Image

A little while ago I was looking at the plaster on the wall in the living room.

I was unhappy in my living room.
It sort of made my teeth itch.
It was a little bit damp, a little bit shabby and there were just a couple of things sort of wrong with it.
Things I was living with, things we had lived with for years.
Things I was not really very happy to keep on living with but could not summon up the energy to do anything about because…well because I had kids and COULD NOT BE BOTHERED.

But there was a hole in the plaster about the size of a 50p coin and it bothered me every night.
I would look at it and I knew it masked a deep and lasting problem.
It was like probing a rotten tooth with your tongue, in the end something was going to have to be done.

The hole had been caused by the Christmas decorations coming down. A piece of Blu-tack had pulled off a circle of plaster
The plaster around the hole seemed to be separating and coming away.

One night I got up off the sofa and walked up to the hole. I found I could slide my finger in under the first millimetre or so and it began to come away.

I slid my hand in under and in a glorious swoosh pulled off the top layer of plaster from an area about the size of my kitchen table top.

The plaster underneath was older and rougher in places but seemed sound. Over a period of a couple of nights I removed the entire layer from the walls in the living room.

I wanted to know why the plaster had come off.
I live in a very old Cornish house, though everything is relative, actually for Cornwall it’s not even that old, about 120 years or so. The original plaster work turned out to be rammed earth. The walls had been plastered in mud.
Mud.
You can wax lyrical about cob buildings, the incredible structures of Timbuktu and the heritage of rammed earth construction but it came as a bit of a shock to find that dried out mud was holding up my granite and slate house.
Mud?
Really?

The walls themselves went down into the ground and any damp from the earth under the house would rise through the earth walls and evaporate off. Lime paint had been used as the original finish and lime kills mould. The damp would have evaporated away and regular fires in the hearth would have dried out the walls. Sort of. It was not a perfect system but it worked, until someone skimmed modern plaster over the top which stopped the water evaporating out. This caused a separation in the layers and ‘blew’ the plaster off the walls.

Modern houses don’t do this.
The way modern houses are made is a better system if you don’t want damp.
If you don’t want damp in an old house it is bad to use modern materials to mend them.
My house had been mended with a lot of modern materials.

As I got down to floor level it was apparent that the water that could no longer evaporate away had condensed and the backs of the skirting boards were rotten. I found this out by pushing my finger through one.

I pulled with two fingers and the fireplace surround came away and crashed onto the floor.

I had a peek under the the chipboard floor to find it was thick and black with mould. The joists under the floor were untreated wood sitting on bare earth and in many places had rotted to dust.

I was knocking on the wall to see if it sounded hollow above the skirting and a sheet of rammed earth plaster three feet high and four feet long slumped onto me.

My whole living room was rotten.

I moved the kitchen table into the bathroom.
The bathroom is the biggest room in my house, I don’t know why, my bedroom is a tiny cell that has 18″ space around the bed but the first time I walked into our bathroom I actually said ‘wow’, a phrase that is not often used in a positive context with regard to my house.
A large bathroom is BRILLIANT for maintaining the Proles though.
Oh, love it.

I put the sofa in the kitchen and the rest of the furniture in the shed.

Then me and the Proles packed up the living room and I ripped up the floor.
In the end there was nothing but bare earth.
The Proles drove their toy diggers in it.
The cats learned really, really quickly that it was not to be used as a toilet when I was around.
They also felt it was fair game if I was not.

It was awful in there. Full of rubble, dust and mess from the last hundred years.

I had to dig out the earth floor to clear out old rubble and rubbish, lay a completely new floor with damp proofing, strip off all the skirting boards and fit new ones to the mud walls, rebuild the fireplace and replace huge sections of blown plaster with wainscotting.

Yep.
Wainscotting.
The first time my friend the Big Chippy saw the mess he said “Are you going to cover that in wainscotting then?”
I did what any man would do in my position, I nodded, screwed up my face a bit, sucked air in through my teeth, blew it out slowly whilst nodding my head in a noncommittal way and said “Meh…maybe.”

Then when he was not looking I googled “Wainscotting” just to be sure what he was talking about.

Wainscotting.
Wood panels.
I covered over the horrible mess with wood panels.

I spent a long time doing this.
I work part time, about 17 hours a week but I am allowed to do more and take the accrued time off during the school holidays.

This means I work four days a week during school hours. I would get one day off each week away from the Proles to work on the house.
A guaranteed six hours a week.
Sometimes longer if I could get someone to take the Proles.

Every now and then someone would come over and help and sometimes they wouldn’t.
I owe my friends a lot, an un-repayable debt.
Co-ordinating favours is difficult. I like my friends enough that I did not want it to be an issue.
I did not want danger in my relationships.
Easier to carry on, when people were there it was nice, when they were not I made all my own mistakes.

I could do some work at night but if I am honest I did not do much. By the time I had woken from a broken sleep, looked after the Proles and got them off to school, then worked all day and picked up the Proles again and taken them through to bed time I had already done a thirteen hour day. The thought of getting into dirty clothes and pointing a wall was often too much.

The telly was in my room as well.
Dangerous that.

Life rolled on, the Proles and I tried having mealtimes in the Bathroom but it was a disaster from start to finish.
We took to eating meals in the kitchen, them on the sofa and me in the armchair.
We became adept at moving the armchair back and forwards to access the bits of the kitchen it blocked.

We found new pathways through the house and new family rituals to get us through to bed time.

The Bathroom table was loaded with lego, the stairs and hallway were turned to a car track and I lost sight of the Prole’s bedroom floor under all the toys.
Occasionally we would do a big tidy up but the mess that was the front room endured.

Finally, after months, the floor was laid, the panels fitted, the sockets rewired, the fireplace rebuilt and the skirting boards were fitted.

After all that work I finally put all the furniture back, the table came out of the bathroom (which was suddenly vast again) and replaced the sofa and chair in the kitchen and the living room became cosy and warm again.

The room looks…pretty much how it always did.
It is my living room, floor, walls, window, fireplace.

The difference now is I am happy in it.

Advertisements