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Date: 20/06/19

L'Esprit De L'Escalier

(trans.: "I've had some bloody fun with these stairs")

The hiatus necessitated by both the re-wiring and the subsequent bee-proofing of my bedroom floors having ended, it was time to get on with the next stage of the Great <insert name of season here> Project™. This merely involved the sanding down of the skirting boards on either side of the stairs to remove the remnants of the white gloss and the brown something-or-other which remained after the heat-gun and scraper had been put to work on them.

I started at the top on the outer-wall side and found that the first little section seemed to have the white paint very well ingrained; this could have been more of the emulsion which caused me such grief on the stairs themselves early last year. However, it came off easily enough, and I gradually worked my way down that side with the 40-grit.

It became clear before long that I was not merely scratching away enthusiastically at the woodwork; as I had to rest my elbow on the stair treads themselves to get a good load of oomph on the job, I found that I was also seriously abrading the point of my left elbow, which was now stripped of at least one layer of epidermis, leaving it raw and sore.

Evening by evening (and for part of the weekends either side), I rubbed eagerly away on both sides of the staircase (and, of course, on my right elbow as I did the banister side, with an identically painful consequence). Finally, I was left with this result:

Photo of sanded skirting boards on a staircase

Photo of sanded skirting boards on a staircase

"Right!", I thought. "The paintwork next!"

By this time, my June fortnight away from the pickle factory was approaching. I could have left the whole job until then, but I decided to steal a march on the beast a couple of Saturdays before. So it was that I was up shortly after 0700 and ready to start the job just over an hour later. I lugged the tin of Leyland white gloss to the top of the stairs, along with one of the new set of brushes I had had to buy because the ones I had used before were now suffering from rigor mortis.

On prising the lid off the tin, I found that I hadn't quite replaced said cover properly after the last job at the start of the year, with the result that the whole surface of the paint was overlaid with a skin reminiscent of three-day-old school custard. Prodding my way through this (and being reminded of the great Blaster Bates' infamous Shower Of Shit Over Cheshire while doing so), I finally reached a more recognisable liquid. So, violating my virgin brush in this, I set to daubing the newel post at the top of the stairs with enthusiasm and with no thought for the morrow.

I had finished the post and done a foot or so of the handrail (above and below), the first couple of spindles and the base beneath them when it started to dawn on me that All Was Not Well. Looking back up at the post, I saw that - despite my having put plenty of paint on - it now looked as if someone had smeared milk unevenly over it. And the rest of what I had already done was clearly heading in the same unlovely direction.

I sat on the stairs and pondered the possible reasons for this phenomenon until the answer came to me from On High (I'd left the landing window open):

"Thou shalt not put gloss paint on bare wood without priming it first!"

I was absolutely crushed, dahlings! As there was nothing I could do about it until whatever paint hadn't soaked right into the wood had dried, I spent the rest of the day lying on the sofa in a fugue, cursing my lack of research.

I finally started on the business of dealing with this failure on one of the evenings of the following week...only to find that the bloody stuff wouldn't come off with sandpaper. I had to resort to the scraper to gouge it out of the woodwork, as I had had to do with the stairs themselves. However, whereas the furrowed effect that such an action produces was fine on stair treads, it was going to look somewhat less than optimal here. Nonetheless, and with no choice left in the matter, I scraped on. It took almost the whole week to sort out even the smallish areas affected.

Tuesday of last week - my fortnight off now being in full swing - saw me head down to Screwfix again for a 2½ litre tin of primer. This I then began plastering on all relevant surfaces. My ability to get on with the job there and then was helped by the fact that the weather has been absolutely foul, precluding any possibility of work on the garden, no matter how much it needed it.

(I was slightly thrown by the instruction on the tin which said that it shouldn't be used if rain was expected; if I had taken the direction seriously, it would have been about September before I could have proceeded).

The primer didn't have much of an odour to it, and what smell there was wasn't in any way unpleasant, but nonetheless - and notwithstanding the fact that I had three windows open - I think it affected my mood a bit, because I started getting more than a little irritable. This, though, might have been caused by the complications incurred by that closeness between the handrail and the wall at the top end of the staircase to which I have referred previously. The contortions involved in trying to get coverage in that region were like playing Twister with the positions determined by a compass needle in a constantly-rotating magnetic field.

Somehow I managed it, and the primer went on far more easily than paint would, but I knew only too well that it would need a second coat, if only because I had already put two coats on the top newel-post and it looked as if it had never encountered the brush at all. So the next day saw a third coat being put on that and a second coat on the rest.

Finally, I was ready to try the gloss again, although I wasn't looking forward to the experience, thinking (not without justification in the light of the foregoing) that something was bound to intrude on progress.

This Monday just gone, I finally took courage in my heart and paintbrush in my hand and set about it. I did exercise a degree of caution, however; I painted the newel-post and left it for half an hour or so to make sure that the gloss would take this time. Finally assured on this point, I forged on, finishing the banisters completely by lunchtime. This wasn't made easy by my starting to go cross-eyed from the paint fumes. Oh, I was wearing a mask, certainly; but this had the drawback of causing my glasses to steam up so that I couldn't easily see what I was doing.

In the afternoon, I did the panel which goes up the hall wall, and completed that by about 1600hrs.

Not that this marked the end of the matter, of course. I knew that the whole thing would need a second coat anyway, in line with the experience I had had with what I call 'the surround', which goes alongside and across the stairs (as seen on the final photograph below). I had given it two coats and it had still dried patchy, so a third had been needed.

Tuesday morning saw me once again wielding the bristles and, with a shout of triumph which could be heard a mile away, finally laid down my brush at about 1430hrs and gazed in wonder on what I had wrought:

Photo of painted banisters

Photo of painted banisters

BUT! There was one job left to do, namely staining the skirting boards. I gave myself Wednesday off, so that I could go down into town for one or two things and have my occasional treat of fish and small chips from Jones' chippy on St George's Crescent. I didn't feel too lively on Thursday, but knew that I just had to get the thing done. So it was about 1500hrs when I got the tin of woodstain and the brush and got to work.

It took a bit longer than I thought it would (and I had forgetten that woodstain is considerably less viscous than gloss paint, and so tended to drip if allowed), but finally just before 1700hrs, I could finally say, "Job done!":

Photo of woodstained skirting boards on a staircase

I am now, of course, ridiculously pleased with myself; as Robert Robinson's mother used to say when her (adult) son had achieved something like putting up a shed, "It might have been done by a practical man!". Well I bloody well should be pleased after nearly six months of all this faffing about. This will be the last job of this magnitude I intend doing; nothing else that needs attention should mean that I have to start from scratch (or, as has often been the case, from scrape).

There is a middle English text called Ancrene Wisse, It's not a racy read, dealing as it does - in wimple-withering detail - with how to be a good nun. Human feeling only creeps in right at the end, where the scribe who had been detailed off to make the copy gives us this heartfelt exclamation:

"Me were leouere, Godd hit wite, do me toward Rome þen forte biginnen hit eft forte donne"

Translated into modern, it means:

"As God is my witness, I'd sooner walk barefoot to Rome than have to do this again!"

Rest easy, good monk! You are not alone.