Take Nothing for Granted

Water or wine? Sometimes either will do

(My apologies if the image is terrible. WordPress is trying to force me to buy an upgrade, so it is showing all my images as low-res and is deleting any drafts that I start. You may not even be reading this!)

Written one hour ago:

It hadn’t occurred to me to ask before, so I asked the smiley plumber this morning:

‘Est-ce que l’eau est potable?’

He grinned. Of course it is drinking water. After eighteen months we can finally go to the tap and have a glass of fresh delicious water. And it really is delicious, better than that bottled rubbish I’ve been used to. I had woken up with a caffeine withdrawal migraine, so I grabbed some tablets and the only glasses we had were a set of champagne flutes

Santé, tout le monde!

It’s Wednesday and this was day three of various people in the UK, the Netherlands and France making well-intentioned promises about Monday’s delivery: ‘this morning’, ‘this afternoon’, ‘tomorrow morning’, etc. It’s now nearly 6pm and it still hasn’t turned up

I will have no-one to help me to unload the goods tomorrow. If they ever do arrive, that is. But that doesn’t bear thinking about, as it contains a lot of things I have bought and squirrelled. Things that belong to me

Perhaps the migraine is more due to stress than to coffee. Stress is less easily remedied, of course

It might not be the best time for looking at colour charts for the head in a bag room. I’ve been torn between something fresh and airy and something dark and stormy. Guess which one was winning today…

Ooh! Perhaps that driver’s head in a bag would top it off?

At this stage I was about to press ‘publish’ but there was a man outside..

Update at 7pm

Yes!! It has arrived. And though the Ukrainian delivery guy didn’t speak French or English and looked like he wanted to kill me (probably mutual, in hindsight), and while the box appears somewhat weary and deflated, I think everything’s OK inside. Good job I stuck a few pillows in with it!

Finally I can go and shower, and celebrate with another glass of water and another look at those colours I chose

Maybe the smiley plumber can install a wine tap as well?

Bitten? I’m Smitten

Think before you lick that wallpaper

The recent cold dark evenings have not inspired as much paint-stripping as usual, especially as the rain, frustratingly, continues to get in through our garage roof

But, while the cold keeps me indoors more than normal, I can curl up on the sofa with ‘Bitten by Witch Fever’, a book which can only be described as very tasteful Victorian wallpaper pornimg_4101The book looks at the effect of the use of arsenic in papers, considerably widening the range of colours available. Opinion at the time was apparently divided between people who considered it terribly detrimental to the health to have such chemicals in their homes, and those who believed – rightly or wrongly – that it was only dangerous if they licked the wallpaper

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All the papers featured are catalogued with dates and manufacturers, many English but also some French

This book has made me re-think how I currently strip the paper in France. Until now I have not been wearing a mask or gloves, but I probably should protect myself from any possible ‘nasties’

And I am still trying to find information on this wonderful, if fragile, scenic paper in our salonimg_9078

This last picture (below) is a wall of the chapel at the fabulous Royal Holloway College in Egham, completed in 1886

img_3191I admit, I could barely keep from licking it!

How Low Can We Go?

There are clues everywhere, but put on your sunglasses

It’s exciting to find dates on things. I got a rush when I noticed that the panel of the attic door which we use on a daily basis is patched up with a financial report from 1914. Did someone from the house have links with Paris at that time?

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Newspaper seems to have been used liberally in the house. It’s great because it helps establish dates. The latest so far is 1983

On our first weekend at the house (Wine, Weather and Woodworm – 4 nights in Quillan) we noticed a door from one bedroom which didn’t open, while the other side of it in the ‘Jewel Room’ had fabric wall covering continued across it, making it invisible. The fabric covered the entire room, but we removed it from one wall amid a tempest of dust, exposing two layers of paper, the bottom one being pure ‘jazz age’ in exuberant zig zag, while also incorporating stripes and curves (below right). I love art deco but this is hideous

Having removed the paper from the wall with the door, I found that they had filled out the old door with cardboard and newspaper to make it flush with the wall before papering

The date of the stocks and shares is 9th August 1895. Under the newspaper is also some very old sort-of-flock paper, in a beautiful teal colour. It must have once looked very impressive, and it presumably pre-dates the newspaper

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Back in ‘the big cupboard room’ I purloined the builders ladder from the attic and have unleashed a torrent of papers. There are flowers, geometric print with flowers, stripes with bouquets, just stripes and then a simple one-colour blue on a pale background under them all

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Geometric with flowers – do you think it’s too much?

