Category Archives: The End is Never the End

The End is never the End ~ Part 10

Part 10

Probate was finally completed. Alice & Morgan met with the bank manager, the account was updated and changed over to both of their names. He supplied them with up to date statements.  They now had the clearance to begin work on the estate. The bank manager repeated the suggestion made by the solicitor, to have the partnership confirmed within the law and on paper. He also urged them to update their wills.

Another visit to the solicitor was organised.

The insulation was updated on the home and workshop houses, fire and intruder alarms fitted and the insurance updated. It was now time to put them on the market.

The stable houses were updated and decorated. Beds were ordered and other furniture was expected to be delivered before the end of the week. The day had been spent in town shopping for statement pieces, bed linen, and some nick knacks for Lovell’s room.

“Lovell, you have shiny object syndrome.” teased Morgan, as he counted off all the trinkets she had picked for her room. “Your room will be fit for a princess!”

Lovell smiled. A new bed for Crumbs was first on her list and even that had a glitzy look. Never mind that Crumbs always looked like she had been pulled through a hedge backways. Even five minutes after grooming her coat was a wild mass of tangles. Lovell knew exactly where this new bed would be placed: right under the window of her bedroom, with a water dish to go in the corner.

It was good to see the excitement and sparkle in Lovell’s eyes. This move would be good for her.  Morgan had high hopes of teaching her some task, so that she could play her part in the enterprise and earn a few bob, to give her a feeling of independence and spending money to boot.

It was now a toss up between ‘Clock Tower House’ & ‘Hour House’ as the permanent name for Thudder house. The clock had the once over and ‘the Convent Bell’ could be heard clearly within and without the building. It had a musical tone that was easy on the ear.

The waiting weeks before the probate was completed, were spent in thinking, planning and quizzing Mr Yeeeeeoooo on how best to tackle the various ideas they came up with. They had grown fond of the tea drinker, and he them, he proved his worth when it came to cataloguing the library books, the art work, furniture and silver. He knew who to contact about the cleaning and storing of all the objects while work was carried on to the main building.

They had decided to retain his services to oversee a sensitive restoration programme of the house, he had the experience with old properties and was well able to suggest cost-effective and well-designed solutions to any problems the survey had shown up so far. He had come to love the old place and almost nurtured it like a child. He had contacts in every field of the work required. They also asked him to design and prepare the plans for the extension to the back of the house. He gave them a choice of two. After time for thought and consultation, a third set was prepared amalgamating the features they liked from the previous two.

The plan for this new extension was tasteful. A door under the curved stairway in the hall, would lead to a long hallway between the new and the old parts of the house. Immediately behind the doorway was a toilet block for use by patrons to the main lower level of the house. A modern bespoke fitted industrial kitchen and a large utility room (it would be necessary if we were going to hold conferences or open the house as a small hotel) was at the end, behind the oratory and close to the stairs to the cellar. It also led to changing rooms, lockers and wash rooms for staff.

A private kitchen/dining/family room for private family use was next the internal wall of the kitchen and behind the door from the hall It had French doors that would open to the walled garden at the back. Four en-suite double bedrooms, completed the rooms on the other half of the extension. The two end bedrooms were suitable for wheelchair usage with access to the car park from a doorway at that side of the house. They entered the main hall from the wide area under the curved staircase, with plenty of space, it would not take from the hall.

Eight double bedrooms and four single, all en-suite, would give them small hotel status. If they included bedrooms in the extension at the back of the house then the two stable houses could be added to the list as self catering or suitable for staff or family use.

Thus it was decided to turn the place into a small hotel and conference centre. The drawing, dining and sitting rooms, would provide an elegant suite of rooms for formal entertaining, conferences or small weddings.They decided that all six bedrooms on the first floor, the two on the attic level would be converted into en suites. The four storage rooms up there would become single bedrooms, each with a compact en-suite shower room.

A coffee shop in The Oratory, somehow seemed the right move to make and the name would not change. The stuccadore came and looked at the room before anything was moved. He made drawings of the designs on the remains of ceiling plaster. He delicately chipped away part of the stud wall, allowing them access to the original leaded window at the front of the house. The Victorian oak door with leaded stained glass panel will be reinstated to its former home at the oratory. This time it would be set into the long outside wall, at the opposite end to the lancet windows, as the main entrance to the coffee shop. The remaining stud wall in front of the window needed to be removed to open up the room to the original design. The internal door where they first entered the room, could be changed to swing doors that led to the new kitchen.

Over a cup of tea, one morning, Mr Yates reminded them that these days a house on three floors plus cellar, would need to have the internal doors re-hung as fire doors in keeping with current regulations. That was a job for further down the line, firstly they needed to decide on any internal alterations such as en-suites and converting the attic rooms into bedrooms, then once the planning permission was confirmed, to begin the foundations for the extension.

Plumbers and electricians could begin at the same time as the builders, switching to each area of the house when needed. The en-suites in the bedrooms would keep them busy for several weeks. Rewiring throughout the building for electric sockets that include phone and internet access was best done while the rooms were empty and before any decorating was carried out.  Updating the central heating, adding a new larger boiler would be an essential, when adding an extension, en suites and converting the attic rooms into bedrooms. Fire & burglar alarms would be required by law, the wiring would go in while the electricians were about, but the connections would not happen at this point.

They met with Carolyn Ashby, an interior designer, who had been highly recommended and she seemed to fall in love with the house on sight. Seeing the green leather wing back armchair with detailed brass studding in the library, she suggested a large settee to match for the other end of the room. The C shaped window seat cushions in every room at the front of the house were very badly faded and threadbare, eaten by many years of unfiltered sunshine, so needed to be replaced with matching drapes. She had books of swatches and a sketch pad where she constantly added ideas and drawings, colours that blended, not jarred leaving the onlooker to enjoy the natural charm of the place.

Alice wanted the lazy-looking half sofa, half arm-chair, that lived by the fireplace in the library, to be given a new lease of life without losing the comfortable feel it had. She was not sure whether she wanted it moved to the extension or left in the library where it somehow belonged.Carolyn suggested having a replica made so there would be one in each end of the house.

The secret room she saw as a particular delight. In neutral colours with added features in Wedgewood blue.

Carolyn had a theme for every room, including each of the bedrooms It would add a touch of class to name each room, in her experience clients seemed to prefer that to numbers.  She adored the oratory and was bubbling with ideas of how to furnish it. The pews were perfect and she had come across refectory tables the week before, so would put a holding note on them.

They were sitting at the table in the library when Carolyn noticed the old monastery painting hanging over the fireplace. Jumping up she said “This will have to go, it is not right for this room”. She tried to remove the painting, but it was proving difficult.

Morgan walked over to assist her. As he moved set his hands on the frame, he heard a faint click. The right hand side seemed to project forward like a door. “Not another secret Room?” he said. “Mind you this door is very high, so it must be a compartment”.

Alice was too stunned to move or speak. She thought she knew every inch and secret of the house at this stage. She did not. The dull painting, was camouflage for a safe. Morgan’s fingers must have triggered the catch. Inside was a box. It was old and inlayed with an intricate pattern in ivory, a replica of the one found in the bedroom half hidden under the floorboard, so many months ago. The initials were the same: This box belonged to Andrei Shuyski. Alice thought she saw a tremble in Morgan’s hands as be carried it gently over to the table and handed it to her. It was heavier than the last one. Was this the stock of gemstones given to Sidney’s grandfather for safe keeping, while the other one they found, Andrei’s loose change so to speak? The day was ageing and Alice was ready for home, so she asked Morgan to take the box with them to open after dinner that evening, when they were fed and relaxed.

 

Parts 1 – 9 can be found on the page of the same name in the header above.

The End is never the End ~ Part 9

Previous parts can be found listed in the Header page

Alice was playing with her ‘possibility’ lists as she waited for Morgan to arrive. He sounded rather serious on the phone. Was he about to tell her that he wished to step back from the project? He had been so generous with his time so far. She hoped his business had not suffered neglect because of her. The lists were a light weight distraction until he arrived.

Names for Thudder house:

A gem of a place
Alice’s retreat
Clock tower House
Hour house
Lovell Love it.
Mor-gone than help
Mystery House
Slythe Tower
Sylvester’s Place
Triple S Gems.

Uses for the house:

Coffee shop
Conference centre
Cookery school
Hotel
Murder mystery weekends
Museum
Private home
Residential health club
Residential weekends for short courses
Retirement Home
Sanctuary for Rehabilitation
Weddings & Receptions
Writer’s Retreat

If we do go down the coffee shop road, what do we call it?

A little Gem
Birdsong Café
Coffee O’Clock
Coffee, Cake and Crumbs.
House of surprises
Inheritance Café
Leaf & bean
Oh Crumbs!
Sweet’s n’ Treat’s
Tastebud Tempters
Tasty Crumbs
The Chiming Clock
Tolling Bell Coffee House

“What are you up to now?”

Alice was clicking ‘sort’ on the last of the three lists when Morgan breezed into the room.

