Well, I’ve just returned from the Writing Den, where I pushed on with my work-in-progress. I exchanged the shelter of one roof for another, a”change of scenery”, to employ the truism, needed all the more in the depths of the English winter.
It was a good ten degrees warmer than back in England, ideal weather for exploring. Brittany is a spiritual place. You feel it in the landscape around you, in the lakes and forests, the granite hills and fast-flowing streams. You sense the countless generations that have walked there before you, from pre-Christian times onward. And when you lift your eyes skyward there are those magical cloudscapes too.
A friend and I walked out into the countryside from the hamlet. He was telling me about the distinctly non-Christian principles by which he has conducted his spiritual life. We came across a ruined chapel on the edge of the wood. The real sky was breaking through the holes in the painted one on its ceiling. Organised religion in the West is in retreat, in terminal decline, perhaps. If we’re not careful, we’ll lose those ancient buildings along with it. And we’ll lose something more if our lives focus solely on the material and nothing more besides.
You used to see elegant ruins in rural East Anglia. Not now. A derelict garden shed will be re-categorised as a “development opportunity” and priced at £100,000. But that chapel was a reminder for me. Above all else, the roof of a building must be maintained. On a practical level, I shall need to pay to have the roof of the Writing Den fully repaired over the coming year. Otherwise it’ll end up looking like the buildings in the photographs below. For me, spirituality extends to contemplating the birds in the birch trees in the garden (or the sparrows in the quince bush, since I’m back in England). I must remember to look upwards from time to time and reflect. If we neglect the interior life we leave ourselves exposed to the elements, metaphysically speaking.
Clearly, that roof has been troubling me at some subliminal level. It seems that I’ve been writing about it in my work-in-progress.
It all begins with the roof. Take a four-storey suburban villa, for example. No one lives there any more. Once the tiles slip and start to let in water, its structural integrity comes under threat. Unless the holes are quickly patched, the damage soon spreads. Filthy streaks line the walls. Wallpaper begins to peel. Pools of standing water gather on the floors and damp stains the ceilings below. Section by section, the plaster blows and comes crashing down. One after another, the windows are smashed and let the rain in. It’s surprising how quickly the floorboards and ceiling joists become saturated then turn paper-like before collapsing under their own weight, taking any remaining items of furniture with them. The house is already beyond repair. The garden around it has become a dark and forbidding place. Ivy claws its way toward the gutters. Buddleia blossoms between the bricks, the memory of Himalayan crags clinging on inside its roots. Roof timbers rot and fall inward. Staircases fold in on themselves like broken accordions. Denuded of its roof and floors, the house becomes an empty box. Its former personality is no longer recognisable. The basement and bathrooms, the scullery and servants’ rooms, the nursery and drawing room, they exist only in memory. Even the ghosts have moved out. The walls themselves are in danger of collapse. The chimneys have already fallen. With the front door broken off its hinges and its rotten windows hanging open, the house presents the world with a hollow, senile stare.
All text and images © PSR 2017