Monday, 26 October 2015

Beam me up, Scotty!

“You’ve missed a bit,” is a phrase that tends to incite violence from busy people who find themselves dealing with idle bystanders with nothing better to do than poke fun.
Take cleaners, for example. I have no doubt that many-a-mop has been wished where the sun doesn’t shine. And painters – those bristles must be difficult to pick from between the teeth of people who think they’re God’s gift to comedy.

But when it’s a nagging voice in the back of your head there’s little you can do other than tell it to get stuffed, which invariably fails miserably.
I had such a voice when I finished the Artex in the Living Room and Bedroom 1 - sorry to keep banging on about the bloody job. The voice kept telling me I had missed a bit, and it was only when I actually paid attention to it that I realised I had. I’d missed a bit.

There is an oriel window (a cantilevered bay window for those not up with the lingo) in the Living Room that I don’t think I’ve really mentioned much in this blog yet. The bay itself extends out from the front of The Lodge and sits on a very old and very thick externally-delaminating slab of sandstone with two fancy sandstone corbels underneath which stop it dropping off. The inside of the slab forms a large wide window sill that no doubt gets terribly cold in the winter. I’d had partial success in attempting to strip the three or four layers of white paint off this a few weeks back only to find that much of the inside area that was delaminating (flaking away in layers of flat shards where it meets the frame) had been bodged and filled with bathroom silicone, of all things.
The window itself comprises a total of 12 single-paned glass panels arranged in an old (but we’re fairly sure not original) three-sided wooden frame - the only one in the house (the rest are ugly double-glazed uPVC), with one side opening out towards the main road.
There is also a suspended ceiling inside the bay, the surface of which was covered in yet more Artex. More swirls of carcinogenic misery that I had missed in my delight at supposedly finishing the removal job a little while ago.

Artex on top of plasterboard on top
of original laths
When I came to remedy this glaring error last week I made a welcome discovery – the Artex was on top of gypsum plasterboard, and because we don’t want such useless material in the house I needed to get rid of it. Which I happily did. Down it came in the blink of an eye and two cups of coffee.
What I discovered in so doing was that the boards had been attached straight on to the original laths and the lime plaster surface of the original suspended ceiling had been removed, leaving only lumps of lime above the laths.

The naturally nosey among you will want to know what else was up there with it being an original ceiling and all, and I did too. I was hoping there would be more Georgian gutter brackets from the original single-storey cottage that The Lodge was eventually built-up from, for instance. Or maybe a forgotten fortune.
Alas it was only this: the dirtiest job of the renovation work to date. And lest we forget that I’ve pulled out years of accumulated filth from three formerly-covered-up fireplaces and we’ve de-lagged a loft.

I lay on the floor to take this
Have you SEEN our floor?
The first thing I found, before I even started removing the laths, was that they were nailed to quite a hefty chunk of timber which, on the inside Living Room face, had been patched over with more gypsum many years ago. Chipping this gypsum off revealed yet more laths which were nailed lengthways along what appeared to be a substantial beam.
I carefully started removing the laths that ran away from the beam at right angles towards the window frame where the suspended ceiling had been, hoping to be able to salvage some to repair a hole that I had sawn in the Living Room ceiling a few days earlier to widen a long ragged hole that was already there, only to discover that decade upon decade of moisture build-up above the ceiling had resulted in a manky carpet of green and black moss from one side to the other, and front to back, that was easily six inches deep at its shallowest.

Mmmmoss. Not even half of it.
On top of this was a thick layer of dust, dirt and cobwebs, on top of which was a layer of old lime and cement that had crumbled away from beneath the tiles. Above that lot, still attached to the underside of the bare tiled roof, were many sticks of long-dead wisteria that had once adorned the front of the building and 150 years of utter, utter filth clinging to attic-grade thick black cobweb sheets that could easily wrap up and suffocate an albatross. And among all that I discovered the delicate remains of three unfortunate mice - complete with long, fragile tails - that had squeaked their last many decades ago. One was even mummified.

And unsurprisingly, the lengthy clean-up job was grim. Very grim.

But once that was done I turned my attention to the beam the laths had been attached to, and started removing the horizontal ones covering the Living Room face of it.
This made up for all of the previous horribleness when, eventually, I uncovered what turned out to be a beautiful sturdy 6ft length of chunky oak above the bay window with a lovely shake down its centre where it has been ageing over at least 150 years and supporting the entire front wall of Bedroom 1. The stonework to either side of it hadn’t aged so well, unfortunately, and one end has been chocked with chunks of wood before it was all plastered up, but with a good clean-up and some TLC we’re going to turn it in to one of the room’s original features on display for ever more. Lovely.

The old oak beam was a welcome surprise and will make a
terrific feature, especially if we don't replace the ceiling
The rest of the bay’s ceiling is still open to discussion, but for the moment it seems that we may be leaving it uncovered and making a feature of that too, as the old timbers supporting the roof are still on show there. Some more TLC, a little insulation between the woodwork and a soft light or two may well see that come good in the end. 

The one fly in the ointment, however, is a single feature of the oak beam that we could do with sorting out before we finalise our plans.
When I pulled off the horizontal laths I discovered a fourth and final mouse skeleton, wedged tight between the thin sticks and the beam. Unfortunately, when mice and no doubt any other mammal passes on to the next world, they leave behind an organic mass that tends to degrade somewhat. That process of decay has a habit of releasing unpleasant fluids which, if compacted against the surface of porous wood for some time… can you see where I’m going with this?

Not to put too fine a point on it, there’s a horrible greasy blob on the oak that used to be a mouse and I don’t want my gaze to keep drifting to it when I’m trying to watch Homes Under The Hammer in my PJs while I’m eating toast and chocolate bourbons every morning. It’ll put me right off my brekky, it will.

Mouse of horrors
Happy Hallowe'en!
(on Saturday)

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