“Lovell was on the door step to greet me, she told me you were in here. Good job I had treats for her and some for Crumbs. This one is for you.” He said, handing over a bottle of wine. “Now that you own a priceless cellar full of liquid gold, we need to learn more about it. If we share a bottle a day, we might be expert enough for the ‘hen’s teeth variety’ in about twenty years time!”

“Morgan, at this rate, in twenty years time I’ll be a very merry 75 year old woman! Here, you have me giggling like a school girl before I have my first sip of the day.”

“Then we better up it to a two bottles a day.” Said Morgan. “After all I will hit 49 before the year is over. Now let me get two glasses, I have something important to tell you.” With that he was off to the kitchen.

Alice, set the laptop to sleep and relaxed into an arm chair by the window. She could see Lovell happily playing with Crumbs on the lawn.

“I had a meeting up near Thudder house yesterday, so I called in to look over the outbuildings.” Morgan said as he poured and handed Alice a glass of wine.

“The Outbuildings must have been part of a stable block at one time. One gable wall has a large horseshoe pattern in-filled with bricks. Perhaps it was home to a forge before conversion. The Cottage at the far end has a kitchen, dining room, sitting room with fireplace and in the small hallway, a spiral staircase leads to the first floor, which has two bedrooms a bathroom with bath, shower, loo and airing cupboard.

The second cottage, with the green door, has a hall and kitchen on the ground floor. Again a spiral staircase leads to the first floor where a long landing leads to a sitting room, 3 bedrooms, airing cupboard and a bathroom with bath and over-bath shower and separate room for the loo.

Beside the green door and below the upper floor of rooms, are a range of three garages with concrete floor, electric lights and individual up & over doors. The third one has an inspection pit and workshop, ideal for working on cars!”

I also discovered a useful secondary driveway leading off to the laneway. You know the laneway we wondered about, where it let to etc. If we did decide to use the house as a business, that lane and gateway, would provide a goods entrance to the back door and not interfere with the parking or driveway at the front.

“Goodness, Alice, you collect houses like others collect stamps!” He said, dropping down into an armchair at the far side of the window.

As he dropped into the seat, the tension in Alice evaporated.
“That sounds like you will be around to see the project through. I worried that you were ready to back down in order to concentrate more time to your business.” Said Alice.

“I did want to talk about my business.” He said.

“I think I told you I bought out my partner’s share about fifteen years ago, he wanted to emigrate to warmer climes. Client numbers have almost tripled since then. I was at the stage of taking on another one if not two accountants. Mind you, the work lost the excitement for me, it had become rather mundane. I was glad of the distraction of Thudder house. You must have realised that.

Well, two month ago I was offered the opportunity of a buy out. I decided to say nothing until I was sure of the outcome. Negotiations went too and fro, I did not want to let the years of slogging slip away for the first offer. We came to a final agreement last week and I happily signed on the dotted line. Alice I want to throw my lot into this adventure. I mean, put the money from my business into it, become a partner.

That is, if you will have me as your side quick!”

“Hell! Fish in butter, as you say Morgan, why not? It is better than a poke in the eye with a rusty nail any day?” Grinned Alice. “Now, I am even beginning to talk like you.”

“It will take time to get Thudder house into the condition we want, but we are wasting time, money and energy travelling up and down that road, while paying rates etc on all the houses. Why not renovate the stable block first? You and Lovell move into the three bedroom one and I’ll live in the other one. Then we can put the Home house and the Workshop on the market.”

“I get it now. You only want to be able to play cars all day in the garage pit!” Teased Alice. “I suppose it would also mean we were on hand to oversee the renovations. Then when the house is ready, we move in and have the cottages for staff or rental. Good idea, partner.”

“Right then Boss, I am away to the work shop. I need to spruce myself up for my date tonight”

“You have a date?” said Alice. “I think that is a first in a long time.”

“Yes. I have a date with two women tonight and a reason to celebrate. Now off you go and round up Lovell, you two need time to titivate. I like my women to look beautiful. Now don’t be late, I’ll collect you both at eight.”

Lovell was excited about going out for a meal. She insisted on wearing her new dress. She was very fond of Morgan, but then he was the person who found Crumbs for her. He in turn, had great patience with Lovell and she was responding well to the tasks he was teaching her. Alice could see her sister was becoming more outgoing as the weeks and months went by. Even at the restaurant, Lovell now had the confidence to order what she wanted to eat and drink, with no prompting needed.
She even entered into some of the discussion at the table, which pleased them both. After a couple of visits to Thudder house, she looked forward to bringing Crumbs to walk in the gardens, hopefully by the time they were ready to move, she would be happy to live there. Time alone would tell…..

The End is never the End ~ Part 8

I have finally managed to add another page to my Header, so you can find all previous parts of the story up there. Part 8 will be added to the list before the end of the day.

Part 8

Mr Yeeeeeoooo was anxious to continue, so once the lunchtime repast was eaten, they resumed the reading of the building & contents condition survey.

He began:

“With a thorough and sensitive restoration programme, this fascinating and beautiful building could cleverly combine the old with a few new features and become a wonderful family home or small hotel. Occupying a central position, as it does, within its own land while enjoying views across surrounding pasture and woodland, is a major selling point. If you choose to go down that road.

The high ceilings, oak panelling, exposed timbers and beams, oak flooring in a number of rooms, the panelled internal doors some with silver door furniture, all add a special character to the place. Beautiful fireplaces feature throughout the house.

The principal interconnecting reception rooms we considered this morning. The drawing, dining and sitting rooms, could provide an elegant suite of rooms for formal entertaining, conferences or small weddings. The first floor bedrooms and those in the attics, were also covered and suggestions made for their updating.

The first and main concern is to replace the floor and ceiling from the bedroom above the oratory. If finances stretch to the task, I suggest reinstating the cornice plasterwork and ceiling roses, although simple in design, what I saw from the undamaged areas of the cornice and pieces from the roses in the detritus on the floor, it would be well worth the trouble and expense and add value and ambiance to the room. An experienced stuccadore, is the person to undertake the interior plasterwork. I will add contact details for the man I suggest, to the ‘who and where’ list. Try to take some photos of patterning, before you clear the broken plaster from the room, or better still, ask the stuccadore to come and look at the room before you move anything. He will have ideas for the best way to proceed and how much it will cost.

“There was also a spiral staircase behind a door on the first floor next to the bedroom with the hole in the floor. The stairway leads up to the clock & bell tower. The steps show the wear from years of footfall, with the need for the clock to be manually wound. The regular climb had been replaced by mechanisation, I would guess about twenty five years ago. A thorough service to keep things ticking over, would be in order.” Said our newly witty Mr Yeeeeeoooo.

I suggest a tasteful ground floor extension along the back of the house for a large modern bespoke fitted industrial kitchen, an adjoining private breakfast/dining/family room and a large utility room if you are going to hold conferences or open the house as a small hotel. You would also need a private family and staff area. I have prepared a simple sketch of what I have in mind. I included a couple of en suite bedrooms suitable for wheelchair usage with access to the main hall from the wide area under the curved staircase, there is plenty of space and it would not take from the hall. I can prepare working plans or suggest another architect if you so wish.

The back door, looks worse than it is. Purely superficial weather damage, that can be restored to good order with sanding, several coats of clear wood preservative and oil. Never use varnish because the sun catches it at that point, you can see it has bleached and parched the wood. Once restored, a regular oiling should bring up the patina. If you decide to go down the road of the extension I suggested incorporating the back door and fanlight. The present yard immediately outside would allow for the conversion and leave a turning circle suitable for deliveries to the kitchen.

Beside the little kitchen office or ‘Butler’s Pantry’, is a stairs leading down to the extensive cellarage where there are three wine cellars with double bins, an electrics room, boiler room, and a couple of storage rooms. I take it you have found your way round, down there. If you wish to run an hotel, then perhaps you should think of tiling and shelving the storage rooms, making a good place to store food and extras, not needed for everyday use. A door to the exterior for deliveries of goods would be simple enough to add.

“What did you think of the wine in the cellar? Some jolly good drinking down there. At least one rack is as rare as hen’s teeth! It would be worth having them valued. I have suggested an expert on the ‘who and where’ list”.

Alice & Morgan remained silent, neither were connoisseurs of wine.

The plumbing and electrics throughout the house, should be done before the existing floor in the kitchen is replaced, or after any extension is added. Rewiring throughout, for electric sockets that include phone and internet access are considered the norm these days.

To completely revamp the house, I suggest updating the central heating, a new larger boiler would be an essential, if adding the extension, en suites and converting the attic rooms into bedrooms. Fire & burglar alarms would be required by law.

“The approach up the long drive culminating in a large gravel area is ideal for a parking area to the front of the house. There is space on that side of the house, suitable for conversion to another overflow car park. It would need a smooth level area with ramp access to the main house, suitable for wheelchairs. The details of requirements are on the ‘who and where’ list.

