It seems like an age ago since I wrote the last blog. Actually, it’s ten days. How things move on. After the frantic activity of our uber-SIPS team (there’s a little hole left behind in our days now – oh no, it’s okay ‘Duane woz ‘ere’ is still visible on the roof ;)) we had a quiet couple of days, I spent the weekend at school (bath, television, indoor toilet and room service) and Rich hid under the covers while the Day After Tomorrow-stylee storm blew around, and through, the ‘Billyvan.
You get used to the normality of Stu and Paul beavering away, two cups of tea to make and a gentle calmness over the site and then all of a sudden there’s a team of people, seemingly forty strong, and we’re having tea in shifts because I don’t have enough mugs. Or kettles.
Since my last confession, the cut roof between the SIPS and the old house has been built and felted, the stud walls have been put up in the upstairs part of the old house (and sterling boarded just so Rich could hang some paintings – he has a pathological hatred of limp stud walls, never mind the expense), the new upstairs part has been given its first plaster boarding, a step between old and new (upstairs) has been constructed so you don’t have to ‘leap the chasm’ anymore, our lovely electrician Gary has been in with Geoffo (Gary’s dad) and taxed my brain about lighting, sockets, four way switches and conduits and started the first fix, the final exterior oak lintel has been installed, the bi-fold doors have arrived and are safely ensconced in the barn, the fireplace has been finished, loads of insulation has gone in the roof of the old house, the final digging out of the ground floor is done and has been cemented (we couldn’t do that until the fireplace was finished), the chimney is plated, full of vermiculite and the second pot has gone on and the chimney scaffold has been dropped. Not much then, another quiet week. Oh, and the thatchers have arrived.
Aaaah, the thatchers, another utterly splendid team of people who I’ve totally fallen in love with. Many people have asked about the thatch, it’s the one house thing that people are terrified of. I suppose the expectation is that just because you have a thatch, you’re bound to burn to an horrific death at some point earlier than God intended. And, of course, it’s horribly expensive, both to insure and install. Not to mention the constant maintenance required and the need to totally re-do it every three years, if not sooner.
Well don’t tell anyone, but the above assumptions are, in fact, a load of complete and utter bollocks. Our last house was thatched and, thus far, we’re still here. As is the house. When we bought Fenbilly Farm, in its immaculate state, we were at loggerheads with Lazy God to come up with a suitable roof covering (actually, we weren’t at loggerheads, he thought thatch wouldn’t be the right material, we thought it was I think, on this one, he’s going to have to agree that we were right). Previously, the planning permission had been for a really ugly extension and a slate covering on the new, with Collyweston on the old. Collyweston is a local stone slate that is HIDEOUSLY expensive (we know this because our first house had a Collyweston roof and it blew off in some gales a while back = ££££) so we knocked that one to the line and thought about what would suit the house. As the roof has quite a steep pitch, Rich and I both went for thatch. Lazy God had the same assumptions as the above and thought it’d be too expensive. We figured that if thatch was our first choice, we’d find out how much it’d cost to re-do in thatch and, if it was too expensive, have a re-think. I thought I’d go for the worst case scenario by getting the best people in to give us a quote. And by the best people, I mean Dodson Brothers Thatchers – they’re a small family business, have been going for generations, are very local and have won every single thatching award going. And besides, having met Richard Leonard on site last autumn, and talked through our plans, I really liked them.
Decent slate would probably have cost in the region of £8 to £10K. Then you’ve got the guttering, soffits and fascias so probably about £12K overall. Collyweston, if you can actually get hold of the stone (unlikely), in the region of £15K up (plus soffits, fascias, guttering etc). The thatch is just shy of fourteen grand. No guttering, soffits or fascias to buy or install. So bang goes the expense theory.
Secondly, the longevity. There are a number of different types of thatch – straw, long straw and reed. We’ve gone for reed as it hasn’t the longest lifespan when used for a thatched roof. Expected lifespan is about fifty years – and that’s the minimum. The ridge will need some maintenance after 15 or so, but apart from that, it’s pretty trouble-free. Frankly, by the time the house needs re-thatching, unless the DoH comes up with some affordable cryogenics scheme, I’ll be dead. Our kids may not thank us for it. But then again, we don’t have any kids…
Anyhow, Richard and his team of boys rocked up on Monday and cracked on. Basically, bundles of reed get thrown on the roof, pushed, staked and laid in place and then some sort of fixing pins go in – then everything gets whacked into place with a giant dog comb (you know what I mean – like those slicker brush things). I have yet to go and make a closer inspection and I’m quite sure it’s not as simple as that.
Monday morning the whole job started, Tuesday morning and it was pissing down and the boys sat in their van from 7.30 onwards. Apparently, you can’t lay thatch while it’s wet because the rain rots the reed. Still, I made them a cup of tea, left to do the horses and came back just before lunch. Something had changed. Richard came and told me that he wasn’t happy. Uh oh, I wondered whether I’d done something to upset them – got the wrong amount of sugar in the tea, hadn’t given promised cakes, etc, etc. But no, as Richard explained, ‘I wasn’t happy with the colour of the reed, so we’ve taken it off, had a new delivery and started the whole thing again.’ And they had. I may not have noticed it, Rich wouldn’t have noticed it and, once the place has weathered a couple of winters, no-one else would have noticed it. But Thatcher Richard knew it wasn’t right. So he stripped it off and started again.
That’s the thing we’ve the team of people we’ve chosen to re-build our little house. Whether by fashion, or design, they really care about their work. Like really care. Happy coincidence? I like to think that it’s because we’ve taken great consideration in putting a group of people together to work on it and maybe we have (remember, we have a no grumpiness policy – if you feel grumpy, which can potentially happen, then take the day off rather than come on site – but it hasn’t happened yet in four months) but I actually really think that re-building a place that’s been neglected for so long, and deserves to be brought back to life, is more than just re-building a house. It’s about this place and this place in particular. It may well be a romantic notion and, at the risk of sounding like some sort of eco-warrioring, tree-hugging, mentalist hippy, there’s something about ‘here’ that’s really spectacularly special. Now this IS going to sound bonkers but I don’t think it’s me, or Rich, that’s in control of the whole ‘house coming back to life’ thing. I think it’s the house itself. The house makes its own decisions about where the working chimney should be, the covering on the roof, how the rooms flow together and the way we’ll feel about living here. Ultimately, we’re just the vehicles that get the people in to make the work happen.
But I tell you what, I wish the bugger would help me out with the electrical schematics and forty-way switching… 😉
PS Thirdly, the fire risk. So insignificant, I forgot to even include it. Google house fires/deaths with thatch – no more likely than a non-thatch and more likely to be caused by old/bad electrics or a dodgy, unlined, unmaintained chimney. I rest my case.