The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


paint pot and brushSometimes I realise that I am one of the luckiest people in our part of England (East Anglia). I get to meet loads of people, rich, poor and in between. Every one of them is fascinating. Even the bad ones (and there have only been two baddie households in five years).

Usually I make what Danny calls “a visitation”. Although I have pointed out that visitations are only carried out by angels and unearthly characters in novels, he sticks to his guns. Jalopy and I purr up to the client’s house where I assess the task.

There is an intense half hour when we discuss any repairs (preparation) and the colours. Then it’s down to choosing gloss or eggshell for the woodwork and, occasionally, the reveals (area around the windows). If you paint these white it simulates sunlight splashing into the room.

More often than not, my quote is accepted and Jalopy and I are invited to return with paint pots, brushes and dust sheets. The aim is to improve and enhance the space.

After the first day, everyone relaxes. From then on I am the Fly On The Ladder. When I am decorating someone’s home, I am living with them for eight hours a day. It’s always interesting. I hear doors slamming when someone has forgotten to buy the baked beans, chilled lobster, diesel for the lawn mower. Sometimes, if doors close and voices hush, it’s about me.
“Shall I offer her a cup cake with her tea? How many have we got?”
My visit is brief and intense. Then I am gone.

Most weeks are good and this week was exceptional. I was working for a retired Welsh couple here in the village who wanted their hall, landing and stairs decorated. They picked me out of our monthly parish magazine where I have a small quarter page ad*.

I don’t know many Welsh people. We have an old friend who is Welsh. We have lost touch but my favourite kitchen chair, David, is named after him as he always used to sit there. When I think of the Welsh, I think of lush valleys, the miners, Eisteddfods and brass bands.

This couple validated my sense of Wales but I had forgotten the castles and magic. When the radio disappointed there was a roar, and then silence as music was selected. I stood aloft, poised with brush in hand, intrigued to hear what they would choose. The range was massive.
“Is that Frank Sinatra?” I would call down after a few songs.
“No, it’s Perry Como,” was the lilting response. I rollered through Songs from the Best Musicals and rubbed down the woodwork serenaded by Chas & Dave.
“We saw them in Ipswich last year.” Yet another mug of tea was gently placed beside my ladder.
“They have made a comeback. They appeared at that festival. The one with the mud.”
“Yes, that’s it. By the time they played Ipswich, they had teenage groupies who had to leave before the end but climbed on stage to kiss every member of the band goodbye!”

The musical selections were supplemented with good conversation that would have every great hostess grinding her teeth in envy. Not that I sit at their kitchen table for hours. My clients are straining their necks watching me work as we chat.

Each evening I wafted into the cottage all smiles and softness.
“I am having a great time. How was your day?”
D was having a bad week.

My week was exceptional as I was based in a truly happy home. Always polite and gentle with each other, this couple had been married for 53 years. One afternoon the husband confided that his wife had been his first and only girlfriend. They had been through some very tough experiences but focused on their good times.

I was pleased with the job but just being with them made me feel very special indeed.

* Advertising in the Parish Magazine is a great, low cost, way of promoting your small business. Many years ago, someone told me that he had started his massive antiques restoration business through advertising in a couple of church mags.
“People trust you. It’s not like advertising in the newspaper.”

I have found this to be true and it is the only advertising that I do. It costs me about ?33 per annum. We are in the advertising supplement that falls to the ground when local residents snooze in deck chairs. Enough are caught by the wind to magically fall into the hands of prospective clients and keep my business afloat.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Celia,

    Spot on. The Parish Mag has a pivotal role in any small community although I have found city mags very useful too.

    Hi Ash,

    Yes, I think it’s exactly the same sort of situation. A local builder told me he was going to become a psychotherapist when he retires,
    “After all I have had 25 years of training.ย He explained.

    The truly happy homes are disappointingly rare.

    Hi Amanda,

    It might not be global but everyone seems to read the Parish Mag. The advertising in ours has been restricted as it was threatening to take over the

  2. Amanda

    Heart warming stuff! I write our village school’s article every month for our Parish News magazine. I love it. It’s funny when I’m introduced to people for the first time and they tell me they know me from the Parish News. It’s a great place to advertise, especially if you’re not looking for global/world domination – tee hee!

  3. Oh, that’s so touching about your lovely couple ๐Ÿ™‚ I suppose being a decorator is a bit like being a florist – people just talk to you because you are there and they can. Sort of psychotherapy without the psycho part ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I envy you having a happy home to have worked in for a week, it must have been wonderful (there are so many unhappy ones after all.)

  4. The Parish mag is a great way to make contacts – I work from a studio at home in a small East Anglian village and volunteered to become the editor when the job became vacant. All organisers of events and advertisers come to see me and I first to know all the news! I feel part of the community – with no village shop and a pub which is more of a restaurant than a “local” the Parish mag is THE means of communication for all the small businesses, clubs, churches and the Parish Council.


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