The Chicken House

February 15, 2009

The question before me was: Raze or raise the Roost?

I decided to raise it.

I do not have many hobbies but the ones I do have, I take with deep seriousness and commitment. One of these hobbies is building renovation and anything which obliges me to learn a new manual trade like plumbing, cabinetry, stonemasonary, the theory of chimney building and so on. This all started at a very young age.

When not actually nicking my fingers, I do watch Carpenter at Large, Spanner in the Works, Gardener in the Dunghill and a slew of upstarts. The origin of this programming has been traditionally from the Beeb. (But I avoid Colin and his poncie friend, whatsitsname, flitting about like two bats at dusk undecided which fly to catch.) The stuff from the US and Canada is chock-a-block on Finnish telly thanks to City TV (and no thanks to City we also have a lot of schlock too). We now have a new exporter – Ozland – thank you – fitting my taste in DIY to a Tee. Bonzo in the Bog, Lost in Lost Space in the Sid – excellent like it when they throw in a cutsie marsupial, now and then, to spice up the proceedings. Forward – let this tale scaffold.

I picked up this penchant for DIY programming already as a young man. Yes, there are things one should not admit but now I am ready to reveal the truth about how I misspent part of my young life. I admit to listening to afternoon radio gardening programmes, for years, when I lived in Canada. I looked forward to the drive from St Catherines to Fort Erie, timing it so that I would find out how to keep our bleeding hearts from succumbing to an aphid infestation. It has done me good. When wife asked me about root and crown rot on the tomatoes, I could usually recite something intelligent. Now the gardening is outside my ken.

No, what I do, willing, with gusto, is grasp a saw in hand and cut something. Ugh Ugh. When all is said and done, listening to the radio and watching the telly is never as good as actually getting your hands around a hammer and smashing your thumb silly.

This obsession – yes, this is what the dearest and nearest call it – I inherited from father’s tireless efforts to fix where no man has fixed before indeed where no fixing needed to be fixed. It seemed that whenever we moved into yet another tenement flat, he would lather himself into a frenzy, get the dull saw out sit it gently beside an hammer cast before WWI, and without a by your leave, without pen and paper, plan out his next Dunkirk. Ok, perhaps I am not as obsessed as deceased gramps only because poverty is not the force that drives me – wait, maybe it is obsession. I call it a hobby.

The flats were too often too small for the four – later five – of us. Unpaying and uninvited tenants where chock-a-block: cockroaches, centipedes and rats were not strangers and we even had to suffer the idignities of the two legged kind. Uncles are fine at distance but when they crud up your bathtub and leave their toe nail clippings on the toilet seat – well ’nuff said.

In one little jewel of a flat, we were all four (at the time) squeezed into the front room. There was another room but the parents let this out to a man of indeterminate height, build and character and not a blood relative. All I recall is that he left a ring around the bath tub but judiciously disposed of his toe nail clippings in an unobtrusive manner.

I think this is where my obsession – er, I mean, my infatuation for DIY. You might say that DIY became my hobbyhorse. The Kensington flat was narrow and desperately in need of dividing walls. Father, in an attempt to get some privacy for mum and himself, built a wall of bamboo curtain, dividing the front room in two. He forcefully recruited me into being the extra pair of hands he wished he had. A job well done but I came to conclude two important things: avoid being around when dad was in the middle of the a building frenzy. The second went unsaid: I knew I could do it a little better but he never did.

Raising the Chicken House

I have been rennovating our home for nigh on twenty years. The work I took on has been massive by any measure. It is coming to an end and with this in mind I started another project. I call it the Chicken House but due to familial objections, it is now the Roost.

This building is small hence manageable. I mean I do everything myself. No surprise there as I have renovated my house all by lonesome. OK, brother-in-law, who as it happened was and is a plumber – did chip in for the plumbing and heating. The first question that wife and I discussed before anything was done was: what shall we do? Raise it or raze it?

The easiest course would have been to tear it down. But that was the easy way out. Why do it the easy way, when you can do it the hard way? The neighbourhood in which we live is one of the older quarters in our town and indeed, to mine eyes, one of the prettiest. The area is immediately next to town square. It started is transformation from farming countryside to an suburb in the late eighteen hundreds. The oldest surviving buildings date from that period. On our street, the oldest buildings are just across the street and date from the first decade of the nineteen hundreds. These are workers flats constructed by the steel mill.

Our chicken house, or more properly, the sauna, woodshed and outhouse, was built in 1921. It is one of the older buildings stll standing on our street and for this reason I decided to renovate it, to bring it back to its former, but humble, glory.

The original building was re-clad in the 60'sHere is what it looked like when I started.

Here is what it looks like today.

Here it is now. The neigbhours have uttered words like "handsome" which to my mind is like pulling teeth from a smiling man. It was a bit of work to get it to this stage. But it is, "handsome" is it not?

More to come.

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