Chim, chimney, chim, chim, cher-ee

The house has two fireplaces – one in the living room and one in the dining room so they are back to back and share a single chimney stack.  There must have been one in the master bedroom too but that’s been blocked up and plastered over.

The one in the dining room is this range type thing – which fascinates me as it looks much older than the house. Note the cushion (complete with tassel) used as a chimney balloon.


The one in the living room was boarded up and there wasn’t any obvious way into it.  I think the electric fire currently by the outbuildings had previously been mounted on the front of it. It looked like this:

Fireplace boarded up

I eventually took one of Dad’s crow bars (which was a completely inappropriate tool) to find out what I had – from knocking at it, I was aware there was some sort of opening behind – the mantle was obviously fairly new (it was wallpapered behind!) but who knows there still might be something beautiful underneath the panelling.  So with a lot of huffing and puffing and bashing I got the panel off. Was there something beautiful? Erm, no – there was this:

Opened up fireplace

Pretty.  Note the twigs?  Hmm, looks like a bird’s nest too.

What to do with the fires has been one of my big uncertainties – prior to getting the house I’d convinced myself they were going to have to go as they took up too much space in the rooms – next door have had their whole chimney stack removed. When I actually got the keys I discovered the rooms were actually bigger than I’d remembered (although they are still not massive) and the difficulty (the chimney breast supports the purlin in the roof) and cost to remove vs the space that would be gained probably means they are staying.

The range was particularly troublesome because although it’s a lovely feature, if I was going to have something so big, taking up so much space – I’d quite like it to be usable.

So I decided to get the chimneys swept and to see if that got me any further to making a decision.  Thursday lunchtime I went down to meet the chimney sweep – who I was surprised to discover was about my age, for some reason I’d expected him to be at least 100. His jaw actually dropped when he saw the range (the company is two brothers and although I’d explained all to the other one I don’t think he’d passed the info on) but he cracked on nevertheless and promptly came across a huge bird’s nest.  I’d assumed the chimney must have been in use relatively recently as the coal bunker is still right outside the back door but he reckoned it couldn’t have been swept for at least a decade.  The birds had been nesting in it for so long the twigs had composted and bin bags of soil were coming down.  It took ages!  After he got the chimney swept he started investigating the range for me to discover how it works (I couldn’t get my head around how the food in the oven could be heated uniformly with a fire on one side) – I think I’ll save all that for another post though (it needs photos to explain properly).  The chimney has really good draw though and he lit a ball of paper and it burnt really well – also no masonry or anything came down while he was sweeping it so it’s basically good to go (except it’s not – more about that later too).

The other fireplace also had a birds nest but not quite as solid as the first so was much quicker to sweep.  He didn’t light that one as there was quite a bit of down draft.  He recommended I get some bird cowls ‘before the Spring’ to stop the birds coming back – so I should probably get on that sharpish.

Chim chiminey
Chim chiminey
Chim chim cher-oo!
Good luck will rub off when
I shake ‘ands with you

I know chimney sweeps are meant to be lucky but I did have the oddest stroke of luck while the sweep was sweeping.  I decided it was probably best not to sit watching him and asking inane questions (don’t get me wrong, I did that for a while) so potted around the house doing odd jobs and hoovering – then I went to sort out the pallets in the outhouse.  There’s no light in the outhouse and as the days are short at the moment and the weather has been awful, I’d not been in there properly other than to stuff the pallets in – there were a few old boxes but I didn’t think there was anything in them.  You can see a box in this photo:


In fact, that very box turned out to be full of rusty old bits of cast iron.  It was clearly bits from a fire but, to me, most just seemed random and disconnected.  Anyway, I pulled them all out and was brushing them down when the chimney sweep came to find me and immediately identified what they all were.  All the parts of the open fire in the living room were there – in all their retro glory.  So that it now looks like this:

Fire with grate

Also there was the fret from the front of the range (which obviously needs some polishing) plus the frame for the damper 🙂

range with fret

Lucky, huh?  I’m not sure I would have realised that fret (I’m calling it a fret as I’ve no other word for it) was something that was intended to go on the front of the range if the chimney sweep hadn’t have been here when I made the discovery!