The beautiful gardens and grounds provide a wonderful setting, lying principally to the south and west of the house with sweeping level lawns partially bounded by a wide variety of specimen trees and herbaceous borders planted with seasonal shrubs, annuals and perennials, a fully enclosed kitchen garden with automated irrigation system, soft fruit cages and an orchard planted with varieties of pear, plum, apple, and cherry. A restored greenhouse and potting shed benefit from the original ventilation and irrigation systems. With all these updated and working, a Chef of good calibre would jump at the chance to work here.

The majority of the land beyond the garden is down to permanent pasture, a managed herd, could provide the house with all the dairy needs. There is an area of woodland under-planted with spring bulbs and an arable field.

If that was not your wish, then the land is ripe for converting to a superb outdoor recreational facility to include a heated swimming pool, all-weather tennis courts, bowling & putting greens, with automated irrigation system, and a golf driving range.

“Hmmm!” Thought Alice. “Morgan’s early thoughts from the day we walked the grounds long months ago, were not so fanciful after all. What was it he suggested? I remember now. He imagined the grounds to have excellent recreational facilities: A heated Swimming pool, tennis court, croquet or bowls lawn, with a golf driving range over near the boundary. Closer to the terrace a Putting green, would add interest for the folk enjoying morning coffee or sipping afternoon tea from the fine china they found in the butler’s pantry”.

“Inside the house, it’s calm charming, quiet and functional. But there was something else here too, something priceless. With the benefit of some TLC the house could provide a well loved warm & comfortable atmosphere.

If walls could speak, I imagine they would tell stories of family dinners, quiet evenings and big celebrations, children growing up, a generation of lives lived under this roof.

Since I need to check out those 3 leaded stained glass lancet windows and come back to you about their condition, I suggest we finish for today. I can talk you through the out buildings at that stage. It will give you time to look at the list of what needs to be done, and the cost involved. I’ll deal with any queries you have at our next meeting. I am becoming stiff after the fall and all the sitting. A long soak in my bath is what I need, followed by a large Brandy. I will give you a call early next week, when all is sorted.”

Morgan went to the kitchen to put the kettle on while the surveyor gathered up his mound of papers. He was back in the library as the briefcase was closed. “I’ll carry that out to the car for you. You have done more than enough for today. Are you sure you are comfortable with driving home?”

“Yes. At this hour of the afternoon, the traffic is light. I’ll be soaking in suds by the time the evening build-up starts, but I will accept your offer to carry the bag and bundle of files to the car.” Turning to Alice, he said “Mrs Slythe, I will be in touch on Monday or Tuesday at the latest. Thank you for lunch.” With that he walked slowly with Morgan to the car.

Alice looked at her watch and realised they had time for a quick coffee before heading to the Solicitor. At least he was no more than ten minutes away, as the crow flies. As she entered the kitchen, the kettle was reaching the boil. “That Morgan, is a step ahead of me again” said Alice, producing a packet of biscuits and making the coffee.

<<0>>

“Well, Mrs Slythe, What do you think Sidney would say about you now?” asked Morgan.

“What do you mean, Morgan?”

“His little Alice, with a man falling at her feet. Through a ceiling!”

For a minute, Alice looked horrified. Then she saw the laughter in Morgan’s eyes. He was such a tease, so she could not be cross with him.

They were driving home after a very long day…

“You know when we entered the solicitor’s office, I thought the man behind the large heavy deck was straight out of the Old Testament. You should have warned me. If Mr Wexler was not related to Moses, he was surely a cousin to Methuselah! That voice must have been trained to frighten horses.” Morgan added “Old Moses reminded me of the late Roger de Montfort!”

Alice laughed out loud. releasing the tension of the day.

“That news from the solicitor is better than a poke in the eye with a charcoal stick isn’t it?” Said Morgan.

“Yes. It is indeed. Once we have studied the ‘who and where’ list, we can plan a course of work and be ready to start once probate comes through.

They had arrived at the solicitor’s office five minutes before time and were invited to sit in the waiting room. As the clock on the mantel struck the hour, they were ushered into the solicitor’s office.

Again they were presented with copies of the business of the day. The result of meetings with the bank. A suggestion for Alice to meet with the bank at a later stage, she would need to change the account over to her name. He also had the sum due for the old bank notes, it was actually more than he had anticipated. There were up to date statements. Alas, none of that money could be touched until probate was complete. She should not really begin work on the big house until all was signed on the dotted line.

He had also, at Alice’s request and some nudging from Morgan, had the other houses valued. By the sound of it they would be in a healthy situation to carry out the renovations and allow Thudder House to pay for itself in the future.

“Now is the time to plan.” He said, before asking a question. “Did you come across any paperwork about Insurance? All three houses need to be well insulated, have fire and intruder alarms and be insured.”

“Mrs, Slythe, Mr Troy, I will keep you informed on the progress of probate. If you are to be partners in this venture, I suggest you have a legal note to that effect and have both names added to the bank account. Perhaps, if not already done, your Wills should be updated. Circumstances are very different now. I can prepare wills for each of you, if it is your wish.”

With that they bid him farewell and headed for the car.

“If we did decide to run a coffee shop, open to the public, the oratory is a really interesting space, situated as it is, at the end of the building and running the full depth of the house, with its own front door. The door that old Mr Yeeeeeoooo found, could be reinstated further along the wall from the lancet windows. The bay window at the front is still there and boarded up for some reason on the inside It would be a shame not to return it to glory like the others along the front of the building. I am sure it would have a window seat like all the others. Then the pews with small refectory tables, would work with some bright cushions to soften the effect. It would not take much to redo the terrace at the side of the house, after all it leads to a large lawn framed by blossom trees.” Morgan said in a hushed voice.

“It all depends on what YOU want? Do you want coffee enlightenment, where a coffee evangelist will impart the secrets of their passion, the gospel according to the apostles of coffee or a franchise for CostalotaMegabucks? Somehow, I do not imagine you going with the last one.”

“Morgan, at this stage my head is buzzing. Good buzzing. I may not know what I do want, but I certainly know what I do not want. CostalotaMegabucks is certainly not how I see us going forward. If we do go with an oratory coffee experience, then the painting of an old monastery that hangs over the Library fireplace, might be suitable in there.”

The End is never the End ~ Part 7

Part 7

“Today is a crossroads” thought Alice as she walked to open the door at the sound of Morgan’s car on the gravel outside. They were to meet Mr Yeeeeeoooo at Thudder House at ten thirty. He was due to take them through his detailed final report of the building & contents condition survey, after months of prodding, poking, creaking, tea drinking, ‘Aaahing’ and shouting ‘Yeeeeeoooo’. Alice was glad to have Morgan with her today for this morning session and again for the meeting with the Solicitor in the late afternoon. By the end of the working day, Alice hoped to have news of what could and should be done to the house, roughly how much money was required, and later discover how much would be available for the task ahead.

Morgan seemed quiet on the journey, as if struggling with a problem, but Alice did not probe. He had been so generous with his time so far, the thought that he would want to step back at this stage was not one she relished. They worked well together and she had grown to enjoy his humour, gentle teasing and helpful advice.

Mr Yeeeeeoooo, turned into the drive of Thudder house ahead of them, so they walked into the house together. Alice offered to make tea and bring it to the library. The table there was ideal for going through the paperwork. Alice had requested two copies, one for Morgan and the other for herself. Old Yeeeeeoooo said he would join them in a few minutes, he wanted to check something up stairs first.

“Come ‘till I show you what I found yesterday, after studying the layout plans for the umpteenth time.” Said Alice, leading Morgan along a hallway. “ You know that strange key we could not find a door for? Well I have found it and realise why we missed it.” She added as she approached the arched trompe l’oeil panel of stained glassed windows.

Slipping the key into a well disguised keyhole she unlocked the door and ushered him into a room that housed pews and space for a table at the far wall. There were three stained glass windows on the long wall. “This house must have been a convent before the Slythes bought it.” “The bell tower is at this end of the house, right above….”

CRASH!

A thunderous crashing sound interrupted Alice mid sentence. She was left standing with her hand pointing upward as in what look like an explosion in a confetti factory, Mr Yeeeeeoooo, for once silent, fell through the ceiling and landed in a heap on the floor in front of them. Looking from one to the other, Alice was not sure who was in the most discomfort: the heap on the floor, or Morgan, struggling to keep a straight face and stifle the laughter.

Mr Yeeeeeoooo protested, he did not need an ambulance, or a doctor and would be fine after a cup of tea. He made it sound like this was a regular occurrence. Once satisfied that there were no broken bones they brought him through to the library and set him on the half sofa, half arm-chair, by the fireplace. Alice went to the kitchen to make the tea.

The kettle was just boiling when Morgan came to join her. “I just had to get out of there, I’ll burst if I suppress this laughter any longer!”

“Morgan, I just realised that the room our friend descended from, is where I found the jewels!”

“You mean I should go back and check the dust in case there are any more gems in all that confetti? I wonder if that is the room where Andrei Shuyski stayed?” said Morgan.

“Morgan, right now I am wondering if our Mr Yeeeeeoooo Yates stepped into the gap where I found the gems as you call them, remember I lifted the loose floorboard and placed it against the wall. The one thing I do not need right now, is a claim from the man in the library!”

