On entering Our Albion

I stood in front of the door, heavy oak, varnish peeling and faded to gray…

Damian Clarke
Oct 22 · 4 min read

(Continued from here)

I stood in front of the front door, heavy oak, varnish peeling and faded to gray, with a large oval window in it, and thought, “It doesn’t really match the house — it’s a more 1850s Philadelphia than 1830s London.” Mrs Albion had already mentioned that she wanted a new front door, which I had interpreted as a newly painted front door. But looking at it now…

A three-storey late Georgian terrace house in London with an inappropriately Victorian front door and a 1980s metal fence.
A three-storey late Georgian terrace house in London with an inappropriately Victorian front door and a 1980s metal fence.
Our Albion, as it was then. (Photo: Foxtons, Islington, 2006)

In the gap between knocking and the door opening, I was steeling myself for disappointment. I had been repeating a mantra to myself since the day our offer was accepted, “It’s smaller than you remember, it’s darker than you remember, it’s dirtier than you remember, it’s not as good as you remember. The bathroom is terrible.” I didn’t want the memory of my first step across the threshold — to the first home either of us has owned — to be tainted by a sting of disappointment.

The door opened. Mrs Albion was there, the image of the night I proposed to her — damp, sweaty hair, rubber gloves, distinct odour of cleaning products, and the excited smile of someone starting a new journey. The house looked and smelled clean. The lounge was empty, and spacious looking, and the tiny door at the back of the hallway — the thing that, I suspect, sold us the house, was wide open with the sun streaming in. The little balcony outside the back door was also bathed in sunshine. And the garden it overlooked was lush, and beautiful.

Of course there were kisses and cuddles — a moment, if you will — and then we set about surveying our domain.

A lounge, spacious for London, with a nice looking floor, paint swatches on the panelling and a few pieces of furniture.
A lounge, spacious for London, with a nice looking floor, paint swatches on the panelling and a few pieces of furniture.
The lounge before we moved in. (Photo: Foxtons, Islington, 2006)

The lounge is a beautiful, sunny room with huge windows at each end and plenty of space for a dining table and seating area. We knew the walls were a bit sketchy when we moved in, and the lovely timber floor was actually vinyl, but anyone would have taken one look at it and decided that it would be fine with a lick of paint. Anyone, that is, except us.

They may, however, have considered pulling up the various parquet and laminate floors.

Although it is always a good idea to check what is underneath first.

But first, a quick trip downstairs to the loo — and to fit the toilet seat.

The previous owners of the house were an elderly lady and her daughter. The elderly lady appeared to have lived on the lower ground floor, because it would have been the most accessible for her. We knew she was elderly, because of the disabled furniture in the bathroom. That, of course, had to go first, and would be a simple matter of undoing a few screws.

Wouldn’t it?

Alas, no.

The first few screws came out beautifully. In fact, two of the three screws in each leg came out beautifully except the last leg. Everything else was rusted fast. I grabbed the rails with both hand and tried to wrench them out. A muscle twinged in my back, but the bars bounced a little, then sat there, imapassive. I paused, and pondered what a man typically does when he feels powerless and alone.


So I did. More than once.

The building applications of the car jack are not usually known to DIY practitioners. Fortunately I had seen them applied, and indeed applied them myself, in various dodgy applications over my teenage years, so the jack was the first thing that came to mind when I realised I needed to exert tremendous force.

The builders’ car jack of choice is usually the 2.5 tonne hydraulic jack, because it can be positioned directly underneath the item to be lifted. It is often used in house-lifting applications. Alas, my hydraulic jack is on a ship somewhere between Australia and the UK so I made do with the jack from a 2005 Volkswagen Golf 2.0 GT TDI.

Unfortunately, jacking off the bathroom fittings caused one of the floors to lift too. This identified the second problem with the bathroom. There was more than one floor. The top layer was lino which, having removed the toilet rails, I ascertained was the source of the strange smell in the bathroom. Water had leaked down from around the toilet and under the lino. The next layer was glue and self-levelling compound over tiles. Then there was another layer of tiles. And some patches where there was a third layer. There also appeared to be mud which may have had a structural function earlier in its life, but was now just mud. Under the mud there was concrete, and it was wet.

I decided to leave the bathroom until the next day and, miraculously freed from the anxiety I had been feeling about being disappointed, I was able to enjoy the luxury of our first meal in our new home, with our first dinner guests, OB and Roller Boy.

© Damian Clarke, 2019. First published in the Our Albion blog, 23 October 2006.

Damian Clarke

Written by

I’m a writer and publisher working in Sydney, Australia and London, UK. I specialise in finance, technology, insurance, property, medicine and sustainability.

Our Albion

he story of a guy with a hammer, some nails and an old house to use them on.

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