Back in August 2002, when we first took up residence at Aspen House, the reality of what we had taken on took but a short time to move from a dawning glimmer to the full glare of awareness. In that bright light of understanding we could see clearly that the house and its grounds had seen insufficient attention during the previous two or three decades. To put it succinctly, the garden was a jungle and the house was externally dull.
Since then, much has changed. The garden has been ‘cleared and pruned’ and the windows of the house have had a new coat of paint. It all looks much more cheerful, but it is still an enormous task to keep in front of it all. Last summer made it clear to us that we couldn’t run the house and rebuild the garden at the same time.
Which is why we had to call in the cavalry.
Their chief of staff turned up on his charger (well, Mitsubishi 4×4 anyway) one day last autumn, assessed the gravity of the situation (with a suitably sharp intake of breath) devised a strategy and sorted us out with a plan of attack.
The first casualty was the front lawn. This ludicrously irrelevant strip of turf vanished before the blade of a mini-digger, and was soon replaced with a wall-to-wall weed-proof membrane disguised beneath a couple of tons of ornamental gravel and a smattering of new planting. The effect was dramatic, making the whole of the front space look bigger and brighter.
Brighter, but not bright enough, not after sunset anyway. After dark, the only indication that there was a house there at all was the glow of a 40 watt energy saver bulb under the eaves of the porch. About as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. The whole façade of the house vanished in the gloaming, leaving the porch glowing like a dying beacon. Anybody trying to find us after 4.30 on a winter’s day would be halfway to somewhere else before realising that they’d passed us.
Something had to be done.
We spoke to our man about outside lighting. “Aha!” said he, raising an index finger in that all-knowing way, “You need floodlights.” We looked perturbed. He looked reassuring. We listened to his eloquent description of how classy and sophisticated Aspen House was going to look wearing its new cloak of subtle light. We were convinced.
Excitement bristled in the atmosphere yesterday when the electrician and his mate turned up to do the job, braving miserable weather. Determined to finish in one day, they battled on, getting progressively wetter but fortified by supplies of coffee and Sal’s homemade cake. Finally they were working in the dark, reassuring us that it was going to be ‘not much longer now’. And then, at last, the big switch-on took place. Our hanging sign was suddenly readable from a distance, while either side of the porch the floodlights began to glow, giving off a pale sodium light.
Rushing upstairs to get the full effect from the top floor, I stuck my head out of our bedroom window and looked down. Big mistake. Staggering back from the window with a hand slapped over my eyes, all I could see was the image of the floodlight inside my head, burned into my retina and pulsating from orange to purple to black as I crashed about bumping into the furniture.
It took a while for my sight to return. At which point I ventured cautiously outside from the back door, accompanied by Sal and her Mum and Dad, and peeped round the front of the house.
Wow! We had gone from no light to so-much-light-you-could-sunbathe-in-it. However, we were all agreed that it was a serious improvement, though later refection over a cup of tea highlighted the niggling thought that Aspen House may well have become a ‘light nuisance’, a polluter of the night, a drowner-out of starlight. So far, 24 hours later, we have had no hate mail through the door, but give it time . . .