“Right I’ll take the tray. You lead the way. No more delay. We do not want to find a body in the library. We have no time for fun and games to day, Miss Scarlett!”

Mr Yeeeeeoooo, was at the table when they walked through the door, sorting his paper work and pushing two bundles across to the other side for Alice and Morgan.

Alice Handed over the monster mug of tea, not the well stewed variety the surveyor was used to, but a weaker brew for shock, with the usual bucket of milk and a bag of sugar. She asked again if he was in any pain.

To their surprise they saw him straighten up in the chair and smile. Now Alice and Morgan were in shock, they had never seen this man smile in all the time he was in and out of the house.

“I am fine. If there is one thing I know about, it is how to fall! Your ceiling was not the first I fell through, or the highest. I bounce like a sponge ball. I should explain. I set my heart on becoming an architect and needed funding to help undertake my years of study. Between 10-15 per cent of students in my year, did not continue their studies past its three year BSc stage. They could not afford the fees.”

He stopped to take a long slow drink of his tea.

“I have an alter ego. As a young child I wanted to be a stunt man, jumping off buildings or out of fast cars, like I saw at the movies. In my final years at school, I took up the hobby and loved it, seemed to have an aptitude and timing for the many stunts we were learning and undertaking. I was put in touch with an agent and worked with his team for my last summer, before the university year began. The more difficult the task, the more money I was paid. By the beginning of the term, I had my fees for the year and a little left over beer. I was employed for each summer while at college. Most of the work was out doors, so I was paid to have fresh air and exercise.

By the end of three years, I discovered my heart was not into designing new modern glass boxes. I was happy in the dusty dark corners of older properties with character. Advising clients about building or property issues, undertaking property and land surveys and valuations, monitoring the deterioration of a property and offering advice about remedial work that was the world I wanted. At that point I changed course and never looked back.”

“Surveying is an active job role. While I do have an office, I am more likely to make regular site visits and work indoors or outside whatever the weather. So despite my shape and size, I am fit and supple. Now, enough about me.

Before we begin, I would like to take a walk round the side of the house where I came down to earth with a bump. I do not remember seeing those windows before. How come I missed them? Perhaps either or both of you would like to come with me.”

“Yes! We will.” They said together.

“How come I missed the oratory in all the time I was here?” asked Mr Yates.

“I only discovered the room yesterday and was showing it to Morgan. When we come up the drive we park at the other side of the house, so never pass by in the car or on foot. The Rhododendron bushes are quite mature and tall so they shield that side of the house.” When I found the room yesterday, the sunlight shone through the stained glass spreading an arc of colour across the room like a rainbow. It was wonderful.” Said Alice.

“I had been checking the plans in great detail and something did not tally for me. I checked with my notes and counted all the rooms I had visited, measured and made notes for. The plans had one more, so it was out with my measuring tape, when I discovered where this room should be, I scoured the wall with my eyes feeling along with my hands at the same time. Thankfully my little finger found the keyhole, I immediately knew I had found the home for the extra key. Voilà: the oratory.”
Once they settled back at the table, refreshed from the short walk outdoors, it was down to business.

Mr Yates began:

“It is an elegant detached house on three floors plus cellar.

The roof tiles, beams and chimneys are in excellent order. The lofts would need to have the insulation updated to fulfil modern regulations. I suggest having the chimneys cleaned before any internal decoration begins and cages fitted to prevent the birds building nests in the chimney stacks.

When it comes to original features, this house has them all: Heavy outer doors, leaded windows to the front and sides, high ceilings, some oak panelling, exposed timbers, beams and some delicate plasterwork for detail. The other features included open fires with marble or timber surrounds complete with cast iron fire baskets, supported by ornate fire dogs. As to be expected with items of this age, there are some minor cracks and chips and a long crack to the hearth in the dining room which could easily be repaired.

The main feature to the hall is a nice wide sweeping curve as the staircase leads upwards and turns to the level of the floor above. The staircase and most of the hardwood floors are in good condition, the exceptions being in the kitchen, near the sink area and the floor I descended through today. The latter will need to be completely replaced and with it the ceiling below. I will return to the kitchen later.

“The room off over there,” he said pointing to the secret room, “Would make a cosy morning room, office or meeting room for small groups, with that elegant bay window to the front of the house, a bonus. I have come across secret rooms before with no windows, and that curtails their usage and value.

The doors and windows throughout are solid and in good condition. Three of the windows need new catches, I have listed them with all the other repairs and where to go to find matching replacements, we will come to that later.

The six bedrooms on the first floor are spacious and two with dual aspect with lovely light. The four rooms between them have dressing rooms. These bedrooms enjoy the use of 2 bathrooms and a further separate WC. A walk-in linen cupboard completes the first floor. All six rooms have space and are suitable for conversion to en suites. I particularly liked the antique carved mahogany fireplace with three panel over mantel in the master bedroom, it is of excellent quality and in great condition.

On the top level or attics, are two large bedrooms, with plenty of room to tastefully add en suites. There are other storage rooms up there that could possibly be converted to single bedrooms if wished. In one of them, I found a Victorian oak door with leaded stained glass panel, I’d thought it possibly originally formed part of a church vestibule.

My heavenly descent earlier, makes me think it had at one time hung at the entrance to that little oratory. I need to check out those 3 leaded stained glass lancet windows, I guess they are hand painted with an elaborate floriated design. I cannot tell you at this point, about their overall condition, or if there are any cracks. I will check them and advise you later in the week. I forgot when we were outside to check the walls at either end, since the room runs from the front to the back of the house. The room above has dual aspect, or now triple if you count the hole in the floor!” So why not the oratory at that far end? Maybe a doorway could be opened to the outside, if you wanted to run a coffee shop or serve afternoon teas.

With the mention of tea, he pushed back his chair and said he would like to break for a cup of tae.

“I’ll put the kettle on and make a few sandwiches, I brought the food in case we ran late” Said Alice.

Morgan gathered up the used dishes and carried the tray to the kitchen. “I am glad of a break too, he said. There is so much to take in and we have not started on the kitchen area, the out houses or the land about outside. This could take a week. I think you should phone the solicitor and re arrange the appointment for another day?”

The End is never the End ~ Part 6

Part 6

The first box they found had been heavier than the contents it contained, but worthless compared to the value of the gemstone treasure inside. This second box was cardboard so the weight came from the contents. They decided to open it on the dining room table.

Neat bundles of official looking papers no wonder it was heavy.

“Top or bottom?” asked Morgan. Fanning the bundles on the table, like a hand of cards.

The bottom bundle was the thickest and tied with a ribbon. That was the one Alice pulled closer to her end of the table.

“We will work from the bottom, and that way they should fit neatly into the box when we are finished.” Said Alice.

Untying the ribbon, they discovered it contained several documents of great interest, a map of the land. Floor plan layouts for all the house from the basement to the attics and others for the outbuildings. With these spread in front of them, came the realisation of the task ahead. She decided to give more time for closer scrutiny when she was more bright eyed and bushy tailed. The whole place was far to big to be a family home for herself and Lovell. If Alice was to live there she would need to make the place pay for itself. A mountain of work was needed before that could happen. They folded the plans and re-tied the ribbon before placing them back in the box.

The next bundle had stamped legal documents from years earlier. “How come these were not with the solicitor”? Asked Alice. “He never actually mentioned plans or any of these items, although he did have the deeds.”

The third folder, was interesting for a very different reason. A family tree going back about five generations. The most recent members were Sidney’s generation and his name was there among them. His and his grandfathers were the only names on the tree with no date of demise. Now she realised why the house had come into Sidney’s possession. “All those people and not one left. How sad.” Said Alice. “I really need to think of how to breathe fresh life into Thudder House and make good use of it!”

Morgan was quiet, the scale of the place, the work and the potential, suddenly hit him.
Putting the family tree back in the box, he handed a slim envelope to Alice, saying “Only two more folders after this.”

Alice took the envelope, it was sealed and addressed to S. S. Slythe, Esq. with the words By Hand in the top right corner. She opened and withdrew the contents. A letter inside was in a very neat hand and written to Sidney’s grandfather. A thick bundle of old high value bank notes were inside the letter. Old bank notes, that should have been put in a bank almost half a century earlier. Alice remembered Sidney telling her years ago, that his grandfather was worth a fortune. He had older cousins so never expected to see any of it, Sidney was not one impressed by money, you could say he was almost careless with it. His old cars, his plants and Alice were his only interests. Oh, and football. Don’t forget the football!

“Central Bank! That is where these need to go and they will at least give you some value for them. Said the guy with the fast running mind. “What does the letter say?”

The signature, was a name Alice had heard before, but not from Sidney. It was the gemmologist that Mr Grimes mentioned: Andrei Shuyski.

The letter explained the money was in part for his annual rent and board in the house, the safe keeping of his stock of gemstones, and the remainder was the return of a loan made ten years before that.

“You remember the inlayed intricate ivory pattern on the jewellery box? It had the initials ‘A S’ worked into it. I am surprised Mr Grimes had not mentioned it.”

“Mr Grimes sounded to me like a man fond of detail. Perhaps he was waiting to see if you recognised the name or noticed the initials.” He said, handing her the last bundle.

