Falling water, be it from craggy over-hanging rocks or a dam or in a canal as one water level adjusts to another – all are spectacles to watch with a strange kind of fascination. A lavatory cistern is so banal and so powerful in its potential for destruction. A malfunctional watercock caused ours to overflow and gush down three storeys one early morning not long ago. Our insurance policy’s emergency plumbers were called immediately in the early morning when it happened. They did not arrive till the evening and by that time the water had soaked through the two storeys below. Before I was rushed to hospital, the wallpaper was hanging off the ceiling and walls in the dining room and all the furniture had to be removed to invade other rooms. We now watch TV in a very crammed space with the contents of cabinets, a chest of drawers and a tallboy piled high on bookcases and any available shelf. Every evening when I sit and gaze out at the evening antics of young people around the Minster – less frequent now in COVID times – I fill that space with historic memories before the space in front of the Minster was crammed with 18th and 19th century housing. Then there was open space between the Minster and Wednesday Marketplace. People gathered there to hear proclamations made, one imagines, from the ‘Galilee Rom’ above the Minster entrance. Or so one is told.
Now the great churches have lost their voices and only echoes remain to be recalled from memories as one sits there in silence, weaving them into the tapestry of one’s life now more of memories than living experience.
Machines are sucking the last of the fountain of water from the top storey out of the walls of the ground floor room where it all settled. Its walls are stripped back to the bricks and the ceiling displays the original rafters. Dust clings to the window-panes. This coming Friday the drying machine will have gone and, we are promised, the redecoration will begin. I doubt it. We have not even been consulted on the wall colour or wallpaper.
Living in depleted space with chaos all around one is stressful. Some find domestic informality gives a welcoming flavour to an inhabited space. But when does informal evidence of a lived-in space give way to untidy confusion where objects are lost and banknotes, placed for a moment in a safe place while a meal is hastily prepared, are inexplicably mislaid because you have forgotten where you put them?
Every evening the back of my chair leans against the painting of my great-great-grandfather as a young man in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, a copy of the original painting by George Romney now in Boston, USA. I try not to knock it because our best china is piled on the shelf behind. I squiggle shapes with my forefinger on the dusty tops of furniture that I should have agreed to have stored in a warehouse. I must not complain. The return to normality is some way off. But what will that mean? Will ‘normality’ be the same as things were before COVID and the overflowing cistern? I doubt it.