Thursday, 9 August 2007

Making our Czech house a home

We have been decorating the house. The major work has now all been finished – the ceilings replastered, the floors half-stripped, new bathrooms installed and now we get to the stage of making the house a home. My husband has been painting the doors – downstairs a bright blue and upstairs grey. It is amazing how a lick of paint can transform the most cruddy of doors (and boy are they cruddy – the cheapest doors the previous owners could find). We would love at some point to replace them with good wood ones, but this being an old house there is not a doorway of the same size anywhere and none that are anything like regular in their proportions and so to replace them as we would wish would mean commissioning a carpenter to make each door individually and first we must pay for the new roof. And so for now a lick of gloss paint will have to do.

A few weeks ago we came over from England with two suitcases full of little things to decorate the place with. It is fascinating to see what one chooses in these circumstances. We now have a large bookcase full of mostly fiction (English classic and contemporary novels, US detective stories and a selection of European titles including several Czech masters), poetry (English and European) and some books on myths, jungian psychology and of course fairytales, including a favourite from our son's childhood an old Hamlyn book translated from the Czech and illustrated with typically Czech graphics. Our son commented that it wouldn't be our home without books in every room – we are working on it.

On the window sills of the main room there are three low white ceramic dishes. One contains pebbles of various hues and another of shells, both pebbles and shells collected on a beach in Kent. They are shown off to their best by lying in water – hold your face close to either and inhale and you will smell the sea, here in this landlocked country. The other bowl contains a collection of fossils – ammonites and a devil's toenail from the muddy beaches of the River Severn, bivalves from the Cotswold heights and some sharks teeth that I found in the shingle of that Kent beach. On the dining table is a small wine carafe holding a bunch of wildflowers collected from a meadow near the train station. Our son has given the house a large marionette, which he carried all the way back from Thailand in his knapsack. It looks strangely at home here. Upstairs a large Mexican embroidery the size of a small sheet and covered with hand-sewn brightly coloured animals adorns the landing wall.

The most Czech thing in the house is the hand-carved head of Jesus crucified that hangs at the top of the stairs. This was the first thing I bought for the house – a piece of work from our carpenter who had first introduced me to the house and aptly was playing Jesus in the local passionplay and clearly was getting heavily into the part.

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