“So Sidney knew about the jewellery and the gemstones?” Questioned Morgan.

“I don’t think so, he only met his grandfather a few times in the final twenty years of his life. If Sidney had seen this letter, the envelope would be open. He would have told me about it.” Returning the contents to the envelope, Alice handed it to Morgan and he put it in the box.

“Morgan, in all the years that I was married to Sidney, I never knew him to open a drawer, without being asked to. He was just not a curious person. I bet he was the same about Thudder house. That cardboard box has rather yellowed with age and the string is not much better. Where did old Yeeeeeoooo say he found it? Had he gone through the papers?”

“No. He said when he saw they were papers, he brought them straight down to you. They were in the Master Bedroom. The top two folders were on top of the box, so he undid the string and put them inside”

The final bundle contained a couple of folders of documents from a bank. The branch was a few doors away from the solicitor’s office. They were details of an account in the name of Sylvester S. Slythe: Sidney’s grandfather. Statements for the last few years of his life with the last lodgement of a rather large sum of money, dated a month before his death. A hand written note to Sidney, said: “There should be enough here to see me down!”

“There is our answer! Said Alice.

“What do you mean? asked Morgan.

“Sidney paid for his grandfather’s funeral out of his own pocket, so he never saw any of these papers! Morgan, before you close up the box, let me have another look at the family tree.”

Morgan spread it in front of her. Alice was quiet as she scanned the document.

“ Look! There you have it. Ivan S. Slythe, was the eldest of Sidney’s cousins and heir to old Grandad Sylvester. He is the most recently deceased on this tree. He died two months before the grandfather, so Sidney only became the heir to the place shortly before his grandfather died. No wonder he never mentioned this lot. He knew nothing about it! I think this is best kept between us until I talk to the solicitor and the bank.”

Morgan agreed. “Now it has been a long day and you need a nightcap. I’ll join you for one and then head back up to the Workshop.”

Handing Alice her glass, he sat in the armchair opposite to her.

“Sunday tomorrow, I think we should pack a picnic and take Lovell and Crumbs to the beach for the day. A long walk at the waters edge would clear our heads and give time for all this to sink in.”

“Good idea.” said Alice. “Then on Monday Morning, I will phone both Mr Grimes and the Solicitor. I would like to have a chat with Mr Grimes first, he might know more details of how long Andrei Shuyski was resident in Thudder House. Then later on, I should have more details for the solicitor. I’m hoping he can deal with the bank and sort out the money angle for us. We need to know exactly what we have to play with, in order that I can move on and really do something with the place!”

“Right, My Lady, dreamland is calling you, it is time I went home. Is there anything I can pick up for the picnic, when I go for the papers in the morning?”

Alice shook her head. “No thanks, there should be plenty of food in the fridge. A walk along the beach might be the right place to separate the wheat from the chaff of the ideas I have for the future of Thudder house. Thank you, Morgan for all your help, yet again today. Now off you go and let me lock up all these precious papers”.

“Sleep well, see you in the morning!”

The End is never the End ~ Part 5

Part 5

“All I’ve ever done was be Somebody’s daughter, sister or Wife. I spent half my life running after, or waiting round for them. Now here I am again: The sister without a mister, but with my sister, who will never be independent and three houses weighing me down and dragging me out of my depth.”

It was summer, the season that makes you believe anything is possible, yet the ragged-edged knife of sorrow still scraped at her bones. With the warm sunshine shining in through the library window, the place seemed to be constantly shrouded in a layer of dust. Alice hit a deep low water mark in her existence. Inside she felt as if someone had ripped out her heart; she hadn’t realised how much she had invested emotionally in the twenty nine year relationship with Sidney and now she was hurting more than she had ever hurt in her life.

Perhaps it was the heat and the fact that Mr Yates the Surveyor was almost an hour late. He had been highly recommended, so she hoped he would be worth the wait. Alice had finished her coffee when he arrived.

Despite the warm day, Mr Yates appeared to have so many layers of clothes on, that he looked like a well worn packed suitcase. “All that was missing, was the rough string tied around the middle.” Thought Alice inwardly. The glistening sheen on his forehead did nothing to dilute the fact he had a shower with Lynx, instead of using water, earlier in the morning. Alice brought him through to the kitchen and offered some refreshment to break the ice, and to give her the opportunity to talk face to face for the first time.

He had a face like a fur hatchet, his voice was slushy like he was speaking with loose dentures, and he seemed to have as much life in him as a post mortem and steeped to the gills in serious purpose. It was not how she had imagined him from the phone calls. In fact she was beginning to wonder if it was actually him she had spoken to on three or four occasions.

Alice made tea, while Mr Yates talked. He was fond of talking. Talking of houses where families collected useless stuff in the attics for generations….. Keeping the life savings under the floor boards, in a mattress or buried down the field! This was a world that Alice was only beginning to discover. She also learned that a greater supply of tea, sugar and milk would be required, at the rate he was using them across the table from her. He liked his tea. Yes. He liked his tea well stewed, with a bucket of milk and a bag of sugar. He even brought his own monster sized mug to drink from.

“It might well take a mattress full of money to keep Mr Yates in sweet milky tea and buttered biscuits.” Thought Alice.

Over the next month she was to learn that he liked having ‘a cup of tae’ every hour on the hour with well buttered plain biscuits and saying “Aaah” after taking the first sup! His had a habit of shouting ‘Yeeeeeoooo’ when something happened, or he discovered something interesting.

One afternoon, while Alice & Morgan were in quiet discussion at the table, their chat was interrupted by a creak, a heavy footstep fall and ‘Mr Yeeeeeoooo’, as they had begun to refer to him, walked into the library, with his usual call of Yeeeeeoooo! It caused Morgan to raise his head and meet his gaze. In the brief silence that followed, it was clear the pair disliked each other. Once he had imparted the information of his latest find, left the box on the table, he creaked his way out of the room to go make another cup of tae.

Out of ear shot, Morgan quipped “I bet he dances with as much abandon as an elderly night watchman with arthritic knees!” That thought made Alice smile for the first time in weeks.

Deciding to finish what they were at, Alice rose, lifting the box to place it on one of the books shelves to the left of the fireplace. Stumbling slightly, she bumped the box against the row of books on the shelf. Suddenly the section of bookcase moved like a door opening easily, as if someone was waiting behind it. Morgan had moved when he saw her stumble and was by her side as quick as the action of the book door. They gazed open mouthed at each other in a silence you could cut a chunk out of with a spade.

“Wait!” said Morgan in a loud whisper, as Alice was about to walk into the space behind the door. I want to see exactly where the box touched the books. It must hold the mechanism to the door lock. We need to check it out before we venture further. “You would not want to be stuck in a secret room with me. Would you?” He asked gently with a smile. Morgan’s eyes told Alice that he understood the darkness and sorrow she was going through, he could not be more helpful, and did everything in his power to lift the weight. He saw it as his duty to the memory to Sidney who had been so good to him all down the years.

The room, a space as large as the master bedroom, was furnished like a private study.
A classic Georgian 5 drawer bureau with a fold down desk area, stood in the bay under the window. Along the opposite wall was a day bed in a solid mahogany sleigh design. A hideaway trundle pulled out on castors from underneath. A pair of swan carved side tables stood one at each end, topped with simple yet elegant table lamps. A small fireplace backed the one in the Library wall. The rear of the door was a replica of the other side with five shelves filled with books. The fourth book on the waist high shelf, next the opening, matched the one on the other side of the door, the trigger for opening from the inside.

Alice was aware of secret rooms and hidden passages from fictional novels and films. She had even dreamed of having a place where she could push a bookcase aside, and behind it have a reading sanctuary with chairs, surrounded by the characters in the novels that would line the shelves around her.

“Holey Buckets! What a project this is turning out to be!” It was Morgan who spoke as they returned to the library table to continue and finish the task they were interrupted from.

“Maybe we should pull up a few more floor boards, after all, you never know who might have slowly, over decades, socked some money away underneath them!” He said with a smile and a wink as they folded the papers they had just finished dealing with. “We have only scratched the surface so far!”

Alice laughed for the first time since…. well you know. The first time in months.

“Morgan, you will never believe it, but I had thoughts along those lines when I first met yer man. It might well take a mattress full of money to keep Mr Yeeeeeoooo in sweet milky tea and buttered biscuits were the words in my head.”

They both laughed.

“Right, Mrs Slave driver, time we packed up and headed back before Lovell and Crumbs send out a search party.” Said Morgan, adding “Let me bring that box and we will take a look at it tonight, after I have treated you & Lovell to her favourite Chinese take-away. An easy evening with no cooking is what we both need and Lovell will not object.

A waterfall of tears began to stream down Alice’s face once more. Not sure whether it was a feeling of betrayal to Sidney’s memory by laughing, or Morgan’s gentle teasing and constant kindness towards her, but she could not seem to stop the tears.

“Let them flow” said Morgan as he handed her a large handkerchief. “Just sit here while I lock up. I won’t go without you. Promise!”