Then I hot-tailed it back to work after a 3 hour lunchbreak.  Whoops…

Patricia the Stripper

Erm, that’s a Chris de Burgh song in case you’re wondering.

So when I got the house it was all magnolia – which isn’t a bad thing, while it was obviously a doer upper it didn’t look completely tragic.  The problem was the magnolia was painted over wallpaper and none of it was flat wallpaper, it was all either woodchip or anaglypta and as textured wallpaper is usually used to ‘paper over the cracks’, I thought it best to get it all off and find out ‘what lies beneath’.

Since I got the keys it’s been a relentless fight against wallpaper, the war may not yet be won but I think I’ve victories in all the major battles.  This how the course of the action panned out:

Saturday: get the keys bought a wallpaper steamer and a stripper.
Sunday: stripped bedroom number two.  Three walls of anaglypta wallpaper and one of anaglypta wallpaper and plaster.  It seems like the wallpaper steamer sometimes causes the plaster to ‘blow out’ and then it falls off.
Friday: Ellie, Paul and I stripped the master bedroom (anaglypta again) – bits of plaster come off but nothing major.  My suspicions about the wallpaper steamer get stronger.
Saturday: Paul and I strip the smallest bedroom (more anaglypta) – in a few more small areas bits of plaster come off.  The plaster on each of the walls in this rooms seems to be different and that makes a difference to how easily it comes off.  We make a start on the upstairs hall and the stairwell.  The top layer is woodchip but in some places it’s over several other layers of wallpaper, the bottom layer seems to be lining paper which was painted over with gloss, truly adhering it to the plaster – it’s a nightmare, you need to to apply excessive force and just keep chipping at it as it comes away millimetre by millimetre.
Sunday: Paul and I continue on the stairwell.  The two of us work for around 7 hours straight and we get most of it removed.  There is much phaffing to get the best configuration of the ladder in a confined space as well.
Wednesday: Because I’ve bought a sideboard and it’s getting delivered the following day, I decide to start stripping the living room at 7pm at night.  Three walls are anaglypta, so they take about an hour and a half and I spend the next three hours trying to strip just the chimney breast of woodchip, on top of several layers of paper.  Including this rather charming floral number

Floral Wallpaper

Friday: I continue at the bottom of the stairwell and the downstairs hall.  It’s more woodchip over more of that floral paper.  There are wires everywhere in the hall (electric and telephone) and they appear to have been both wallpapered and painted over – not good.   The paint on the ceiling also starts coming off with the paper and seems to be very loose (I’m worried there was a leak from the bathroom above).  As it flakes off it keeps getting in my eyes.  Some of the paint has also chipped off the woodwork and it appears to be a mid-brown colour, could be nice…  Anyway, I just remove the wallpaper as best as I can and call it a night.
Saturday: I go get some dusk masks and some safety goggles.  Then temptation gets too much and I go out and buy a heat gun (I spent an hour looking for Dad’s then gave up).  I start with the banister / stair frame in the hall, it doesn’t go at all well, I end up hacking at it so much that I think it will need to be planed back down and I’m still left with green paint scum on the surface.  The paint on the skirting board on the other hand just melts away – I make my way up a few of the stairs (peeling back carpet as I go) until the wires get too annoying.  So then I tried a door frame, same, the paint just melts away. I do half a door frame and then start on the picture rail in the living room, it isn’t quite so easy and I end up charring some of the wood – I don’t have a very good shave hook either.  By now the house is quite foggy and I’ve suddenly remembered that the paint probably contains lead, so I decide to call it a day.
Sunday: I decide to stick to safer tasks and avoid the heat gun until I’ve got a better idea of what I’m doing.  As the paint on the ceiling has half come off I decide I’d better get rid of the rest – easier said than done.  It takes me a good few hours (and a load of elbow grease) to get most of the rest of it off.  Then I spent several more hours removing the remaining bits of glossed lining paper and flakes of woodchip from the downstairs hall, stairwell and upstairs hall.  I’ve been picking up the wallpaper as I’ve been going along (two stuffed wheelie bins plus a few sacks which went straight to the tip) but I’ve not been too precious about it, however with the possibility of lead dust I decide to go around on my hands and knees and pick of all the larger remaining pieces and then give it a good hoover.  Well the hoover is about as much use as a chocolate teapot – I give up, go home and order a shopvac, a proper respirator and a sander.
Tuesday: Wake up to discover I can’t lift my right arm past my shoulder. The wallpaper fights back…

So that’s the saga to date – there were times when I wondered if it might be quicker to wait for woodchip to come back into fashion.  On the whole, all evidence indicates that the walls were fine when the wallpaper went up, they must have just liked it.  How easy it’s going to be to get them back into a state where they can be painted though…

Whose keys are these keys?

