To jump ahead a little from the photos I'm in the middle of posting here, I'd like to mention something I've been doing lately. Just as I'm getting back to posting regularly after too many gaps in recent months, for a number of reasons - all too complicated and uninteresting to detail - I found myself dashing headlong into something at home that I would have preferred not to be involved in. I may have preferred not to be involved, but circumstances and a certain personal willingness told me otherwise. Don't worry, I'll explain.
Just as a winter is coming to an end and spring is poking it's head up through the soil to remind everyone here in the northern half of the world that it's not all greyness and grimness, wet and dull, our wonderful government with its genius for timing that leaves me completely baffled most of the time, has decided that it can afford to give older people a helping hand with their heating bills. The cynic in me wonders why they didn't roll out this idea in October or November when it would do some immediate good, rather than March and April - could it be that it would have cost more? Shame on me.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that my parents qualify for free loft insulation. Now, I understand that, in itself, that's nothing to be sniffed at. It's an expensive thing and if you can get it for free, go along with it.
Once someone had come to inspect the loft and agreed a date for the work to be done, reality kicked in. Here are a few facts:
- It's a big old farmhouse - I will happily emphasise the words 'big' and 'old'.
- My family has lived there for nearly sixty years - a lot can happen in sixty years.
- In the way that these things work, my parents seem to have become the guardians of the final resting places of a lot of previous generations' stuff.
- And it's all ended up in the loft.
- To lay new insulation, the people who will be coming to do the work will need a completely clear surface to work on.
Putting all those facts together, it became apparent very quickly that - you've guessed it - the loft had to be cleared out. I can't stress enough just how big the space is (I think it has its own microclimate), nor just how much stuff had been shoved up there out of sight, thought and the way. It also quickly dawned on me that, with a little help, I was going to have to do it.
I had a bit of a recce to get my head around just how big a job it would be and then called in my brother's son as a bit of extra muscle. Between the fits of giggles, he agreed to do what he could. We had an hour's session just to clear the space around the trapdoor so that I could actually get up in there. There was stuff as far as the eye could see. All manner of stuff.
Last weekend was Easter and I took the Thursday before and the Tuesday after to tack onto the weekend so that we could get the job done. On the Thursday we had another go. Just an hour or so again because everything that came out had to be sorted and allocated a new home, temporary probably, or be approved for ditching by my mother.
A loft that hasn't been attended to lovingly for a very long time is not a clean place. There was dust and cobwebs, the remains of the creators of the cobwebs and their generations of lunches, birds had snuck in under the tiles, nested, had young, departed and come back many times over with each visit leaving its, um, mark. We'd even had the odd squirrel making its home up there. On top of all that I have to point out that the loft has no floor. You had to step only on the joists - between them was just the fragile ceiling of the rooms below. One false move, one misplaced step and you would be downstairs, or at least in the netherworld of neither up nor down.
The next day we had another go, by now getting into the real substance of the job and uncovering lots of fascinating things. I have to admit there were lots of toys from my childhood, various collections of things that I obvious got fed up with but which were considered valuable enough to be kept - they aren't and they should go. But my stuff was only the very tip of the thundering iceberg. There were books, literally by the tonne. There was furniture and papers, old pictures and ancient framed photos of ancestors, collapsed empty boxes, jam jars by the boxload. There were even logs. This took us to almost half the job done.
On Tuesday, with the help of a neighbour we determined to clear the lot. We started at about nine in the morning and, with a few carefully placed boards to walk on and with two of us up there we managed it, calling it a day at about two-thirty in the afternoon. There are a few things still left up there now. A couple of old tin baths placed there years ago to catch the drips, a couple of old blanket boxes full of I-know-not-what that we couldn't even lift or move. Of course, we could have emptied them out but we had all had enough by then. We were filthy, aching all over and keen for a view that didn't consist of the underside of rooftiles or the top of ancient, fragile ceilings.
And here we are. The house is seemingly full of junk, which is slowly being sorted, and the back of the house (where we luckily have quite a lot of space) is where all the stuff for dumping is being piled up. There will be many trips to the local dump in the next few weeks, and once the insulation is laid next Monday, I have vowed that nothing is ever going to be put up there again.
It's a cautionary tale and I would advise everyone, if you think you're disposing of something by shoving it up into your roofspace - if you're lucky enough to have one, think again, it's only out of sight for a while. It will rear its ugly head again and this time when it's least convenient. We all hoard stuff to a greater or lesser extent, but my advice is 'chuck it out instead of taking it up.'