“I’m sorry!” said Alice when he returned to the library.

“No need. Tears are salty. Salt is healing, and you have had your life turned upside down in this last year. Just remember skinned knees and bruised hearts, those are the things that make for a full life. Because Life isn’t life without a few scars along the way, and the perfect don’t get scars. You can’t get scars if you’ve never lived.

Alice, now is your time. You can put your roots back into the ground here, in this house, and be happy again…. But, you need to find a new name for it first!” He winked as he said so.

Alice smiled her thanks for his understanding.

“Now let us go, I am starving and ready for that takeaway, I have the box and the keys.” Said Morgan, “Here put that jacket on and let’s move.”

Lulled to relaxation by the movement & purr of the engine, Alice turned to Morgan and asked “What name would you suggest for Thudder house?”

Like children playing ‘eye spy’ they threw out suggestions for most of the journey back to Lovell, Crumbs and food. Many were giggle worthy but a few would be added to a short list.

The End is never the End ~ Part 4

Part 4

Finding experts to carry out a sensitive restoration programme of the house, seemed like a mammoth task. Alice realised she needed the assistance and advice from a surveyor, an architect, an auctioneer and maybe even an archaeologist, well, she did find jewels under one floorboard, who knew what else might be uncovered as the work progressed! Yes. Professionals to steer her clear of carrying out work that may not be appropriate for ‘Thudder house’. their experience with old properties should be able to suggest cost-effective and well-designed solutions to problems that she was sure to encounter.

Deep thoughts to tax her brain, while skipping round the ‘Home house’ to the tune of the vacuum and the dance of a duster. It was no wonder she was feeling at the hard end of circumstances beyond her control. Knowing someone in any of these fields, would be a help, but a lifetime spent in the shadow of her silent father and Lovell, never gave her much chance to move in those circles. She would talk to Morgan when she met him in town for coffee later in the day, he had a habit of calming her. Behind his six foot two inches of handsome healthy manhood was the head of a meticulous mind for detail and a mine of information.

She would need to have a survey of the house as it stood before any work was done.
Written specifications that detailed what works need to be undertaken, which
materials to be used and what standards should be used in the construction.

If she decided not to employ a professional to prepare a specification, tender the work or find a builder then there were sure to be issues beyond her control. Would she need planning permission or building regulations approval for any changes? Was she up to tendering works and deciding on a contract before finding suitable builders & contractors to carry out the work required?

Somewhere in the mists of time, long before she heard of ‘Thudder house’, she remembered reading an article…

When having building works carried out it is always advisable to have a contract drawn up that includes start and finish dates, the agreed fixed price for the work, and exactly what the price does and does not include (rather than an estimate). The contract should also cover insurance issues.

Work to old buildings can often include items that were unforeseen at the time the price was agreed but which become apparent as work proceeds and the building is ‘opened up’. Establish with the builder before starting a project how additional works will be costed, and consider a contingency sum to cover unforeseen problems.

Before work starts, find out how it will be carried out, and in what sequence, so you can be prepared if you are ordering specific items yourself. Try also to establish how the site will be run, where materials will be stored and what protection measures will be put in place to prevent damage to the building or your possessions.
It is always worth having a photographic record of the building before works start in case there are any problems later.

“Gosh”, thought Alice, “The back of my mind is not such an empty place after all. To think I have carried all that information around with me for all these years!”

“Right. Time to stop thinking and start doing…!” She needed to hurry, prepare a quick lunch for herself and Lovell, then change her clothes or she would be late for her appointment in town.

£189,620.

A grand total of £189,620 was all Alice could focus on right now, she set her hands on the desk in front of her too steady herself. She felt her legs were like jelly and ready to give way if she stood up. The written breakdown with pages of details for every item would have to wait until she had a cup of coffee. She was more used to dealing with bread and butter money and not amounts like £189,620.

Mr Grimes the jeweller had talked her through the list, was still talking away to, or rather at her now, and she needed to concentrate and listen. He suggested holding on to the items in the company safe until she had time to digest the information and decide whether to keep or dispose of the pieces by auction.

“Of course” Mr Grimes was saying, “The price on the day might go up or down, and that was not something in my control. Brooches are now back in vogue and an auction highlight. Recently, an impressive platinum and diamond spray brooch, circa 1950s, reached £25,000. Some of your pendants would take easily to conversion”

He allowed that to sink in for a few moments before continuing:

“In the bottom of the box, under the velvet lining were a number of loose gemstones, from the collection of a very reputable late gemmologist”.

He was familiar with the stones and named the gemmologist, a man they had regularly done business with, but who had passed away about twenty years earlier. Mr Grimes told her that they had checked, and none of the items had been reported as stolen.

The name meant nothing to Alice.

“He was a wonderful character with eyes that sparkled like the gems in his collection, when he laughed, and that he did often.” Said Mr Grimes.

“The gemstones are all listed with approximate values on the penultimate page of our valuation. They would make a fantastic collecting opportunity for a keen gemmologist or for anyone considering starting a gem collection or studying gemmology!”

He mentioned something about the necessity for special insurance if she decided to keep the jewellery. If she wished to present them for auction, his company were well placed to handle that for her. This was a whole new world for Alice.

Asking Mr Grimes to please keep the jewellery & gemstones in the safe for the moment, she thanked him for his patience, time and care for her, and she promised to phone if she had any questions in the meantime. They shook hands and Alice left the jewellers, still in a state of shock.

All Alice wanted right now was that cup of coffee and it was almost past the time that Morgan had agreed to meet her. She was relieved not to have to carry the jewellery through the busy streets. She was not so anxious on the day she brought them in, but then she did not have a large figure of One hundred & eighty nine thousand, six hundred and twenty pounds branded in front of her eyes!

Morgan was waiting at the appointed spot and quickly moved to find a table for them. He could see the state Alice was in, so decided to refrain from questions until they were served. Afternoon teas were served in the traditional manner. A selection of finger sandwiches, delicate pastries and scones with clotted cream, gracing a silver tea stand all complemented with tea, coffee and maybe some Champagne. It was served daily until 4.30pm

Morgan’s later appointment was cancelled just as he left the office, so he had plenty of time to sit and listen. With each sip of coffee, the tension eased in Alice. This place was a good choice, comfortable, spacious and the food was of excellent quality. Tiny portions. Beautifully presented but wouldn’t fill a hole in your tooth!

Eventually, Alice was relaxed enough to talk about her meeting with Mr Grimes. She produced the document with all the details and handed it to Morgan. He remained silent as he cast his eyes down the details on each page.

• Diamond And Aquamarine Pendant Brooch . The briolette-cut aquamarine drop, with a single-cut diamond cap, suspended by a single-cut diamond ribbon bow, gathered by a baguette-cut diamond knot, mounted in 18k white gold £17,225.
• Diamond pendant. A stunning pear shaped diamond pendant with centre stone of 3.25ct and surrounding diamonds of 1.01ct. £24,950.
• Emerald and Diamond pendant. A stunning Emerald and Diamond pendant set in 18ct white gold. Diamonds approx 2.21ct Emerald approx 4.08ct £24,800.
• Diamond Pendant. A fabulous Edwardian Diamond pendant circa 1910 Approx total Diamond weight 3ct. £18,100.
• A pair of Diamond stud earrings set in 18ct white gold Diamond weight approx 2.50ct. £17,400.
• Aquamarine and Diamond Ring. A rare central stone with good colour, the Aquamarine is approx 6.60ct Diamonds 4.25ct £32,750.
• A beautiful 1830s Sapphire & diamond three row ring. The central row of sapphires were set in white 18ct gold, between two rows of diamonds, excellent quality and condition £15,895.
• Georgian Platinum Diamond and Onyx Mourning Ring of rectangular plaque shape, centring an oval onyx plaque with five cabochon-cut effect within a border of rose cut diamonds of various sizes, approx gross diamond weight of 1.5cts set in platinum. The rear of the ring, with rubbed hallmarks but there are no visible losses or damage. £ 3,500.
• A fine diamond three-stone ring in 18ct white gold, the central emerald-cut diamond weighing approx. 3.31 carats and set between two rectangular-cut diamonds: £26,000
• A collection of loose gemstones, all in excellent condition and individually valued to a total of: £9,000.

A grand total of £189,620.00

Letting out a long slow almost silent whistle, he understood why Alice seemed so stressed when she arrived. Figures like this were normal in his working day, but jewellery? Being happier with oily hands under the bonnet of a car, jewellery was a total other world for him. Oh yes, he had admired a necklace or pendant worn by a young lady or two that he had invited to dinner over the years, but the cost of the items never dawned on him. Alice was wise to leave them in the safe keeping of Mr Grimes for the moment.

Lifting his eyes to Alice, he asked “ I wonder what Sidney would have said about this?”

The End is never the End ~ Part 3

Part 3

The rear elevation of the house was showing decay brought about by weathering and a badly damaged entrance door, but it was still secure and the giant semicircular fanlight seemed to escape. Had there been an attempted break in? Alice realised that she would not know if a burglary had occurred in recent months. She had found no inventory of the contents, and what she saw told her she had enough to fill a small museum on one floor alone, never mind the others.

