The Rules of the House

When you live in an old house like ours for any length of time, you get used to all its little quirks and foibles. It struck me that a list of the 'rules of the house' might be useful. Not the kind of rules visitors have to obey, you understand. We're not those kind of hosts!

I mean the kind of rules that the house itself seems to impose on any of those who spend time within these two hundred year old stone walls.

Many of them will, I think, apply to other properties. So here they are. Nine rules of the house.

1 When running the hot water tap, you will have to give it time before deciding that 'there is no hot water.' There usually is. It's just that the plumbing is a little idiosyncratic, and it can take a hell of a long time for the hot water to progress from the tank to the bathroom tap.

2 In the upstairs bedrooms as well as this office where I'm working, if there is the slightest bit of wind, it's easier to leave the door ajar. Otherwise, it will creak and bang all night long. We don't think the house is haunted, but who knows?

3 In a similar vein, if there is quite a lot of wind, you have to learn to ignore the unearthly moans that some of the (nice, new, double glazed, replacement) windows occasionally emit. It's just that some quirk of orientation and the way the wind blows along the village street can turn them into the equivalent of giant kazoos.

4 Spiders are inevitable. The big, black, leggy ones tend to come in in spring and autumn although they sometimes take refuge indoors after periods of prolonged rain at any time of the year. (As who wouldn't?) There is a spider catcher somewhere in the house but a glass and postcard does the job just as well. On the whole, we don't favour squashing them. We do our best to evict the more gigantic specimens whenever we see them, but mostly they lurk out of sight. We leave the little ones alone. This may or may not be comforting news.

5 If you wake up in the early hours of the morning to the sound of somebody in hobnail boots dancing on the roof, it will be the jackdaws who live up there. Or the rooks from the tree in the field at the bottom of the garden.

6 You may have great difficulty with your mobile signal. There is only one provider that works here (Vodafone, as it happens) and even then, you may have to be upstairs, standing beside a window or even hanging out of it. Many visitors and tradespeople realise that they are fighting a losing battle and drive up the hill to the cemetery where they can pick up a signal from the mast that doesn't actually cover the village itself.

7 Ditto broadband. Our broadband works or I wouldn't be writing this. But it doesn't work everywhere. In the sitting room for example. It doesn't work there. Two or three feet thick stone walls are, as it turns out, pretty good barriers. The signal goes through the floor far more easily than it goes through the walls. We already have a complicated arrangement of boosters. We need more.

8 Any job, however minor, will turn out to be complicated and dirty. We learned this so long ago that it's second nature to us now. There will be more posts about this kind of thing later, but for now, just accept that it's the nature of the beast. Old houses hate change. They exact a terrible revenge on those who attempt it. Maybe the previous inhabitants object. See rule 2 above about possible haunting.

9 Closely linked to Rule 8 - no young tradesperson or surveyor or official of any kind will ever understand about old houses. Accepting this now will make life more bearable later on. They will blithely tell you that they will 'easily' drill holes in granite walls for cabling (no they won't) or that it will be utterly impossible to install a new cold water header tank in your loft space (no it won't) or that the 'condemned' telephone pole in your back garden, only accessible through your house, can't possibly be moved. (Yes it can. Three cheers for the 'Preston poling team.')

You can probably add to this list, if you too live in an old house. But you won't let it put you off, will you? After all, if something has stood for two hundred or three or four hundred years, it's a fairly safe bet that it will still be standing in another hundred years time. Which is always comforting, especially in Scotland, when the summer winds are blowing and there's a rumble of thunder in the distance...