Cold Old Homes

Frost as thick as snow clings to rooftops, wall tops, trees, and grass. Temperatures have been below freezing at night and just above in the daytime for a week now, so the frost does not completely melt during the day. This will continue at least until the weekend. This may not be big news for people who live in northern Canada, or Alaska, or even the Midwest of the US. For England, it is record cold for this time of year.

The central heating in our old house is struggling to keep us warm. We’ve resorted to wood fires in the living room grate and in the Nordic stove in the kitchen, harking back to the early days of this house, whose old oak beams are as dense as stone, and whose chimneys have filled with smoke since 1637. The fragrance of wood smoke lingers everywhere, enhancing the romance of living in a house continuously occupied since then, full of friendly ghosts and private sorrows.

The remains of a leather-bound Book of Common Prayer rest embedded in a glassed-in nook in our bedroom. Found in the walls during a refurbishment in the ’80’s, the leather is almost black,shiny with use, and the pages yellow. It will never leave this house. This is where it belongs, hidden perhaps during the Reformation to escape persecution, or to bring good luck to the house.

The lives of all who came before us pulses and breathes in the walls and beams, the very stones it is built with. That is why, with all its leaky window frames and rushes of air from behind false walls the house is cosy, kindly in the warmth of its atmosphere and welcoming in its simplicity.

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