I like to listen to Radio 4. When I lived in the States, I regularly listened and supported National Public Radio. I make no apologies and it is safe to say I enjoy talk radio, but of a certain type. Recently on Radio 4, Melvyn Bragg and several scholarly guests were discussing Dante’s Inferno, that medieval journey through the nine circles of Hell told through poetic verse.
Home renovation feels a bit like this, just without visions of afterlife, severed heads, cruel punishments, and a cameo appearance from Satan. Not so far, at least.
The presenters on the radio were all quick to point out The Divine Comedy, with its three components of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, is more than a travelogue into the disturbing and horrific, and instead was a guide for spirituality during medieval times, hailing it is one of the greatest poems ever written. All I can say is while listening to this radio program, I wished to invite the Italian Dante Alighieri to transport his poetic self several centuries forward and join us at Crockern, where we have entered the not yet written Tenth Circle of Hell: Our final push to complete at least one room in the house. Perhaps he could squeeze another poetic winner with this old house as his inspiration?
Nearly seven months ago, we made the decision to remove the pine ceiling in the living room and layer in more insulation. We introduced mess and chaos and should have placed a sign above the door: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. We did not and instead carried on and hung the replacement plasterboard. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years came and went, and all the while, we kept the door shut to any visiting friends or family. Shut, that is, until our friends Mark & Yvonne arrived in February. Mark and his plastering skills made the ceiling a work of art!
When it comes to home improvements, I like painting. Not the prep work or the clean up, but the actual painting. I like the smell. I like the way it immediately changes a space. All things considered, it is a relatively inexpensive intervention that instantly gives a sense of completion to a room. Clean. Fresh. Finished. That is, if there is nothing else to do like flooring, lighting, shelving, or installing stairs. Still, once the plaster was dry, I set about priming and painting the ceiling and walls. It has been several years since I’ve held a paintbrush and known that satisfied feeling of having finished a room! How quickly a freshly painted wall delivers the home decorator one step out of hell and closer to those Nine Celestial Spheres of Heaven. Just like Dante himself.
Occasionally prone to home-improvement-inertia, Roger and I set a deadline of April first to finish the living room. It was not lost on either of us that our deadline is April Fool’s Day. We’ve come close to meeting our self-imposed target, but had more than a few silly delays.
Take for example the stairs. Before we could do anything, the stairs had to be made. The previous ladder to the lower floor was removed. The hole in the floor measured. In January, we contracted a man to build us some stairs. We waited. We waited some more. We made the hole in the floor to the specified measurements to accommodate the stairs. On the scheduled day to begin installation, we had two inches of snow. For some, two inches of snow is a crippling amount. No experience driving in the stuff. Better to just stay home. For others — I will put myself solidly in this camp — two inches of snow is chump change. It’s nothing. Man up! Get out there! Drive those stairs to Crockern and install them Buddy!
Nope, not our guy. He made a decision that the snow was too much, leaving a phone message he would arrive to do the job the following week.
I returned his call and he began work the next day.
With snow on the ground, we busied ourselves and pulled up the carpet, sanded the floors, treated the floors for woodworm and finally stained them. Through all of this, we’ve attempted to live normal lives. Not easily done with the contents of our house strewn everywhere, covered in dust, and that much needed object – say a hammer – lost beneath all of the clutter. Most recently, we slept with windows wide open to avoid the noxious fumes from the floor treatment, awaking to a hard frost and a chorus of bird song.
After two days of installation, the stairs are in place. They are lovely. With our deadline still looming on this room, floors, walls and ceilings ready, we made a mad dash to clean, clean, clean, and return all of our furniture back to its location. The room is looking nearly complete, enough that we can open the doors and welcome people into the space.
And those new stairs? Well, they lead down to what is our next, and possibly biggest, project: The Eleventh Circle of Hell. We have addressed the damp in this room, but we now need to build walls, add insulation, lay a floor, install a bathroom, fix new windows, and oh so much more.
Hey Dante, grab a paintbrush!