Last year we had a kitchen that hadn't been touched since 1946. We found the evidence for this in the newspapers left behind the plaster and around the old back door. Last week after many months of not having a kitchen ceiling we could afford to board the ceiling. This is a job we can't do ourselves, it is all down to Andrew's disability and what he can and can't lift, as each sheet weighs 24kg it wasn't advisable for Andrew to damage his spine any further. We're fortunate to have a great handyman and he did a great job. There where more jobs we could do though.
Whenever someone comes to our house they ask who laid our kitchen floor. We did. They look at us in disbelief. We did. It took us a month of evenings and weekends to get the floor down and level. We did it. We inherited a kitchen floor that was largely dirt with lino over the top and we took time to damp proof the floor and choose slate as another breathable membrane with great damp proof qualities. We've never looked back since laying the floor, the main reason is because we're not sliding across the floor anymore. The old kitchen floor had a serious problem with levels, it trickled to the far end, tilted to the front of the house and went for an all out helter skelter by the back door. Walking on it with a bowl of soup was like being at sea.
Yes, we may have got it all back to front, maybe the floor should have been last but you can't argue with the results. It's easy to keep clean and we need that now because we have started to rake out every joint between the stones. Old mortar, a mix of the original lime, concrete and god knows what - there are things that have lived in these crevices behind the old plaster for years, fossilized things - that all have to be scraped, chipped or hammered out. One builder told us to sand blast the lot. There was enough dust with the ceilings down. Another builder told us to board the lot. We'd took off the old board because of the damp. The whole gambit of builders we had to look at our kitchen seemed hell bent on hiding the fact that this was an eighteenth century cottage. Like it was some dirty secret or a dubious Uncle. Builders used to be our thing, when we had money, less sense and that laissez faire attitude to life. Now they aren't our thing, we have no money, we have more sense and we embrace life.
That means raking out those joints, goggles on, masks fixed firmly to faces, doors sealed shut. Rubble bags are our new best friend. Stone walls are great pals. Every time we strip back it's saucy, crumbling plaster we sing The Stripper and then applaud what we find. It doesn't take us long to do this, we did one small wall in an evening. Two of us can strip the plaster off with a lump hammer, a brick chisel and crow bar in less than thirty minutes. The heating engineers we had in were most surprised that we could do this, we think they expected a couple who where doing up a holiday home or where just fey. We donned our goggles, masks, sent Little D to his grandparents with a pound of sausages and had the wall stripped during the heating engineers tea break. We used a wire brush to get off the worst of the plaster (the wire is so worn now that it's mainly wood), a hand brush for the dust and then chiseled and scraped out the old mortar. We then pointed the wall with a mortar mix, let it set for 20-30 minutes and brushed off the excess with a hand brush. Voila! As it dries it gets better and better. The heating engineers were flabbergasted. Never has flabber been so gasted over these hills.
In a few months we have found the bones of this old building. We have found it's secrets from the original ceiling beams, making downstairs higher at one point but the house a one floor cottage; we discovered that when we found all the old screens to keep the animals on one side of the house and when we found the original ridge line in the attic. Meaning that the downstairs of our eighteenth century cottage is a lot older than 1700 and was at some point, a thatched crofters cottage according to records we've found about this old toll road. It makes sense to us that they just tacked on because raking out those joints, pointing them and cleaning up the stone makes you realise that there would be no way this side of a cold hell that you would knock something down up here, and then have to cart it away and drag in more stone. Up on the hills, you simply make do and build on top of what's there. We have no straight walls, our roof is wonky, our ceilings bulge, none of our beams are the same depth and there are still many hidden secrets lurking behind the crumbling plaster. It is a builder's nightmare, to us, a way to learn old skills.