Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Cotton Ceiling

Tell me, which would you rather have, cotton or marble?
Give me cotton any day . . . particularly when you're near the top of an ageing Victorian building.
But let me explain . . .

Do you remember me telling you that the penthouse above my flat had been transformed, what had been a family home was now an investment?  It had been purchased by a sheikh from the Middle East. Bullet-proof doors had been installed and heavy marble laid on the Victorian floors . . . the sheikh, so I was given to understand, intended to pay short and infrequent visits to his new investment

Saddened by the change, I anticipated seeing very little of this new neighbour.

Then, at the start of last month I was disturbed by the sound of footsteps on my ceiling . . . my neighbour, I realised, had arrived for his first, short visit.
I'd never been disturbed by overhead neighbours before . . . marble, it seemed, was noisy as well as heavy.

But far worse was to follow.  Shortly after the footsteps I was shocked to notice small bubbles of water which, having penetrated the edge of the hall ceiling, were rapidly patterning the wall.

Appalled at this turn of events, I rushed out of my front-door, up the stairs and hammered on the bullet-proof door.
There was no response.  I hammered again.
An Arab gentleman, whom I took to be the sheikh's valet, appeared in the doorway looking a little surprised.

"Water!" I told him indignantly, "It's coming through my ceiling!"
The valet inclined his head, "We will look into it," he said soothingly.
"I don't want it looked into," I protested, "Something needs to be done NOW!"
The valet, who had clearly had enough of this excitable Englishwoman, gave a polite nod and tried to close the door.  However, as my foot was firmly in the gap, this effort defeated him.

It occurred to me that, high on the list of every valet's Code of Conduct, must be the firm instruction: 'Never disturb your Master in the bath'!
But surely this was a time when rules needed to be broken?
"Now . . . please!" I pleaded.

The valet, torn between duty and a genuine desire to respond to my distress, finally made his way down the passage and, as I watched, knocked tentatively on the bathroom door.

Anxious to know if my mission had succeeded, I hurried back down the stairs.  To my relief, the water was no longer oozing out of the ceiling.

But any relief was to be short-lived.  What I hadn't realised was that the sheikh had installed no less than three bathrooms.
Deprived of bathroom number one, he had, it seemed, simply resorted to bathroom number two, where, once again, he had turned on the taps.
This time the water didn't merely trickle down the wall, it cascaded with joyous abandon from the centre of the hall ceiling.

Buckets, saucepans, dishes . . . every water-collectible vessel I had . . . was called into action to try to contain the incessant downpour.

Things had become serious.
The valet came . . .  the sheik's representative-on-all-things-structural came . . .  the plumbers came.
It was generally agreed that action, speedy action, needed to be taken.

But how could they get to the pipes and discover what was wrong?
Yes, you've guessed it.  Because of the weight of the marble they could no longer tackle the job from above . . . entry to the pipes had to be from underneath, up through my hall ceiling!

They would, the sheikh's representative assured me, repair all the damage.
In due course they would plaster and repaint the hall.  They would replace my sodden hall rug.
"You can't," I told them sadly, "my Grandmother made it."

Suitably sobered, they set to work.  It was hours later that they finally assured me that they'd discovered the cause of the trouble and put a temporary patch on my damaged ceiling.

But was the problem solved?  I was far from convinced.
Water trickling through the bathroom ceiling a few days later further fuelled my anxieties.  What if they plastered and painted the hall only for the leak to re-open?

From being blissfully unaware of the  intricate web of piping so close to my ceiling, I was now only too conscious of the powerful flow of water . . . water clean and water dirty . . .  that was circulating above my head.

It was then that inspiration struck.
"I know what we'll do . . . " I told the man in charge, "until we're certain that all the leaks have been traced, we'll have a cotton ceiling!"
He looked a little bemused, "I've never heard of a cotton ceiling?"
"Nor have I . . . but couldn't you fasten a cotton dust-sheet right across the ceiling?  It could stay up for a least a year.  Just think about it . . ."

And so it was that, with Chloe's enthusiastic assistance, a top-quality dust-sheet was screwed firmly into place.

The sheikh has now departed, he'll be gone for at least two months.  My flat has finally dried out.  But, as a permanent reminder of a traumatic episode, I've acquired a cotton ceiling.

Nonetheless, if I'm to be honest I must admit to being proud of  my idea . . . I like my cotton ceiling.
It's unusual . . . it's distinctive . . . and it effectively conceals all the damage.
If you find yourself in London, you're welcome to drop in and see if for yourself.

The moral of the story . . . ?
Well, surely it must be that you can't impose the weight of modern wealth on an old and fragile superstructure.

Do you understand why it is that I prefer cotton to marble?
After giving the new ceiling a thorough inspection, Chloe completely agrees!