The Archaeological Dig: Wk 5 – Day Three

You always dream, when you buy an old house like this, that you will pull back the carpets to find beautiful parquet floor or original encaustic tiles. Maybe you’ll discover behind crumbly old plasterboard an original fireplace (perhaps thats not a good example as you’ve heard what we do to those) or a time capsule hidden beneath the floorboards. Today, whilst clearing up the breakfast things, I heard an exclamation.
“Here, look at this!”
I dared not investigate at first as often findings made by builders are accompanied by a sucking of teeth and a bill for unforeseen problems. Later however I found out that not one but two significant archaeological discoveries had been made – neither of them parquet or tiles unfortunately. A few pages of a yellowed Evening Standard dated March 10 1986 and an attractive old Ardath cigarette packet. Hardly submissions for the Antiques Roadshow but the packet may well be frame worthy.

I decided today to get started on wallpaper stripping in the lounge. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of another day of the alarm going off in my ears whilst making painfully slow progress and I yearn for the satisfaction of actually completing a job. I surveyed the room. It would take me a day I reckoned. Having nowhere to relocate the items being stored in the room, I shoved it all up one end as best I could giving myself access to two of the walls and got cracking. I think I can actually describe the process as blissful, with the patterned paper peeling away in large strips and the lining left beneath melting under the steamer. Until, that is, I got up the ladder and discovered the clean white wall it was revealing was actually also papered, the paint rendering the paper steam resistant. My heart sank momentarily but I was cheered on the discovery that its only the top quarter of the wall sporting this extra layer and with a bit of scoring and some elbow grease it comes off fairly easily. The most effective removal procedure required me to have the steamer going for fairly long periods in the same area at the top of the ladder which had other rather satisfactory results. Remember the farce we had with the porridge, attempting to strip back the plaster cornicing to reveal its detail? It turns out all we needed was a steamer. I pulled with my fingers at a piece of thick, softened, curling paint and it came away in strips as easily as pulling masking tape from a wall, revealing beautiful, buff, original plasterwork. Time and patience is needed as I found the paint needs to be at a very specific temperature…with the steam too close you can’t get a good purchase on it and it dissolves into sticky, unmanageable pieces. With the steamer turned off it hardens back again but get it just right and with the right action, tucking your fingers underneath each piece as it pulls away, you can get a satisfyingly long strip removed quickly, easily and cleanly. This is job to do before the walls are replastered as this much steam can threaten to blow the plaster on the walls so it will slow us down a little but its a job worth doing for the stunning results we’ll hopefully achieve. I have my fingers tightly crossed that the ceiling rose will react in a similar way as it would benefit hugely from being rid of its clogged coating and having its beauty revealed again. DIY gods were definitely on my side today as the next discovery I made was that the angalypta paper on the ceiling (why?) comes off in satisfyingly long strips with barely any steam needed. So despite my wildly optimistic forecast of being able to complete the room and have it back in working order by the time S came home for work it is, at least, turning out to be a fairly pleasurable and therapeutic task which is welcome respite from everything else I have turned my hand to over this past month or so.

That said, we have an annoying little issue to deal with in the corner of our snug. On moving in we discovered water damage and now the corner in question has become internal rather than external we are keen to find out the source and ensure the problem will not resurface. I ventured, bearing a round of coffees and some jam doughnuts, into the extension to chat it over with the foreman. The examination of the problem area involved three of the team – the plasterer, the foreman and the finder of the cigarette packet – with much tapping, scraping and frowning conducted. Finally each turned to me to give their conclusions. Simultaneously.
“We could chop it back and replaster and hope for the best.”
“A bit of moisture board might keep the problem at bay for a year or two until you have some money in your pocket to investigate further”
“It might be the drain from next door. I’d ask them to take a look, it’s probably more them than you”

I flitted my gaze from one to the other trying to give the impression that I was listening to each intently but actually feeling quite befuddled. Each suggestion smacked of wanting to stick to schedule and leave us to tackle the problem later. The conclusion, mine not theirs, is to never ask a question during a coffee break and for me to push the damp company to visit asap so we can get it looked over before they start the plastering. Which, terrifyingly (as I’m nowhere near getting all the wallpaper off) is this Friday. The plasterer saw the panic in my face and was empathetic.
“It’s awful stuff isn’t it?” He said “I could have plastered over it but now you’ve started…”

I screamed.

“Youuuuuuuuu told me he couldn’t!” I cried, pointing my finger accusingly at the foreman
Physically backing away from me he stuttered, “No no no, listen …listen to the end of his sentence!”
My steely gaze snapped back to plasterer.
“…the trouble is you never know if the plaster would hold and you could start painting and it begin to come off.”
“See?” said the foreman.
I sighed. “I guess so.” and retreated back to the job in question.

Before they left for the day the foreman and the plasterer popped their heads into the now steamy lounge with a present for me. The loan of two professional scrapers. “One for you” said the foreman “and one for S”. Struggling with a long handled, fairly heavy scraper I was grateful. The plasterer took a look around and reassured me that a crack in the ceiling could be dealt with easily and commented on their height. The foreman asked him if his kit would reach and his answer filled me with delight. My consolation, after all this hard work, is not just that we will have an end result of beautifully plastered rooms but also that I’ll be suitably entertained when the plastering does commence as he’s going to do it on stilts. I’ll find out if he does children’s parties…

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