Sooty and sweep

The pile of plasterboard in the barn could only mean one thing: time to start replacing the ceiling. In order to do this, first we needed to strip out the ancient panelling to reveal the joists above, then replace them with the plasterboard. Piece of cake!

Well, maybe not. The good news – and there has to be some with this kind of job – is that stripping back the first bit of panelling revealed a perfectly good solid beam underneath. There are two of these running across the kitchen / living area so we will clean them up, wax them and leave them exposed as part of the original character.

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Next, the ceiling panels. These are almost completely rotten and – like pretty much everything here, fixed with at least 80% more nails than needed, so instead of coming down in sensible lengths, they shatter into lumps or dagger-shaped shards as they fall, bringing down plenty of dust with them. The worse part, however, is the several centimetres of thick soot sitting on top of them. There is no way we can just pull all that lot down so Roger has to scrape out as much as he can before reaching for the crowbar.

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It is amazingly slow progress as we grub about in goggles and masks: scrape out the soot, pull a section down, tidy up the wood, sweep up the dust/soot, repeat. I will leave it to your imagination what colour we are by the end of the day. 🙂

With the first section done, it was almost a relief to move on to the plasterboard until I remembered from past times just how awkward that stuff is. Anyone who has ever lifted a sheet will know that they are heavy and cumbersome, yet brittle at the same time. Holding them above your head is not easy: let’s be honest, fixing them to a ceiling is a three-person job, which poses a bit of a problem for us, so time for some innovative thinking. Picture a sheet of plasterboard hovering about in mid-air, one end balanced on top of a ladder, the other held up by me standing on tiptoes and pushing it up with a broom, while Roger dashes about at top speed with a screwdriver, fixing it in place. Yes, folks – this is how we spend our days. Sorry there are no photos as obviously I don’t dare let go of that broom handle . . .

In spite of (or maybe because of?) the slow and grotty nature of the job, we have still found time to make and enjoy some decent outdoor lunches: fresh salads from the garden (lettuce, beans and courgettes compulsory), homemade bread and local cheeses.

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A word about the tabbouleh in the photo. When I left my job in May, I received a brilliant cookery book called Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. With an emphasis on fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables and fantastic flavours, it is right up my street. Everything we have made so far has been delicious and the tabbouleh is the best I’ve ever tasted, partly I think, because the baharat spice mix is so fragrant. I hope the chefs will forgive my added twist of baby courgettes, straight from the garden, sun-warmed and soft – we have rather a lot of them at the moment! If you can get hold of the book, do try it.

After two whole days of dust-snorkelling (and one third of the ceiling done) we decided to award ourselves a day off. This was partly out of a desperate need for some time in the fresh air, and partly because of the weather. It’s hot. South of here, Spain is sizzling with temperatures as high as 44°C in Seville. Now we spent three years living in that kind of climate, where the searing summer heat dries your eyeballs, melts your flipflops to the pavement and offers not so much as a single drop of rain in six months. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt (just a shame it was too hot to wear it). It was a great experience, but these days we prefer something a little cooler, wetter and greener. That said, we still enjoy the occasional blast of heat so when the local temperature hit a relatively modest high of 38°C, we headed for the beach.

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My first priority, despite the heat, was to have a run because it’s flatter than anywhere local to us and I really do need to get back to some training. It’s not a bad place to run, even though I don’t look like I’m enjoying it (I’m not, trust me!).

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A cooling-off dip in the sea seemed like a good plan except that the sea was – well – COLD: apart from a few hardy souls (including Roger) the only people in were the surf dudes. It was also pretty wild – hence the surfers – so I passed on the swim and just enjoyed the cooler onshore breeze and stunning scenery instead.

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Back home, and the garden seems to be holding up well in the heat, although we have been watering pots and seedlings regularly. The annual flowers I planted when we arrived are all flowering.

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I’ve been watching several shrubs that hadn’t flowered in the hope they are hibiscus – they are, and stunningly beautiful, too.

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The cows have been out of our fields for a while now and nature has taken over, they are bursting with meadow flowers and butterflies. Who needs a flower garden?

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Still on the subject of flowers, a heady scent wafting from my salad patch had me hunting about for a honeysuckle until I realised it was the squash flowers. Wow! I’ve grown squash for several years but never smelt the flowers like that, possibly because there have never been quite so many of them – they are a garden all by themselves.

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The good news is the bees are doing their bit, too . . . 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Sooty and sweep

  1. The meadows look wonderful. That’s what I’d like our bottom paddock to look like! Good luck with the rest of the ceiling. We’ve got the kitchen ceiling replacement coming up this winter – not looking forward to it but hopefully there’ll be a lot less soot.

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  2. I certainly wouldn’t wish the soot on anyone! If we were sensible, we’d rent somewhere locally while we ripped the house apart (it takes so long to clear up every day) . . .but that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? 🙂

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