The one thing the occupiers of this house didn’t over-use was restraint. My neck and shoulders ache tonight, but I’m getting a little bit closer to the bones of the house now

 

Peeling Back Layers

It’s a random sum

There’s something about stripping wallpaper that to me is very therapeutic. The downside is that it can be immensely hard work when there are numerous layers and RSI sets in. Multiply the layers by the number of rooms to strip and the total here becomes at least fifty, perhaps seventy. I don’t know what that number means – it’s a random sum – but that’s what we’ve got. Yesterday that total equated to around about a year’s solid work for me

But today that number has been considerably reduced, courtesy of one of the roof guys who saw me labouring away and brought in a stripping product for me to try. I tried some last night and can confirm that the sum will now be divided by perhaps ten, meaning that naked walls will be achievable in about six or seven. I started again this morning after a coffee

The effectiveness seems to be due to not only the product, but the application using a pressurised spray (‘vaporisateur’), the type you sort of jump up and down on to build up pressure

When we were kids there was a product that was regularly applied to prevent greenfly in the garden, not only by our parents but by us, very willingly, because it seemed so much fun to use the spray thing. It was called, enchantingly, Killa Spray. Therefore, before anyone gets too precious about using spray substances to remove wallpaper without proper mask/ overalls/ ventilation I would suggest that any damage was already done back in the seventies

So, the concentrated product is enormously diluted with water (we’re back to wallpaper stripper now, I very much doubt that Killa Spray still exists) and is used to soak the paper economically and evenly. A few minutes later a scraper will just lift the paper cleanly. Voila! C’est fait!

I admit that I am not so tough, I do wear gloves because my hands are like beacons of abuse right now. But I am also really enjoying removing wallpaper in its truest purest form as therapy

IMG_8092And as you can see they’ve left some spare paper in case I change my mind!

When Wallpaper Becomes Something Else

Think Father Ted and Dougal knocking out the dent

Yesterday’s small ‘outline’ in the plaster has turned into something much larger. Think Father Ted and Dougal knocking out the dent in the car, if you have seen that episode. So as I continued to chip away it morphed into a very large outline, some 160cm or more across, and, having checked the crack in the room above, it is definitely relates to either this ‘feature’ itself or the way it was dealt with during the remodelling of the 19th C

A friend living locally thinks it is unlikely to be a fireplace because it is too large for the room. She may be right, but it leaves us back at square one. As I don’t want to remove all the plaster and bricks without taking advice, it’s very hard to get a decent photo

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Perhaps we’ll fully uncover whatever it is and expose it, as an unspecified feature behind a double bed. Or we may just cover it back up again. At very least I’ll ask the builder if it needs a lintel or something to stabilise the wall before re-plastering, and hopefully I won’t find myself in next door’s bedroom, apologising

On verra…

 

 

 

 

How Strong is Wallpaper? and Other Questions

Can anyone who knows French/old houses, please help me?

I am working under the assumption that wallpaper cannot hold up a three-storey house: not even if there are five or more layers of it. I hope I am right, because:

I’ve been working in a first-storey bedroom we call the ‘big cupboard room’. At some point the room height has been reduced by about 100cm to borrow enough height to squeeze a room above it, leading to a low void, like an eaves cupboard. The room was originally the same height as the salon (390cm). The original moulded cornice is still visible within the void next to the later room on the second floor, and shows that the division between the bedroom and the ‘big cupboard’ is an original 17th Century feature (perhaps a salle de toilette?), and not a later change as we had assumed

(I only know this from crouching in this void, armed with a torch to get a better look at the cornices. A weird little space with a rough seat/bench built onto the wall, it contains huge cobwebs, a cast iron saucepan lid and a couple of very old mummified shallots. Strange? I thought so)

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Into the void. Something’s hanging from the ceiling mid-pic. Only just noticed

How is your spacial awareness doing so far? I know, a diagram might help

Anyway, the original tall double doors are still in place in the ‘big cupboard room’ in keeping with a higher ceiling. But was the entire first floor of that ‘house’ once two high-ceilinged rooms with mouldings and tiled floors? This makes me wonder if it was not originally a house, but a commercial premises of some sort

Now the paper stripping comes in: the plaster in this butchered room is bulging along the adjoining wall to next door. A crack has broken through all the layers of wallpaper, and there are at least five, probably six layers (have I just answered my original question?)

I’ve removed some paper the original plaster shows an outline about 75cm square, by the looks of it, filled in before any of the layers of paper were applied. The rough filling is dropping out and someone has later (badly) skimmed over it. I scraped away to get a better view of the indent. I might have said that it was a window, but the house is part of a terrace of houses and this is an adjoining wall. Plus, a window would not be so close to the floor of this room and right up against the fireplace

It’s a terrible picture and I’ll try to get something better, but the top of the indent is roughly 1/4 of the way down and the bottom 3/4 of the way down the photo. The right edge lines up pretty much with the mantelpiece. The crack is not visible here

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So what could this unwanted ‘feature’ be? It’s definitely original to the house