April 1, 2012

Storm & Mortar

All of a sudden, the weather has turned.

Driving to the farm today is a steady battle to stay in the right lane (no longer an English car, so no excuses!). The wind blasts hail against the windows pushing our little box car further into the middle of the road, spinning the turbines in the open field beside us faster than feels comfortable and drowning out any hint of conversation. Maia refuses to sleep, cranking up her own volume to join in the fun.

We arrive rather battered and in need of some peace. The greenhouse has suffered. A roof panel has blown off into the bed below and the glass beside the door has shattered from the force of the unfastened metal door frame swinging relentlessly against it. We hadn't thought to secure it as the last few weeks have blessed us with clear blue skies and only gentle breezes.

After roughly fixing up the greenhouse with boards and planks, we set about our mission for the day (dictated by the weather and imminent visitors): spruce up the flat in the main house to a respectable standard.

The living room and two of the bedrooms just need a sweep and an airing and some mattresses dragging across from the pile in the main room. The kitchen will need a gas hob and bottle and a stock of water. This basic set-up will invariably feel like camping, but so far it scrubs up rather well.

The main bedroom proves to be the real challenge. A section of the ceiling plaster has been ripped out (it appears to be the beginnings of a plan to build an access into the attic). Any heat escapes right through the bared wooden slats of the attic and straw and old plaster litter the floor beneath it.

We figure we can patch it up without too much trouble and begin by stapling chicken wire across the whole surface to aid the grip of fresh plaster. It soon becomes clear why plasterers take time to learn their trade! First the mixture is too stiff and drops off like sand. Loosening it with water we then experiment with the trowel at different angles applying varying degrees of force. Needless to say, we are quickly covered in blobs of the stuff and precious little clinging to the ceiling.

Working on a vertical edge beside a window proves pretty straight forward and delivers good results, but nothing to encourage any real progress on the part that matters most – the roughly hewn square above our heads that ensures the room will never hold its heat for very long.

After a brief call to a brother who knows about these things, we liquefy our mixture and literally throw it up onto the raw ceiling making a lot more mess and decorating the walls like a cow shed. The result is lots of small dabs of plaster dotting the entire surface of the hole. Once dry, these will apparently help grip the next round of slightly thicker mixture using the trowel as it was designed for. We will be bracing ourselves for the next stage in our training!

The other foul-weather job is to dismantle a shoulder-height-right-angled wall in the small house on the ground floor. Although it is a priority right now to create a 'summer camp' in the flat, it is the small house that occupies our thoughts and begs for some clear design time. Our intention is to have it fully fit for us to move into before the next winter sets in.

This freshly built wall appears to be the beginnings of a cloakroom or a small toilet. Regardless of the plan it feels superfluous to us with our vision of an open-plan food-centred living space.

It is incredibly satisfying tapping the bricks free of their cement, quickly sensing how much force to use and the most effective angle to approach from. The dust is phenomenal but in a couple of hours the space is clear. Now at last we have a good view of the ground floor and can begin in earnest to design the all-important kitchen that will become the centre of our family life for years to come.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com

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