Give Back Time: How to Inventorize a 70 Room House

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As the small plane circles the Isle of Islay, everyone begins to crane at the windows to catch a glimpse of the dark blue sea and the open expanse of moors spreading in every direction.  I find myself doing the same.   As I descend from the plane and take a deep breath of the clean, cold salty air, I realize that it’s been years since I’ve last been here.  I’ve forgotten just how beautiful it is.  The stillness in the land that makes me profoundly grateful to be alive. 

Our first dinner, eating the most amazingly succulent, fresh wild Scottish lobsters you have ever tasted, was a celebration.  Unexpectedly, and happily, Laura’s father Captain Tom had just sold the house that day.  The downside was that the closing was in a month’s time.  With over 70 rooms and 24 bedrooms, they now have an enormous amount of furniture and personal affects that need to be sold, given away or sent to children.

Now I know why I’m here.   I know how to move house.  And with this crazy castle karma I have, I’m not afraid of big houses.  So I offer to Laura to create an inventory.  70 rooms in three days.  I create three enormous excel spreadsheets, dividing the house into floors, rooms, and then listing each piece of furniture with a short description and a photograph.   Day after day, room by room, I sit at the computer while Laura takes photographs and calls out descriptions of the furniture, paintings, soft furnishing.  We even have an excel category called ‘ugly enough to burn’.  

I wasn’t sure why I had suddenly agreed to visit Laura on the spur of the moment.  I’ve just been away for over 10 weeks and had a lot of work to do in London.  But there, sitting with my dear friend, helping her inventorize a house that she had generously lent me over fifteen years ago, I realize I’m doing what I call ‘give back’ time.  And that makes me very happy. 


Celtic Crosses Islay House Cemetery

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While wandering around the property of Islay House I come upon an ancient cemetery filled with a number of tumbledown tombstones.  I puzzle over a sign warning me of danger falling quite awhile.  Images of headstones ready to bump me off buzz in my when I wandered inside, but as far as I can see, the tombstones are polite and respectful and stay in their places.

It's in cemeteries like these that you can find traces of the old ways of the Inner Hebrides.  The ancestors were Celtic, not Christian.  Those curly designs like plants could be Viking or Mayan or Indian.  They are what I call feminine-based cultures. When I write feminine, I mean Yin not Yang.  These cultures were agricultural based communities that were matriarchial in structure.  In other words, they celebrated Mother Earth.  Women were important valued members of the community. 

Feminine cultures still exist today, however they are what we consider indigenous cultures.  There are still cultures that contain more feminine, or Yin, than masculine, energy.  Masculine cultures are Teutonic, like Germany or Switzerland or the USA.  Feminine are Latin cultures, India, many countries in the Far East, and Native American.  Roads and systems and hospitals work well in masculine cultures.  Feminine countries are more connected to the body, to the rhythms of life, to the emotions and family and rituals.  Celtic is feminine.  Anglo-Saxon is masculine.  The shift from the feminine to the masculine occurred as society moved from hunter gatherer toward cities.   

Have a look at this Celtic cross.  The two arms have the same length as the north and south arms.  The cross is a vertical and horizontal line intersecting, surrounded by a circle.  It symbolizes the Earth and the Sky intersecting in perfect balance.  It represents sacred balance.  It was only when Christianity took over these areas that it was adopted into the Christian lore.  Heaven and earth intersects right here, in the human heart.  


First Post

First Post

This is the little village of 100 inhabitants called La Roque Baignard in Normandy France where I have been convalescing since September. The silence here is palpable, broken only by the Anjelus, the morning devotional call to prayer, which occurs at 7am, noon and 7pm. The bell rings three times, pauses and repeats twice more, followed by a euphoric gonging for one minute which resounds down the valley. The Anjelus can be traced back to the eleventh century when Franciscan monks said three Hail Marys during night prayer when the last bells rang. It was soon incorporated in many villages as the time to begin work, stop for lunch, and end the day’s work.

Since I’m in the Presbytiere, or the vicarage, which is to the right of the St Martin church, the Anjelus wakes me in the morning, tells me to break for lunch, and rings away at the end of the day. In the winter, it rang in the dark, now that it is spring, the bell bongs happily in the morning and evening light.

I find rituals like these comforting. It breaks up the endless passage of time and gently reminds me that I am part of something much bigger than my computer screen and telephone. There is a rhythm in life, the bells gong, all I need to do is listen carefully and I can feel it. And that is comforting indeed.