Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Old buildings grow soul like mouldy bread grows green

The house at Doyle's Farm was a business opportunity for three very odd brothers whose eccentricities would make for a complete tale of its own. I don't know when it was first built. I shouldn't think it had much in the way of foundations and it was made of rubble, plastered over with a coat of render and roofed in grey slate.

The rooms were arranged like this: in front was a small porch with the front door looking out onto fields. When one entered this and turned the doorknob at the end it led into the corner of the kitchen. This stretched off to the right and had a wooden floor and a big iron stove. Opposite was the back door which led into a small back kitchen, or scullery. It was a roughly made porch onto the rear, a small cube of corrugated iron in which there was a grimy window and a wash basin. A third of an acre of toilet was outside the door.

Leading off the kitchen to the left was a sitting room with a small iron fireplace. Beyond was a back room with some wooden packing crate sides nailed down to cover most of the gaps between the half-rotted floor joists. Like the sitting room, this had a window with a T-shaped elevation. In theory, two windows could be swung out into the overgrown garden, while the top window could be opened as well. I only ever remember this window being painted closed and barred with wooden shutters that swung across from left and right. There was a small fireplace in here as well, backing onto the one in the sitting room. It was never lit and the room was dark and dusty.

At the other end of the house, through the kitchen, was the last bedroom. For some reason, it had a tongue and groove ceiling, painted pale green in colour. There was a half board missing from one course and one could look into the mysteriously dark void beyond between the ceiling and the underside of the roof. The window here also looked outside onto fields. The top pane was held together through a hole by two flats of timber screwed tightly together. My father never bothered to fix the pane properly once it had been broken. The fireplace in here was occasionally used to heat the room. I can't quite remember if it matched the others in the house, and I vaguely remember it had a shalf-like cowl over it instead of the circular motif of the sitting-room fireplace.

The kitchen stove was small and faulty. It leaked smoke into the room and I never remember anyone using the oven unless it was to try to bake horse chestnuts hard for playground competitions.

Every corner had something crumbling, damp, bare, or out-of-bounds. It wasn't uncommon for rats to appear, or mice to scurry over surfaces at night. They and time gnawed at our rented house. The Doyles sent solicitors letters when my parents missed the rent, which was probably two shillings a week. They missed it often enough as money was short. I was sick often enough too and missed school.

I remember a regimen of many hand-me-downs and unsympathetic teachers. Culchies all, the younger sons or daughters of comfortable farmers, they had no notion of the reality behind some of their pupils' lives. As out of step with their world as they were with ours, we stared blankly at little jokes made at our expense or listened to bland lessons in disinterest. The places that captured our imaginations weren't inside the pages of history books but outdoors, first at the half-hour break during schooltime, later in the wild freedom after 3.00pm.

The house was lonely after Mam took up jobs to keep the wolf from the door. At first, I spent time after school at my grandmother's house, across the river. Then as I got older I had access to the front door key, hidden under a stone. I'd prefer to be out wandering, playing football or walking with the dog in the fields than rattling around a house on my own. There wouldn't be life there until my mother came home tired from house-cleaning, or, later, with her hands filled with metal wire splinters from working in a local factory.

I miss my mother in her decepit little house. Even when she was wiggy and used to spend her time telling me all of the strange things my father was doing without her. It took me years to figure out she was getting head-wrecked from sitting up there in the middle of a field with a leaky roof over her and a husband falling in drunk whenever he could. I wonder what hot fire those Doyle brothers are sitting by these days, the penny-grubbing bastards?


Anonymous said...

Heart rendering Willie.

Willie_W said...

Aye. But we've marched on a bit from there since.