I love living in North London. It’s hilly and leafy. Back gardens are divided by old hedges, streets curve as houses were built around ancient trees.
One of these stunning trees stood in our neighbour’s garden a couple of houses along. It started to grow here long before humans inhabited the hills, when only sheep were gracing in the meadows. Even last summer, the sun shone through its leaves on beautiful summer evenings. A perfectly healthy tree, it was cut down in the autumn. An insurance company claimed it caused subsidence. We moaned its loss, upset that the council had not objected.
Our terrace of houses was built on a steep clay slope about 130 years ago. Every now and again the houses slightly shift and cracks appear. Most London houses do.
Just before Christmas, however, the cracks in our house got worse. Especially in the ceiling underneath the Peirene office.
‘It’s the books,’ Peirene whispered. ‘We’ve got far too many books in our office.’
I had had the same thought. ‘But what can we do?!’ I felt panic rise in my chest.
‘We need to do something’ said Peirene with wide eyes.
What if we have to look for new office space? What if we can’t run the Peirene Salons any longer from my own home? For a few weeks Peirene and I decided to pretend we hadn’t noticed the cracks. We hoped that this method would encourage them to simply disappear again. We also trod carefully across the office floor. It didn’t help. The cracks remained. They even got slightly worse. Then one night I woke up with racing heart, imagining my children under collapsed ceilings. It was time to stop turning a blind eye. I called a builder.
He took one look and immediately reassured me that nothing was about to collapse. The books are fine in the office and he sees no problem why I shouldn’t continue running the salon from my own home. A sigh of relief escaped both Peirene’s and my chest and I suddenly remembered what might be causing the new cracks.
I mentioned to the builder the death of the ancient tree. He nodded: ‘The tree sucked up a lot of moisture which now remains in the soil. No wonder new cracks have appeared. It will probably take another couple of months before the ground has settled.’
Peirene and I have returned to our desks. We now walk again with firm step across our floors. All is well. And once again we have learned to “leave well alone”. This applies to insurance companies, publishers and Greek nymphs.