Her head was beginning to buzz and Alice noticed the time: It was already mid afternoon and she had not eaten since her early breakfast. Chiding herself, she made coffee and took it with her packed lunch through to the Library. She chose to sit on a rather lazy-looking seat, half sofa, half arm-chair, by the fireplace. Relaxed by the warm coffee, she could imagine Sidney’s ancestors sitting in this very spot at twilight, telling tales to their children about days gone by.

She pictured a bright fire burning in the fireplace, with blazing logs adding a cheerful glow to the room as evening drew in. All around on every side of the room were well-filled book-cases, reaching almost up to the high beamed ceiling. A large study table sat proudly in the middle of the room. It was covered with books and papers, and close by an arm-chair, pushed back in such a way it gave the impression it had been used only a day before. Alice felt comfortable here and thought it could easily become a favourite place to relax. Over the fireplace hung a painting of an old monastery it was rather dull and not to Alice’s taste, it could be added to the list for removal and sale.

Suddenly the sound of a bell striking with a clear, sweet tone brought Alice back to the present moment. The sound was coming from the tower where the bell struck the hour, while the hands of the clock, small as they were, kept perfect time in their journey round the clock face. The clear ringing of the clock could be heard all over the house, and suddenly she remembered Sidney saying with a smile, on her first visit:

“Grandfather called it ‘the Convent Bell’!”

Some curious little items were scattered about on the table and open shelves, or in the drawers; many of them from far-off places. One was an inkstand on the study-table; It was made like the claw of an eagle – the three toes, tipped with silver, formed the stand, and a little socket in the leg, was to hold an inkstand. A Regency Spiral Library Ladder with built in cabinet stood by the bookcases to the left of the great fireplace and a green leather wing back armchair with very detailed brass studding sat to the side of the large deep Bay window. The C shaped window seat cushions were very badly faded and threadbare, eaten by many years of unfiltered sunshine.

The inventory of furniture was growing longer than a litany:

  • A George III turnover leaf tea table or side table with satinwood string inlay, two original Lion head handles, and brass escutcheon on a long shallow drawer with the whole piece terminating in original brass caps and castors.
  • A Beautiful Ladies writing desk with a brass gallery wonderful inlay and original brass handles and green leather tooled writing surface.
  • George III mahogany standing corner cupboard the dentil cut moulded cornice above a pair of glazed doors enclosing shelves, below twin panel cupboard doors enclosing a shelf raised on a plinth base.
  • Georgian 3 drawer drop leaf occasional table on a turn column and platform base.
  • A beautiful rich mahogany breakfast / dining table on centre pedestal with four out swept supports that terminated in brass caps and castors with seats for eight diners.
  • A lovely circular George 111 mahogany snap top table with piecrust edge and birdcage action.
  • Splendid French Victorian arm chairs with original tapestry covering.

They were very fond of ‘George’ smiled Alice as she added the items to her list, yet she had not discovered a George or Georgina on any of the old papers she had come across so far! These pieces were just for starters, and only a few items from one room, add the items from the library and multiply it by the large entrance hall and other rooms. The list might take a year to complete. Alice was beginning to realise she was out of her depth and would need the advice and help of professionals if she wanted to undertake this task properly. Suddenly, Alice realised she did want to begin a thorough and sensitive restoration programme of the house, overseen by experts in each field. This fascinating and beautiful building could combine the old with some new features, to provide an interesting and comfortable future for herself and Lovell.

At the thought of Lovell, she realised it was time to return to the Home house. It had been a long day, but she wanted to check the windows at the back of the building on the upper floor before securing the house for the night.

Running up stairs, she turned to the left and walked to the end of the corridor to check the rooms along the back wall of the house, the first was secure with no sign of water getting through. It was the same for the next three. Alice caught sight through a window of the outbuildings, they would certainly fulfil the needs of ‘recreational facilities’ as Morgan would say, but that was for another day, a long way down the line.

Two more bedrooms on this floor to check, the others up in the attics were smaller and could wait until next visit. As Alice moved across the last bedroom on this level she tripped, catching her foot on a floor board. In her hurry she had not noticed it, but she certainly felt the sting of the graze on the left side of her face. She got to her feet and checked the window, it was secure and dry. Turning to the reason for her fall the floorboard was now loose, her shoe had acted like a claw hammer. Alice decided to lift it altogether and place it over against the wall. As she did so, she noticed something in the gap, it was a box of some sort, she lifted it out for further examination. She wondered how long it had been there but decided to put it in her bag and open it at home when Dinner was over and she could relax for the evening. She returned to the ground floor, collected her things, locked up the house and turned her car for home.

Once through the door, Alice was met by Lovell and Crumbs, both excited to see her and vying for her attention. It took a full twenty minutes before they allowed her to make a start on dinner. Thankful for meals she had prepared in advance for the freezer, she sorted one and set it in the oven to thaw and reheat. It gave her time for a shower to clear the dust of the day from her body and allow her head to relax enough to enjoy the meal. Lovell eat well clearing her plate, then left the table for the evening round of soaps on TV.

As Alice stacked the dishwasher, the doorbell buzzed. It was Morgan. He often called unannounced to check that they were alright. He knew Alice was going to ‘Thudder house’ and wanted to know how she had got on. Alice made coffee and they carried it through to the den for a quiet chat while Lovell was busy. She told him about the back door and he agreed to take a look at it over the weekend.

He agreed with her that it would be wise to seek assistance from the experts before making changes to ‘Thudder house’. He told her about his day and the latest progress on the Workshop. He was about to leave, when he asked what happened to her face. Touching the graze she remembered the box!

Taking it from her bag, she noted it was quite old and inlayed with an intricate pattern in ivory. Alice opened it and they both gasped loudly.

Wow!

Sitting on the deep black velvet lining were jewels that sparkled under the new deep set lights Morgan had installed around the room and above the chair where Alice now sat. There were diamonds, sapphires, aquamarines and an emerald, all set in beautiful pieces!

There had been no mention of any jewellery in Sidney’s will and the solicitors practice had been with the family for several generations, surely they would have mentioned ‘jewellery’ if they had known.

“I wonder if Sidney knew about these?” They both exclaimed in unison.

These stones might have lived under some old dark and dusty floor boards for many a long year, but Alice was not very happy about having them here in the Home house.
“Under the pillow with them for tonight” she thought. In the morning she would take them to a reputable jeweller in the city. They needed to be listed, checked over, cleaned and valued, before deciding what to do with them. She did not see herself parading about dripping in jewels as she went about her chores or while poking about in Thudder house as it was right now!

The End is never the End ~ Part 2

Part 1 here.

The hedgerows were freshly embroidered with primroses as Alice drove along the narrow road leading to ‘Thudder house’. The journey seemed long, but not as long as the road Alice had travelled in the past few months. There were changes. Very many changes!

Judith Crooke, & her friend Allen, evaporated like an early morning mist. Just the one phone call, no more. Mary Matterface, neighbourhood know-all, described Allen as: “So tight he could peel an orange in his pocket” and that was after a few short hours on the day of the funeral. Mary Matterface, was an authority on everything, what she did not know, she made up. The neighbours were all wise to her at this stage, and Alice battled hard to keep her at arms length.

Roger de Montfort’s luck finally ran out at the New Year meet of the North County Stag-hounds. Proudly sitting on his horse, he held centre stage talking and laughing with friends, when flop! Roger fell off his horse stone dead, mid laugh with a grin so wide, it almost met at the back of his head.

Lettuce Playfair, to great relief all round, had moved the tiger cat to her home and was busy right now with the arrival of six tiny kittens.

Julie Jenkins, set teacups rattling at the local fundraiser, when she arrived with a beau on her arm. Each soul needs to find their niche of happiness, the look on Julie’s face told the world that she had met hers. It was not known if Neville Nolan liked wrestling, but he did like Julie, that was obvious.

Morgan had proved to be a true friend. He helped Alice to refresh her driving skills, and he moved into the ‘Workshop’, Alice’s name for the house with the cars. It was at Morgan’s suggestion, it would mean the house was aired and lived in, and he could carry out repairs and renovations in lieu of rent. He never did anything without consulting Alice. Already the house had come alive and Sidney’s plants were beginning to smile once more.

The home house had been dusted with Morgan’s magic, fresh paint and emulsion throughout. Even Lovell seemed to turn a corner. Perhaps partly due to the new arrival in the family. Crumbs was a bitser, half Sheltie, half Terrier. She was the size of a small terrier, with the coat of the sheltie, though wiry in texture and the colour of an old man’s mane: Sixty shades of grey. She took to training well, belonged to Lovell and they became inseparable. The distraction of Crumbs gave Alice the freedom to plan and work for their future.

Today, the plan for Alice was to spend part of the day in ‘Thudder house’, she smiled at how each house comfortably adopted a name, she wanted to get the feel of the place, take in the atmosphere of the rooms. Note how the daylight played its part, take measurements and notes before deciding where to begin. In recent months, she had come here with Morgan, sometimes it was an excuse for driving practice, but with every visit she discovered something new about the place. He had a good eye for details and his helpful suggestions, never pushy, were always welcome.

