diary entry, thinking how the room had suddenly turned cold, the double door between my study and the aforementioned corridor began to shake violently. It bulged and rattled for five seconds. I opened it, and of course (otherwise it would be a very dull story) there was nothing there.
This reminded me – we must re-inter the mummified cat we found under the floorboards; and we must replace the gravestone of František Just (former owner of our house), which we discovered ages ago outside the front door, and which has been relocated for reasons to do with drainage. The thought of Franta and his cat rattling my doors isn’t a happy one.