Safe Keeping for Secrets

When is housework a good thing?

The house now has heating, so I’ve stuffed random packing materials into every possible cranny to stop the heat going into the roof-space and out of the windows. There are a lot of crannies, but there’s a heap of bubble wrap

I close doors to keep the heat in wherever possible. It feels good – mainly

Note to self: don’t close that bloody kitchen door again (there’s a very good reason why I’d never seen that door closed before and it took me over an hour to break in on Sunday morning)

I sit alone, having my coffee, lunch and evening meal at the recently unpacked and rather grand dining table in the grand – slightly derelict – courtyard. What else could I possibly need?

Well, wifi, as it happens

Because being able to access a neighbour’s wifi from the bedroom has allowed me to spend an evening researching the family of leather merchants who owned this house a hundred years ago

The father, Emile, was the mayor of the town when the first electricity turbine was installed in 1890. It would have been a very exciting era, and it makes perfect sense that he and/or his wife would have remodelled the house around that time

I found out that one of his sons helped found the town’s first ever rugby team. I’ve even seen a picture of him, cross-legged in front of his team mates

Sadly, I learned that this son died aged twenty eight in the war in 1914, and so did his older brother in 1918. Emile’s third son – another talented rugby player – was apparently also injured in the war and died prematurely. According to a local gentleman’s memoirs it was his widow who remained living here, and the ‘beautiful’ house was virtually abandoned after her death

We look through the panes of glass they looked out of, the shutters and doors have survived, the staircase and the tiled floors that they trod all remain

For some time, one of the simple terracotta tiles upstairs has interested me. It was so obviously different but I couldn’t move it and was afraid to damage it. Yesterday I tried again to lift it and this time the tile came away easily when I caught the corner just right, dislodging the loose dust that acts as grout and revealing that it was neatly wrapped in newspaperP1010055

Underneath it I found a small but perfect underfloor safe. All it held was a few scraps of newspaper, but I felt a real rush, because this had remained untouched for a very long time. The dirt and the newspaper had ensured that the tile sat soundly and was not easily found, perfect for hiding valuables. Only someone scrubbing this floor would have noticed itP1010057

P1010058So maybe housework isn’t all bad!

I have replaced the tile, leaving the newspaper undisturbed for now. I will try to date it later, but one of the items I noticed in the paper looks interesting …

I wonder what other secrets remain in this house

The Accidental Prop Shop

The world’s smallest brocante – and nothing is for sale

All my current favourite rooms in the house seem to be the ones that had been in complete darkness for over forty years, with the shutters and doors firmly closed. Perhaps they scream the loudest and so they get the my attention?

This room is effectively just the end of a corridor next to the ‘Damask Room’ and had been used by the elderly lady as a cooking and laundry area until the mid-1970s. Note the clothes pegs and hangers – I’m not really a detective

Poshbird's prop shop
as we found it August 2015

I spent a day last week stripping this tiny room bare of paper. The Dissoucol worked a dream and I learned the (mercifully brief) wallpaper history of this space

Poshbird's prop shop

Under the very brown patterned wallpaper with the horribly mismatched border there was a cobalt blue and white lace-patterned paper which must have been very elegant in its day. This in turn had its own border, deep blue and graphite with silver grapes on it, though I only found small traces of this

Poshbird's prop shop

Poshbird's prop shop

The ceiling paper was extraordinary only in the fact that it would never have worked with either wallpaper. I was fascinated by how the pattern has chemically degraded

Removing the old coat rack (I have kept it for future use) revealed a patch where the colour had remained, showing an unexpected and much cheerier sky blue background

Poshbird's prop shop

I found various scribbles on receipts covering up to 1975 in the coke box. I gathered all the evidence – which will need a good iron – and stuck it into a vide grenier frame for safe-keeping

Poshbird's prop shop

Also in among the coke was a cannonball, about two and a half inches in diameter. No doubt at least one of these has hit the house during its history, judging by the cracks. This house just keeps giving