The four tea chests he brought from the ‘Workshop’ would soon be filled. The few drawers she had opened were full and looked as if they were undisturbed since Adam was a boy. With four reception rooms and eight bedrooms, the task of reading, sorting and clearing might take months. Goodness knows what she would find.

Not quite a listed building it still had a stately feel about it. The rooms were large with high ceilings. Ten years earlier when Sidney inherited the place, he had brought Alice to see it. Lovell was with them and not a happy camper, making her feelings known by throwing a noisy childish tantrum. Thus distracted, Alice had remembered it only for the heavy doors, leaded windows, high ceilings, oak panelling exposed timbers and beams. It was on a dull day so the whole place appeared as a dark, dusty unaired mausoleum.

The day they brought the tea chests, Morgan’s mind was racing. It had been a crisp dry day and he suggested a walk in the gardens. They were more extensive than first realised. He imagined the grounds to have excellent recreational facilities: A heated Swimming pool, tennis court, croquet or bowls lawn, with a golf driving range over near the boundary. Closer to the terrace a Putting green, would add interest for the folk enjoying morning coffee or sipping afternoon tea from the fine china they found in the butler’s pantry. Goodness that lad had some imagination, there was a heck of a lot of dust to be shifted before coffee and cake on the terrace!

The End is never the End ~ Part 1

The day forgot to dawn
silent dark fog surrounded the small group.
Freezing frost turned flesh to marble as it soaked into every pore.
From nose to toes they froze
leaden limbs heavy as steel,
and yet they stood exhaling white clouds of breath.

Waiting.

Waiting in line for the cortège to appear at the weather worn gate.
The living statues wondering when their turn would come creeping up behind to silence any thought, before it turned to words.

Judith Crooke, a distant cousin of Sidney, who travelled down from the north coast for the funeral.

Lovell Loftus, born long years before ‘special schools’ were even thought about, so spent her growing up years in the shadow of her older sister Alice. It seemed like a forgone conclusion when Sidney asked Alice to marry him, that Lovell came too. She had not really learned to run a home or deal with accounts, but sure Alice was there to deal with all that for her. She could make a cup of tea and cut the grass with a push mower, but clipping edges or weeding was not in her reckoning at all.

Mary Matterface, a widow from St Andrews by the Wardrobe, was the most recent resident of the crescent who adopted the position of controller of all their lives.

Carol Cribben, next door neighbour, counsellor & amateur gardener, was the caterer for the funereal tea.

Maisie Mullen, the oldest neighbour with very fixed ideas. Not sure if she actually liked the seventy eight year old deceased, Sidney Slythe, but, he did wheel out her laden refuse bin each week and return it to the corner before the end of the day. It might look peculiar if she did not attend, so she went along to avoid any gossip.

Julie Jenkins, from three doors down, was always waiting for her prince charming to come. Roger de Montfort was fond of telling her that Prince Charming took a wrong turn, got lost, and was too stubborn to ask for directions. Julie had cable television, she was always ready to welcome Sidney to watch the football.

Daphne, a neighbour, in whose eyes, men were like pennies: two-faced and worthless. Her world and home featured all manner of creatures – finned, furred and feathered. Some even slept inside in the bed with her! Her one concession to the male form was following wrestling on television. Sidney liked the wrestling!

Yvonne, lived round the corner. A good vintage (if you were talking about wine), she was fond of fluttering about on heels that were in no way built for comfort. She had always been the mouse of the group saying little, answering when spoken to directly, but happy to sit and listen. Her eyes did the talking for her, always alert, they darted from face to face as each had their say. No matter what was happening, Yvonne was there, somehow she never missed a beat.

Lettuce Playfair, neighbour, married to Norman Playfair, was known for feeding the neighbourhood cats.

Silently sliding to a halt, the driver’s door of the hearse opened and the undertaker emerged. Straight as a ramrod in his usual uniform of top hat and tailcoat, black leather gloves and shoes that shone brighter than a frosty harvest moon.

The gathered group twiddled their beads, more by way of habit or distraction, than piety. A bird in the tree above their heads might chirp that ‘the seasons were out of kilter’, but somehow they matched the mix of mumbling souls present, as lob-sided as the coffin being carried in through the warped stiff and rusting old country graveyard gate.

The pall-bearers completed the compliment of men present, as ill matched as the bead twiddlers. All strangers until a few hours before, unsure of foot and the task in hand, they stumbled over the rough ground of sunken graves, rabbit holes and fallen headstones to the group gathered round the open grave.

Slowly, very, very slowly they respectfully set the coffin on the ground opposite the mound of freshly dug clods of clay, with the only wink to modernity – a green sheet of plastic grass that covered the soil.

Carefully stepping backward the men straightened up to their various heights between 5’4” and 6’ 2”, as if to form a guard of honour. The mismatch in stature seemed in keeping with the assortment of ages and backgrounds. The common threads amongst them were the recently deceased and the black ties they wore.

Fresh and crisp, out for its first airing, was the tie worn by young Morgan Troy at the left front corner of the coffin. Tallest of the group and an honorary nephew, Morgan, whose father Rowland shared a love for, and worked alongside Sidney Slythe restoring his collection of vintage cars. Morgan spent many hours in the workshop with his father and Sidney. He had his own corner for working in, first it was his tricycle, followed by a two wheeler and eventually oddments from an old retired engine. He had many memories of those days and years, so many he had not shared, while others so special he could not part with them.

Roger de Montfort was fond of centre stage no matter what the occasion. He was short and so old, his birth-certificate must have expired, yet he made more appearances than wild mushrooms in a field. A real ouldwoman’s blouse if ever you saw one, always ready for a good gossip and to add his two pennyworth, even when it was only worth quarter the price. He was handy for fetching ‘n carrying, and the ‘girls’ of the neighbourhood were not behind the door in coming forward to ask. Today he was at the front right corner bringing Sidney to his final rest.

Allen Allaway ‘ Male Friend’ of Judith Crooke, and Norman, husband and doer of deeds for Lettuce Playfair followed behind them.

The graveside prayers over, the short eulogy commenced, Morgan spoke from his heart. The gentle words were for a gentle man and caused a flutter of lace handkerchiefs from the ladies surrounding Alice, the widow.

On the outside, Alice Slythe looked composed and in control, but the hidden truth was an internal battle to stay calm and not allow the tears to flow. Once begun she feared they would never end. The tears would come, but they would come behind the closed door of her bedroom with her face buried deep in a pillow. The pillow that Sidney rested his head on every night of the twenty nine years shared in their Marriage bed. Every night. Until last Saturday.

Sidney Slythe, seventy eight and three weeks, came late to marriage. He had lived for years at the other end of the crescent with his well fed tiger cat. The large garage was ideal for working on and storing his well loved vintage cars. The gardens at front, back and sides were proof he was an accomplished plants man. He shared many cutting slips and tips with his neighbours. On bin day he could be seen going from house to house to wheel the bins to the kerbside. These weekly visits gave him the opportunity to talk to his neighbours, check on the plants he had shared and advise on the best way to prune, feed, or deal with any disease as it appeared.

Football was his passion but Alice, or should we say Lovell, could not stand it. She preferred to watch a Saturday romantic matinee or evening round of the soaps. So Sidney kept the peace and shared the games between the girls of the neighbourhood.

During the last ten years he took care of three houses. The one he lived in with Alice and Lovell, the one with the cars and the third, a family home handed down, but in a little village twenty miles away on thudder side of the Hill.

It was while checking on the latter that Saturday afternoon, Sidney felt unwell. He knew it was not good, and driving was not an option. He phoned Alice, and suggested she ask Mary Matterface to drive her over. Alas, by the time they arrived it was all over. They found Sidney sitting in the old armchair. The ambulance men assured Alice that the heart attack took him quickly.

Alice Slythe, was rather timid invisible & mousey. She was reared with her younger sister Lovell by their widower father, Leonard Loftus, whose spirit had died with his wife and only son, following a long and complicated birth. The girls were reared in the vacuum of the large detached house, still pre-war in style, with the silence only broken by the winding and slow tick of a heavy and ancient Grandfather clock or the occasional whispered question from their father.  Alice had inherited the dark mausoleum when her father died. He was a shy man, who drew comfort from his large collection of dusty old books.

One month down the line found Alice, sorting, folding and packing a couple of boxes with the contents of Sidney’s wardrobe. It was a task she dreaded, but refused to delegate. Perhaps it was an internal admittance that the ‘good byes’ would remain unsaid and she would have to face the future without her rock. The chat with Morgan, the evening before, had helped. He was a kind soul and clearly fond of Sidney. Yes, having three houses was totally unnecessary, but the problem was deciding what to do with them. All mature and ripe for renovation, was it a task she was up to… or willing to undertake? Should she just stay where she was and put the others on the market? These were not questions easily answered over a cup of coffee, but they did need to be addressed, and soon. Alice decided to sleep on it for a couple of nights. The coming weekend she would make a list, then on Monday take the first real steps on this new journey.