One of the potential problems of modern life today is the constant access to instant gratification. Sure we all love to get what we want RIGHT NOW! But that erodes the ability to be patient. When we are not patient we tend to do rash things and rash is an opposite energy to gritty determination. The pioneers of yesteryear had both the patience and the determination to build things that have stood the test of time. Simply put, patience is indeed a virtue and without it we lack the determination to succeed at things of substance which also stand the test of time.
Here is one of my favourite stories about such simple determination and patience.
May Savidge lived in a little cottage in a town called Hertfordshire in the UK in the 1950′s. She had bought it in 1947 at the age of 35 and as a self taught home improvement enthusiast was slowly restoring it. She had used a builder to repair the roof, but everything else such as the brick laying, carpentry, glazing and stripping of the plaster she had opted to do by hand.
Then, one day the council informed her that they were going to demolish her house to make way for a road – a rash decision that would not be taken today as historical properties are now listed and protected.
Whilst Ms Savidge was renovating she had uncovered a lot of evidence that she was living in a home that dated back to medieval times, such as Tudor fireplaces and the floorboard wood work of medieval carpenters. It had been recognized as such by the architectural historians May had brought to see it. So she could not bear the idea of destroying such an important part of the national heritage.
The Lioness was awoken.
She dug her heels in and refused to move whilst she fought the council for the next 15 years! Then she came up with the impossible idea of relocating the whole house lock stock and barrel elsewhere. To get started she decided she would number each wooden beam and every pane of glass so that the whole building could be reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle. Because of her inexperience she used greasproof paper and crayons to trace over samples of brickwork so she could determine how thick to lay the mortar.
As the house was slowly dismantled she still had to remain in it, sleeping in the freezing cold, under the wintry sky exposed by a gradually disappearing roof. She would say, ‘ I just won’t have such a marvelous old house bulldozed into the ground. I’ve got nothing to do all day so I might as well do it myself.’
As more and more people got to hear of her story they would send her money to help her out. She eventually found a new place in Norfolk, in the east of England and began the arduous task of transferring the house literally brick by brick. It took a large lorry 11 round trips to carry every part of the house.
Once relocated to Norfolk, she stayed in a caravan with her beloved dog whilst the house was being rebuilt. It was desperately cold but she refused to give up stating that she was brought up on the maxim that there was no such word as ‘can’t.’
A whole two years later the framework was fixed to the foundation by a local carpenter and May had started on the brickwork. She had no experience of brick laying but was determined to fit each brick perfectly. It took a further eight years of May’s tortoise-speed building before the place could be made water tight and the roof added.
When she was in her 70′s she finally was able to move in and continued to build her cottage, climbing the scaffolding day by day despite her age. The Queen having heard of her endeavour and recognizing her strength and British Bulldog spirit had invited her to the palace in 1986.
As she got older, the work started to slow somewhat as she could no longer handle the heavy lifting. When she died aged 81 in 1993 the walls were up, the roof was done and it was her niece who put the final touches to her aunts dream with money raised from selling May’s valuable hoard of memorabilia. She had succeeded in moving her house across Britain, brick by brick so it would not be destroyed and it still stands today as a little bed and breakfast outlet run by that same niece.
To make a potentially unkind comparison, I had a friend who had wanted to explore renovating houses, selling them, then finding a new property to renovate buoyed by the profit of the previous sale and so on. As we chatted about the process and what would be involved, it became clear that some kind of caravan would be needed to sleep at the properties when the houses were not of commuting distance and my friend and his pals could then return home at weekends – or indeed any time they needed to…
That simple realization brought the plans to a screeching halt. The comparison is of course that my friend was a strapping man who would have had the camaraderie and support of his pals throughout the job, compared to a lone woman who started the incredible move in her fifties. A modern caravan would be warm and dry, with easy access by car to travel home to warm hugs, showers, tea and biscuits, or potentially the property being renovated could be also lived in, as opposed to 25 years of single handed building with little respite.
It is our tendency as modern day folks to focus not on what we want to achieve but how difficult it might be that separates us from the pioneers or the May Savidge’s of the world.
Like most things in life, achievement is a matter of simple choice. We can opt to be the folks who can always splutter out 20 reasons why everything is impossible, or we can be the ones who persist and insist on only seeing the end goal.
The words above are from me. The pics and the original story is from ‘Miss Savidge Moves Her House,’ by Christine Adams with Michael McMahon.
I have placed an affiliate link to Amazon below for those of you interested in pursuing this very interesting story. It is first time I have gone to Amazon and read a sneak preview, then found myself squeaking petulantly with great disappointment when the excerpt finished far too soon. P.
…But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom.
That is being educated, and understanding how to think.
The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
David Foster Wallace, Commencement address at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, May 21, 2005.