Eaves in the Springtime

The eaves under our roof

Here’s where I’ve been spending some of the hours I might otherwise have spent writing and posting here: in the darkest, dustiest, grimiest, boxiest space in, or rather above, our flat.

These are the eaves over our kitchen and hallway, next to the flat roof we’ve been dealing with all year. You reach them through a hatch in the wall from the attic. There’s a bigger set on the opposite side, over our bedroom and lounge. When we moved here four years ago, I cleared both areas out; previous owners had used them as storage spaces. As storage strategies go this was one of the worst imaginable, as anything left here ends up covered in dust. Not any old dust, either, but roof dust: a filthy combination of soot, slate, cement and plaster dust which turns everything black.

I found all sorts of old rubbish up there, but most of it was useless: cardboard boxes, old booze bottles hidden there by a teenager, a turntable and speakers (which I thought might be useful but eventually got rid of), a fireplace surround, a ratty old beanbag, a set of old scales in a glass cabinet, a broken wooden swan, and the one thing that did actually find a permanent place in our home, a brass-framed mirror from Thailand or somewhere like that. We polished that up and hung it in our hallway to face the front door.

Brass-framed mirror
Yours truly photoshopped out of shot for vampire-like effect.

I left a few things in place, because they were too bulky and heavy to carry through the hatches, down the attic ladder and down three flights of stairs: on the other side, lots of handy bits of wood (or at least handy kindling for a future roof fire), and on this side, an old satellite dish and piles of slates dumped there by roofers (this side has the hatch onto the roof, with another hatch below it accessible from the common stair).

All of which would still be there, except that we spotted a government scheme providing free insulation for homes in our area. J. signed us up, and a couple of guys came to have a look and said it would be no problem insulating the two spaces; we were booked in for early June. They didn’t say we needed to clear out the wood and the slates, but we figured we probably should, so I spent several hours one weekend hauling it all out, carrying it downstairs and distributing it amongst the four or five rubbish skips nearest us.

Then when the appointed hour came, the insulation guys who visited us said they couldn’t do it, because all the joists were covered in crawl boards that had been nailed down by a previous owner. I would have to go back in there and pull all those up before they could proceed. It wasn’t exactly a while-you-wait job; in fact, I’m still going. I had to buy a crowbar, for a start. The boards have been coming up okay, although it’s careful work as I don’t want to put a crowbar or a foot or a knee through the lathe-and-plaster ceiling between them. The harder part is clearing out the last bits of rubbish from every space between joists, so that the batts can fit snugly. Bucket after bucket of broken slates, broken chimney pots, bits of roofing felt, bits of newspaper as old as I am, cigarette and match boxes, more wine bottles of 2006 vintage, and sand dumped by roofers repairing the chimneys at some point in the past. In some places there’s so much of it weighing down on the lathe and plaster it’s a wonder the ceiling hasn’t collapsed. I’m having to sweep it up carefully with a dustpan and broom, crouched under a roof studded with the sharp ends of nails, watching my feet at every turn, breathing through a dust mask, seeing by a head-mounted lamp, and looking like a coal miner every time I emerge to carry stuff downstairs.

I noticed today that someone has chalked “Stalag VI” on the wall near the roof hatch.

If every old tenement in Edinburgh has roof spaces like these, it’s going to be a mighty long time before they all get insulated, power savings or no power savings.

30 June 2012 · Journal

I managed to finish clearing out the kitchen-side eaves yesterday; the lounge-side ones are next. While I was in there, I saw some graffiti scratched into the back of one of the wooden boards that form our attic walls. We’d always thought that the attic was lined twenty or thirty years ago. The graffiti read “M J W 1900”, 18 years after the building was completed.

Added by Rory on 2 July 2012.