Sunday, June 14, 2015

That Other Project

There's a reason why so little has gone on at the farm. I'm the oldest of 4 brothers and 3 of us are still living at home in a kind of flat-share arrangement with my parents. In late 1990 we were only two children but living in a rather cramped flat (bedroom, our room, living room) so my parents seized the opportunity when a neighbour passed away and rented his flat one floor below to use as an office. The place was quite a mess, no central heating, bits and bobs of wiring done between 1914 and the early 80s, mostly by people who had NO clue what they were doing and cosmetically a wreck.

There are three rooms (or 2 1/2 as the Germans would say), two facing the street and one to the rear. The large front room (about 4x5 m) had a 1970s vintage tiled gas heater, a HUGE beast that blew as much gas heating a single room as the combi boiler upstairs did for heating a space almost 5 times as large. Occasionally when the thermostat kicked in it didn't ignite properly and sent an 80 cm wide and 40-50 cm tall flame shooting out of the front. Quite spectacular and a miracle it never set anything on fire! The small front room is only about 2x5 m and didn't have any heat at all. The former bedroom has a tiled wood stove from 1932. With the connecting door open the gas fire was just enough to heat both rooms but it was far from ideal. The kitchen had something I loved as a kid, a wall-mounted catalytic gas heater. These things have a rectangular vertical burner made of some kind of ceramic material with holes like a sieve. When the gas is lit the whole burner glows a nice deep red. It had zero safety features, no pilot light, no thermocouple, nothing. Open the gas cock underneath, turn the big knob to "Open" and hold a match to the burner. Scarcely used it gave a unique smell of charred dust every time it was lit. Aaah, memories of the past!

Every room was wallpapered all over, including the ceiling. The living room had some kind of glossy, embossed beige paper, really fancy stuff! The bedroom had huge (think 20 cm) green flowers all over, the hall brown, green and yellow leaves on a grey background and the kitchen... woodchip! All doors and windows except in the kitchen were painted a dull grey and the furniture they'd left us was a weird yellowish green. All rooms had the original oak herringbone parquet but not all of it in good shape. The finish in the living room was dull and brownish the day we got there and the hall wasn't much better. To make matters worse. they hadn't finished the floor where they had a runner, probably to keep the runner from slipping. With the runners gone it looked horrible!

At that time it wasn't sure how long we'd be able to keep the place so my parents only put a minimum of effort into it. They had an electrician replace what he considered the worst of the wiring (if it actually was it must have been seriously shoddy because what's left is horrible enough to me), the bedroom stripped and painted, the living room and small room repapered (woodchip paper) and the hall painted over the wallpaper. The living room became the office, the bedroom was turned into our guest bedroom and the kitchen was dubbed our workshop, the remaining cupboards filled up with tools and materials.

In the late 90s the gas fire failed for the third time in a row and my parents refused to spring for another expensive repair of that useless beast, opting for a combi boiler and radiators instead. The plumbers who'd installed the heating upstairs were called in and spent three days running exposed copper pipes and installing radiators. My mom was less than pleased when she discovered that the coat rack in the hall had become useless because these geniuses had put a 90x90 cm radiator underneath. When she complained she was told "Madam, we have to use a radiator of this size, otherwise the room could remain cold and you could sue us!". Well, aren't there different sizes and shapes of radiators with the same heat output? They could've used a deeper model instead and they could've put it somewhere else. The kitchen was almost as bad but I'll show that later.
They also opened the hall floor in spots to run the pipes, with catastrophic results. Not that the floor looked that great to begin with (note the odd lengths and mixed widths) but the plumbers broke several boards trying to remove them and put everything back even more rattly than it'd been before. One board seems to have lost its tongue and groove and can almost be pulled out now. The original parts of the floor have rather big gaps too and are uneven so sanding isn't really an option any more.

We're all thrifty people so if things might be useful again at some point we don't throw them away. Unfortunately stuff tends to accumulate and ideas whether something might still be usable change over time. Bluntly speaking, the place eventually filled up to the ceiling. The small room became home of my vintage computer collection, my dad's double bass, part of our old toys etc. When my granny moved permanently into the guest bedroom in late 2004 the computers and toys were joined by boxes and boxes of books up to the point where you simply couldn't walk through the door any more. The workshop suffered the same fate over the years, although a path towards the window was kept aceesible since we occasionally needed tools and materials. Besides, the door opens inwards, so we couldn't fill up the room to capacity. When my granny moved upstairs in 2006 the guest bedroom received the remaining toys and lots of other stuff. The hall held our skiing equipment, half a tonne of printer paper in all colours of the rainbow etc. etc.

The big crash came when my youngest brother begged to move down there when he turned 18 last year. That meant clearing out the guest bedroom, the hall and the workshop-to-be-kitchen-again. Completely. We started that mammoth task last autumn and are still far from done. Twelve tip runs with the family van filled up to the roof and I think there's still lots of stuff left that'll have to go. Countless boxes of inherited baby and kid clothing were sorted through, binned or donated to a charity. My mom was showered with bags and boxes of clothes by everyone, some of it 60s or 70s vintage. We wore some of it but nowhere near everything - some of the stuff was too clearly designed for girls even for my mom's liberal tastes and some of it was plain useless but she thought the owners might want it back for future grandchildren. When our youngest outgrew everything she still clung onto it for somewhat superstitious reasons but anyway. Now she changed her mind and we drastically reduced the pile. I couldn't resist keeping some of the extreme retro stuff (think red corduroy overalls for toddlers) but I'd say we got rid of 9/10 of the stuff. The majority went into the bin and everything else was donated.

By now the kitchen is empty and the hall sort of so we're about ready to start some serious renovations. We should also clear out parts of the cellar to have them renovated so we can store paint and other stuff there. Currently that part of the cellar has a dirt floor, unplastered walls with crumbling mortar and uninsulated water pipes that sweat like crazy when it's over 20C outside. There's an old rotted broom cabinet in there (again inherited), piles of flower pots, lawn furniture (taken out of someones hand at the tip before it became city property), roughly 10 bags of mixed wood, mainly leftover parquet flooring, door casings, subfloor boards we removed during the upstairs renovation (now growing all kinds of fungi) and a stack of original window casements that were removed from the twin house next door - our windows facing the courtyard were replaced in the 70s and now sport lovely aluminium hardware instead of brass and I'd love to turn that back to original. Unfortunately the replacements do have a few serious advantages like being more raintight and easier to clean without climbing out onto a 15 cm wide ledge 10-12 m up in the air. Now I'm totally lost what to do with the old windows.

I'm also in the process of reducing the computer collection. Thankfully I found a collector who'll buy most of the Amiga and Commodore collection and the entire Atari collection but I still have to find someone for the Apple stuff. Today I'll try to copy some of the stuff from the hard drive of my broken Amiga 2000 by putting the hard drives and controller card into another A2k. Fingers crossed that'll work, the other 2k has newer Kickstart roms and I generally handle Amigas with velvet gloves because I've never really understood their inner workings. In a 1989 Mac you'd just stick in any SCSI drive with the proper ID, boot from the Utilities floppy, format the HDD, install the OS and it'd boot straight away. Installing a hard drive in an Amiga seems to imply chnaging miles of startup scripts etc. etc. - scary! I suppose that's partly because the Amiga wasn't really designed with hard drives in mind but the mac was.

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