The stripping continues. Sometimes it seems 'Ben-Hur' has nothing on us as hour after hour passes with tank after tank of steam. In truth we could really have knuckled down and got through it much more quickly with a dedicated effort, but there are still many distractions to contend with, and one of us is prone to bouts of dandelion mind.
Having finished the largest room on the top floor with the highest ceiling and most tricky micro-flake wallpaper, it's nice to move on to the smallest room both in size and euphemism. No valium and parachute needed here - the 'junior' stepladder is fine and there's grab-able stuff in all directions in the unlikely event I get an attack of the collywobbles.
Unlikely? Well not that unlikely as it turns out when yet again, ten minutes in; getting into my stride; relishing the anaglypta wallpaper which peels as satisfyingly as banana skin; steam swirling, heating, and soaking in nicely; humming along to.... THE FIRE ALARM defibrillates me back from the brink of DIY flow.
It's embarrassing though I suppose useful in some respects, that just a few months after moving here this has become such a well-rehearsed drill: dash down the stairs, silence the bells, reset the detector, temporarily dress it with steam-proof poly bag and sellotape, reset the alarm. Age another 20 years. 'Dandelion mind' is right.
The main event in this room, as you might expect, is the toilet. This is actually a 'listed' toilet and if you're allowed to be fond of a lav, then I am fond of this one - she's a Triton 14899 after all!
It's really easy to forget that flushing toilets were by no means the norm at the time that Briarcourt was built or even 10 years later when we assume this one was installed. Indoor facilities (beyond a chamber pot or commode) were even rarer. Indeed I can clearly remember that up until the late 1970s/early 1980s we had to troop outside to the 'netty' at my grandparents' houses. Perhaps this is why this one is so decorative - as a luxury commodity, efforts were made to make it attractive as well as functional. From the wrought iron brackets to the swirling lines on the pedestal, it's a Liberace world away from the minimalist fashions of today, but I love it.
With the resumption of stripping, a couple of further archaeological finds come to light. Referring back to the 1904 2nd floor conversion plans, it's clear that the toilet and bathroom next door were designed to be separate rooms. However, beneath the modern wallpaper, there appear some familiar shapes - just glimpses here and there, peeping through gaps in a later layer of paint. The mosaic and wreath wallpaper we uncovered in the bathroom, which we think may have been contemporary with the 1904 building work was clearly used in the toilet too. What's more, there's evidence that both rooms were redecorated together with a swirly ogee art nouveau paper some time later.
Elsewhere, the walls betray modern repairs and reshuffles. Ageing these is usually guess-work based on surmising what the changing needs of the users of the building may have been in recent years. However, I think we can now say with some confidence that the last round of repairs and wallpapering was done in the mid-1980s. What's behind this cocky assertion? A newly-developed expert eye for the way plaster ages? Carbon dating?
No. Something far more sophisticated.
On one area of plaster, a couple of people have made their historical marks on the loo with their signatures and a statement about their musical tastes. Were they listing their favourite musicians or playing along with a radio quiz? We'll probably never know, but two things are clear. 1) They have very different musical tastes from each other - a taste for heavy metal vs a penchant for chart pop and 2) Level 42, Duran Duran, Alison Moyet, Cool Notes, Stephen Tin Tin Duffy - this was definitely the mid-80s. Unmistakable......
......No mention of 'Wham!' though - outrageous!