The house that Thomas built
Thomas Grene seemed to expel all of his troubles in one almighty sigh as he slumped on to a stool in the courtly garden of his new home. The July Sun warmed his face and brought the scents of his neatly planted herb garden wafting towards him. The steady tolling of the bell in the Friary next door was now a familiar sound that told him it was approaching Vespers, the evening Mass of the friars. Soon their rhythmic chanting, which always seemed to relax him, would begin to sound across his courtyard. He reflected on how relieved he felt to have finally built himself this haven; the newest building in Frerenstrete and the envy of all who lived along it. He had paid a lot – too much in fact, but it was worth it to look up and see the beautifully symmetrical ornate timbers loom gracefully over the street below. His personal emblem and merchants mark engraved in to the façade let all who passed know that here lived a person of high standing. Paradise on earth. But his smile waned as even here the hardships of his day encroached on his memory – Gods teeth it had been a long one.
Firstly, he had had to pay a visit to the city quays, where noisome and foul-tongued ships crews jostled for space to unload wool that had been treated at the fulling mill upstream. He detested having to visit the place, where the dyers emptied the putrid surplus of their trade in to the river and the fetid water surely imbalanced the humours. Alas, one of his shipmasters had become embroiled in dispute with another boatman in the employ of a friend and fellow merchant, and the scene was such that it required the presence of both ship-owners to resolve the issue. After some small discussion, which hardly seemed to Thomas to warrant his presence, his men could continue the task of loading up the small trade fleet with the ale Thomas produced, ready for shipment downstream to Gloucester and, if necessary, on to Bristol.
To Thomas, it seemed he was forever in the employ of others. Though more often than not he’d pay others to work for him, he felt the constant strain of having to sort out the quarrelsome and petty affairs of others. If it was not his men brawling on the quays, it was a neighbourly dispute between inhabitants of the city over the encroachment of one tenement on to another. As a member of the merchants guild and a leading citizen, Thomas was looked to in times of divide for solutions.
The afternoon had fared little better than the morning, with the innocuous tedium of a meeting in the Guild Hall discussing the price of bread in the city boring in to his very soul. Patience is a conquering virtue.
Now the steady creak of the mill wheel turning in his garden drew him in to a semi-hypnotic state. The scent of incense from the friary next door invaded the garden and he unthinkingly reflected upon how fortunate he had been to have risen to his position, even if it had meant sacrifice and toil. Fortune had indeed lifted him high up on her wheel. He was momentarily unsettled as the thought developed in his mind that the wheel of fortune inevitably sunk men lower again. No matter. He leant forward on to the stone table and tore himself a hunk of bread, grunting with the effort.