Those keys are mine 🙂

Given that the Isle of Man is a place where keys, if used, are often merely a formality – actually getting all the keys to my new house was bit of a saga.

The Front Door Key

The vendor lives across (i.e. in the UK) and the advocates had some difficulty in getting in contact with him, so he didn’t post the signed contract until the day before we were due to complete – which meant that I agreed (should the signed contract not arrive) to do something called “cash for keys” which I was assured wasn’t as dodgy as “cash for questions”, because in fact I got the keys and they didn’t get the cash (it stayed in the advocate’s account until the contract arrived).

The vendor had a friend here who acted for him when there were tenants in the property, this friend (Mr B) is the one who advertised and showed me around the house – Mr B was away for several weeks in the Middle East but his wife was here and could supply the key when required.  So my advocate (Stacey) got the key and went to check it was indeed the correct key, the day before completion, only to discover that it didn’t fit the lock at all.

On the day of completion, the contract did arrive after all but we didn’t have the correct key – so then I had to agree to exchange without the keys with the understanding that it would be collected the following day from Mrs B (who now said she had found the correct key). The following day (which also happened to be my birthday) Stacey picked me up and we went off to get the key from Mrs B who told us that she was sure that this key was the correct key but that there were two keys and she could only find one.  Things didn’t look promising as the new key and the old key were identical but off we went to give it a go.

As were walking down the garden path Stacey hands me the key, I reach the front door, push down the handle, walk in and put the key in the lock in the inner door, unlock it and walk in! Stacey follows me chuckling – unaware that there were two doors, she’d been foiled by an already unlocked lock 🙂  Dad always calls that “the one that got Houdini”.

The electricity meter key

Trying to read the electricity meter started with me stating “That number looks like a pound sign”, followed by “Why does it say – insert key here?”.  The meter was a ‘pay as you go’ key one and as there is a £20 deposit taken for the key, it had not been left behind by the tenants.  Fortunately the MEA were really good and despite it being a Saturday had a guy out in 45mins to reset the meter and give me a new key.

The keys for the windows

The keys for the French window and back door were in the house but there were no keys to be found for any of the windows – the previous owner’s tenants must have lost them.  A couple of days after I got the house I went to the locksmiths on Windsor Road and they gave me a bunch of keys to try.  It’s rather heartwarming that a locksmith, whose livelihood is based on paranoia and distrust, just hands me a set of keys without requiring a deposit or even ID!  Sadly, none of the locksmith’s keys would fit, most were far too big. Also, as I went round all the windows I realised that the keys must have been missing for quite a while as the kitchen and bathroom handles had had their locks drilled out and the one in the 2nd bedroom (which was also locked) was a completely different handle.

Odd Window Handle

So I decided it was probably simpler (and possibly even cheaper) to replace all the handles. I took one off and measured it and ordered 7 new handles on eBay for a grand total of £18.30. Mr B came round the following weekend to try his window keys and managed to unlock the locked handle for me so I can unscrew it.

What should have been a simple job, which I planned to do in half an hour one night on the way to the pub, had me spitting fire after 1.5 hours and only three handles later. Everything that I didn’t imagine going wrong did go wrong; screw covers that wouldn’t come off, new screws with uneven threads (that one was especially frustrating as it was the first handle and I thought I must have measured wrongly), damaged screw heads!  Ugh – so I went to the pub.  Next evening – it was like I’d dreamt it.  So we went from:

Original window handle

To this:

New window handle

Much better!  And they all came with new keys so I now have keys for everything…. oh except the actual front door (the one which Stacey couldn’t unlock) but that’s not important (or at least the insurance company haven’t made me state that it’s lockable!).