They* always say building is one of the more stressful life events you could partake in, but I like to think that a sizeable chunk of those sleepless nights were experienced before the bulldozer arrived. Anyone who has lived in an old house (and by old, I mean by Canberra standards) will know that houses in the 50’s and 60’s were not typically built with much consideration to where the sun rises and sets, nor were they very well (if at all) insulated, and they all have their quirks.
Our house had lovely large windows facing West and only a small kitchen, bathroom and bedroom window facing North. It had a sloping flat roof which means that what little insulation was later crammed in (thankfully not Mr Fluffy!) was minimal and had little effect as most of the warm air in Winter flew out the expansive single-glazed windows and the rest probably escaped up the chimney. In Summer, it was a heatbox, the only reprieve being the shade of the oak trees. Of course, we knew all this when we bought it, and there are certainly lots of tricks to improve the energy efficiency of old houses. But we always intended to do something with it, and in the interim, I wasn’t really prepared for housemates.
Lying in bed one night, I heard an almighty crash and the terrifying sound of a heavy man bounding across our tin roof. I was surprised he didn’t crash through the ceiling altogether, and I had one of those moments where you stop breathing and think about how you can protect yourself, or escape, but you do nothing, just keep holding your breath until the noise has subsided and you release it slowly, as softly as you can, just in case they can hear you. It turns out that it was just one of the resident possums, using the roof as a stepping stone between trees.
Another night, we heard a loud bang outside the door. My heart stopped again. Someone was definitely in the house. I nudged Chris to go and investigate. The fireplace screen was knocked over and the cats were anxiously pacing back and forth. A baby possum had fallen from it’s perch in the chimney and crashed into the lounge room. Chris opened up the doors and shooed it out. Possums 2, Jane 0.
But the possums weren’t the real problem, in fact we grew to be quite fond of them (from a distance). Apparently, the previous owner was an Entomologist, who planted copious amounts of ivy, seemingly to attract insects. But it also attracted rats. Lots of them. When we cut back 50 years worth of ivy, woven between the dinner plate sized trunks, were rat runs. The vermin were coming through the cat door, as evidenced by the presents left behind, so we brought in the fumigators. They put a bit of rat bait under the house and warned us that if any got up into the roof, we wouldn’t be able to get them out because of there not being any access. “No problems”, we said. A couple of weeks on, I caught a whiff of something unpleasant. Mould? No, it was definitely something dead. I remembered what the fumigator said. Damn. One must have crawled into the roof to die. Not much we could do but wait for the odour to disperse. It didn’t take long, perhaps only a couple of days. I turned in for bed that night and switched on the bedside lamp. What was that little speck on my pillow? I peered closer. There was more than one, two, three…where was it coming from? I look up and see lots of tiny green wriggling atrocities dropping from the ceiling. Maggots. From the rat. Dead, above my head where I sleep at night. It was midnight. We stripped the bed and left the sheets outside. Moved the entire contents of the room into the spare room. Sleep with your mouth closed people, you just never know.
We also had ants. Once, when I was showering, a couple crawled out from behind the grab rail. I doused them with a bit of water. A few more ran out so I splash some more water on the area. Then they start teaming out, like the spiders in the Arachnophobia movie, so I start vigorously cupping water in my hands and frantically dumping it over the rail. Dead ants are pooling around my feet. I’m trying not to let them touch me but they’re bursting out at such a pace that I can’t keep up. I jump out and fetch some bug spray and spritz the area thoroughly and close the door.
There were other things, like blocked plumbing, a bee swarm and pantry moths (not sure if I can blame the latter on the house or a bag of flour), but you get the gist. It was time for change. So after one and a half years of design, we finally got the tick of approval to demolish and rebuild, *sighs with relief*.
*other people that have been silly enough to build or know someone that has and never will again