It's been staring at us for months, a little bit of a DIY disaster, a legacy of black concrete. For those of you unaware of this legacy from the 1950s and 1960s - not to be confused with the modern product which actually does the job of waterproofing after the room has been tanked (this is simply a way of placing a barrier between stone and plaster which allows the stone work to breathe - that the easiest way of explaining tanking but is probably completely wrong, so don't quote us on this, and go to a proper contractor if you need tanking; the room, not you, this is not a Jimmy Hoffa moment). This black concrete sat on the wall for a few years before sweating, leaking and then dripping until it pours down the wall. True. We chipped off the old larder plaster a few years ago and the first two feet of wall from the floor up poured with water for three months before drying out. That's black concrete, the old stuff suffocates and is a pain in the arse to remove. You should see Andrew's fingers, he refuses to wear gloves simply because a stone chisel can slip in them and that could mean a trip to A&E. He's tried thin gloves too, the disposable kind, they rip after 30 seconds as the stone is obviously abrasive. As the black concrete drops off the Victorian blue paint is revealed. It's all over the house and flakes off at the touch. it's probably full of lead so we wear masks and protect Little D from the worst of it.
However, in the spirit of those make over programmes, here's the before...
...lots of tiles, crumbling plastered pn lintels and mullions, the black concrete just below the windowsill taunting us.
It stretched for six feet and is around an inch thick in parts which is torture when the plaster around the windows is so old, so crumbly and comes away with a crow bar. Not kidding, you can peel it off, the condensation and damp has got behind this plaster blowing it out. The only way you can remove black concrete is with a lump hammer and stone chisels; these are full metal chisel. When you hammer don't hammer to a rhythm, you will simply compress the concrete. Hammer with no rhythm, more bangity-bang-bang-bang-bangity-ity-ity-bang, it actually cracks faster. Andrew tells me he knows this from doing stone carving, to find a rhythm that works on the stone not the Looney Tunes slapstick bang-bang, lump rising on head.
You can see the aftermath of just doing a few feet of the black concrete, bloody thumbs, fingers and dust all over the place. The dust sheets are covering the oven, the fridge, the sink, the sideboard and Little D; who through muffled sheets, giggles every time Andrew hits his thumb and does his toddler swearing: Butter Fudder, Blinkity-blink, Booger-bum, to name a few. Four letter words are: Nark, Blob, Slob, followed by it and off.
After five hours and the black concrete below the windowsill is gone. Which is difficult work around one of the water pipes that goes to the external tap. Fortunately, Andrew is good at demolishing things carefully, he once took a wall down beside our old fridge, not a scratch, not a dent just a lot, a lot of swearing - this was pre-Little D, but Andrew also has drilled through the mains before now, so it's swings and roundabouts with him. He spends an hour raking out all the joints between the stone work, it's brittle stuff because of the black concrete, the moisture has gotten in reducing it to dust.
Peeling off the old plaster around the mullions is always heart in the mouth stuff. There's always a chance they covered the mullions and lintels over for a reason, it's not always fashion, sometimes it hides the damage and thankfully there's no sign on this stonework.
Then comes a major surprise. We've never found any of the old windowsills at Pig Row but here it is, sadly damaged and cut away for home improvements in the 1980s. We're not kidding, whoever did the tiling packed it out with a copy of The Sun from 1982. Yes, it was page three. So, whoever did was a major tit. They've hacked at the edge of the stone so much that a lot of it is shattered. The colour of the stone is wonderful but we can't save it as this windowsill is now too low, so we'll photograph it and remember and cover it with a new stone windowsill.
After several hours we've uncovered all the stone and the black concrete is a memory, bar the coughing - not even masks will stop this - we had the mask on, door wide open and inside of our noses resemble a coal pit.
So, farewell to black concrete. We bag it up, sling it our back to take it to the tip on another day and leave the wall to breathe for a few days before pointing it.