Poshbird's prop shop
in spring 2017 we ‘lost’ the cooker or whatever it was
Poshbird's prop shop
some epic gravity-defying cobwebs

The little room is earmarked for a loo and washbasin and we’ve had plumbing installed in readiness, but I was SO enjoying unpacking all sorts of smaller gems after two years in their wrappings that I decided to actually ‘put’ them somewhere to enjoy them. I’ve never had them in one place together before so it’s been hard to gauge scale etc. Plus, I wanted to check for breakages – so far, so good…

Poshbird's prop shop
Exterior doors (right one partially cleaned)

The original paintwork on the doors showed fabulous colours under the filth, so rather than remove the lead-based paint (and who knows what else is in it?) I will keep it. It rivals any posh paint colours of today and has a genuinely fabulous patina. I’m sure some people would squirm at the idea, but I don’t care. I can use wax to seal it

Poshbird's prop shop
Starting to unpack (interior door to hallway)

And so, here we have the world’s smallest brocante, the beginnings of my own personal prop shop from which I can pick and choose items. Don’t you just love it?

Poshbird's prop shop

Pavarotti’s Key

Hanging doors and pointing fingers

I knew I’d earned my bath each evening when that dirty ring of shame (or honour, depending on how you choose to view it) appeared almost immediately I got in the tub

At least eight internal doors in the house were taken off by the builders and plumbers for ease of access, but that was months ago and they had taken up residence propped against the walls (the doors, not the workmen, who all cleared off on their summer holidays without replacing them) so it fell to me to try to re-hang them alone before the family arrived

France uses a simple and effective drop-in hinge system, but some of these doors are over two hundred years old and very heavy. I’m pretty strong, and thanks to working in beer cellars I’m used to pivoting heavy items onto blocks, but  this was exhausting. It was a very hot day and the ludicrously oversized key in the Head in a Bag Room door was constantly bruising my right thigh as I tried to locate the hinge

It was then that I remembered someone describing making love to Luciano Pavarotti as ‘like having a large wardrobe fall on you’

‘With the key still in it’

I shuddered, removed the enormous key and successfully hung the door without further injury (!)

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Once done, there was no way I was going to try to lift it off again alone, even though my Marigold glove was stuck fast in the hinge (I guess it could just as easily have been my finger – ouch!) so the glove remained pointing its pink finger along the hallway until Baz arrived the following week to assist me

The house is certainly starting to change. The Head in a Bag Room is now fast becoming the much more user-friendly Damask Room, no doubt the first of various damasks, as I am currently having a bit of a love affair with patterned wall coverings. Of course, the newly-hung door needed to be painted blue as it had been propped elsewhere when I decorated so I had missed it

Interestingly, I noticed, the last person who painted the door had done so while it was closed

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Traditionally one opens the door before painting?

Unfortunately, because this was such an ugly and unpromising room, we hadn’t taken many pictures of it beforehand

There was never a plan to work on it first. This busy wallpaper was over EVERYTHING, there was decayed lino on the floor, brown skirtings and woodwork, and the old lady’s mattress leaned against the wall. Satisfyingly, apart from the removal of the mattress and installation of a 140kg radiator we’ve done everything else ourselves. At some point we will need the electrics sorted out, but for now we are using a portable LED light

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Head in a Bag Room after stripping (sorry, wordpress insists that the picture is THIS BIG)

Putting the bed together really spurred me on and I found it quite therapeutic to spend an hour or so a day decorating as a break from the slog of heavy workIMG_1353

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On the road to Damask

I put the shell-motif mirror over the fireplace. Gill – who doesn’t miss much – noticed it in a previous post, and I think it really works here. I had a much better pic of the room a few days later but wordpress is being an arse and won’t upload it. Hopefully, you get the idea for now. It’s a long way from finished yet, but there is a new calm in this unexpectedly light and airy room and it was a good feeling to take our shoes off before going into our new sanctuary. I love this space now (excuse the old light cable dangling)

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And every girl needs a place for her claret jug. As this will eventually be a guest bedroom the jug may just have to be kept filled for visitors