13 March 2011

On the Inevitability of DIY

I am knackered. Almost too tired to write. It is only the joy at having finished (well, almost) the latest DIY adventure that affords me the motivation to write this post, which I offer in explanation as to why I have not posted much of late.

My Beloved thought it was time to decorate the stairs and landing, and who am I to contradict...

Now, normally, decorating is not that big a problem, other than having to expend effort in the doing of it. Having grown up in a household that did its own decorating, I learnt by osmosis how to hang wallpaper and to paint. I also had an uncle who was a meticulous (and master) decorator, if somewhat slow as a consequence. Thanks to his and my father's contributions to my Painter and Decorator's training, there is no decorating problem I would lack the confidence to tackle (in a normal private dwelling house, that is: Buckingham Palace is probably a little beyond me).

The old part of our house was built in 1898, or thereabouts, a fact which confers upon it high ceilings. Very high ceilings, especially on the stairs; 5.2m to be exact. Problem number one: my step ladders are nowhere near long enough.

The walls were covered in anaglypta wallpaper which would have to be removed to achieve the effect my Beloved had in mind. In a house this old, anaglypta is often used to cover up defective wall surfaces. Furthermore, the top layer of plaster, having been on the walls for 113 years, was likely to be equivocal over the question of whether it should stay with the wall or the wallpaper. I experienced a similar problem in a house that was built in 1930 and so imagined the worst as the only possible outcome. Problem number two: my plastering skills are limited.

The solution to these two problems, and my reluctance (as perceived by my Beloved) to do the work, was to give them to someone else. I agreed and suggested she obtain a couple of quotes. This she duly did. The first quote was £560; the second, £630. Additionally, we intended to carpet the stairs (currently bare) and the likely cost of that was over £400.

Now, the current economic climate is not conducive to the outlay of large amounts of cash. Around £1000, for us, is a large amount of cash. It is not that the decorators' quotes were unreasonable: these guys have to earn a living. It's just that, in our circumstances, it was more than we could afford. My beloved and I had the same thought: it would be cheaper to hire a ladder.

And so the decision was made that we (a much misused personal pronoun, in my experience) would do the job ourselves.  Should have known better.  If someone else could do it, it wouldn't be DIY.

A previous necessity (the installation of a shower) had given me some hope that the wall may be able to hold on to much of its plaster. Fortunately, this proved to be the case, even under the force of my Beloved's assault with steam-stripper and scraper. A few bits came off here and there but nothing beyond my limited knowledge of the black art of plastering.

As to scaling the heights, my beloved did what she could whilst retaining intimate contact with floor and stairs, and I ventured as high as my steps would take me. As for the parts that were out of reach...

I looked up tool hire firms but wondered how I would find time to get the work done within the hire period. I considered buying an adequate ladder but had no room to store one that would be useful for any other jobs (like clearing gutters). Then I had a brainwave! Borrow one from a neighbour!

Fortunately for me, my neighbour was very willing to lend me his ladder, and work took on a more deliberate tone.

The first weekend was spent getting off the huge amount of hitherto unreachable paper, re-sticking the ceiling paper that had sweated off in the sauna from the steam-stripper and then painting it, and patching the plasterwork.

The second weekend was spent hanging lining paper; I climbed the ladders and hung the paper, my Beloved pasted, needing only one reminder about making sure the edges of the paper got enough paste.

We were to paint most of the walls and paper only one of them. The wall that was to be papered needed the lining to be hung horizontally, a new and exciting encounter with gravity. Had Sir Isaac Newton done his own decorating instead of spending his time sitting about in apple orchards, he may have discovered gravity earlier in his career...

'I've never pasted paper that way round before,' joked my beloved.

'Don't be silly,' said I, 'Just turn the table round.'

At this point in the process, my father-in-law had a stroke. My Beloved flew off to his side and, suddenly, I really am doing it myself...

I spent last weekend applying two coats of paint to the lining paper. Thereafter, I could return the ladder to my neighbour, which I did with grateful thanks.

Over several ensuing evenings, I rubbed down and applied two coats of primer/undercoat to cover very dark maroon paint on the sides of the stairs, and then what would turn out to be the first top-coat on all the woodwork, including six panelled doors.

This weekend, this Saturday, in fact, I applied a second top coat to all the woodwork and hung wallpaper on the accent wall. Finished! Phew!

Finished, apart from the worst part of every job: clearing up. Oh, and I have new lights and switches to install. I did some clearing up today.  More tomorrow.

Of course, throughout the entire process I've also been holding down a full-time job, and glad of the rest!

I'm pleased to report that my father-in-law has made a good recovery, and that my Beloved returns tomorrow to a finished DIY project. All she has to do is clean the house I messed up while she's been away, and restock the fridge whose contents I've depleted to the point of near famine conditions.

I don't mind DIY, except for the bits I have to do myself...

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