We are reminded when we return to the house after some days away –
It hits us as we open the front door:
We have damp.
We reel a little because we, our noses, had forgotten:
This is onerous, odourous…odious.
Yet in minutes, we have assimilated, acclimatised. I hardly notice the lush air hanging around my ankles… except when I take a whim to decorate. I realise my efforts would struggle to compete with the effects of our moist habitat, these creeping blooms that render it alive, baroquely beautiful. Yes, here we already have perennial bas relief for the emulsion generation, stippled pattern in corners where the roller can’t reach, stucco to challenge any plasterer…
I left a leather lace-up in a corner of the house lately only to find it a few weeks later transformed into a rather florid brogue – spores of fungi had found an amenable home there and begun to pattern the dank leather. The walls that form the backdrop to this quiet embellishment bear telling marks too: salt crystals from the erstwhile pantry have precipitated up the plaster, apparently a common phenomenon in these parts.
The air here reveals itself delicately on low surfaces, cool ledges, in places of stillness. It maps its meteorology silently, slowly, diffuses its micrograffiti where it will be undisturbed. Hidden corners catch its eddies, develop them with mouldy films before our eyes – the darker the room, the better. Scent undetected, except by vsitors, its stealth is exquisite, and the resulting filigree is subtle, ethereal, revealing. Its airy patterns are meaningful in ways that defy the stylised flowers and daubs of its artificial counterparts. So we will live with it for a while, this inherited decor, just so long as it can leave when it’s ready…
Heck, we live in Wales… this whole country is damp – that’s what makes it so beautiful. And anyway, our predecessors here would have scoffed at our faintheartedness, although the simple slate cottage they once knew has outlived them by over 200 years, and changed, beyond recognition, with the times, shouldering a succession of ‘improvements’:
There’s the render that reaches right down to the puddly ground, the downpipe that guides rainwater directly into… the foundations, the exterior paving slabs that have shifted through frost-heave into a slope towards the house… the complete lack of soakaway or drain around the perimeter…
The more complex our fortresses against nature become, the more they fight this losing battle, the one that they constructed in the first place.
But we devise equally complex… myopic, short termist… solutions:
The modern solution to our woes is a little like a welly boot – seal things in/seal things out – lord forbid we have any leaks…
Oh, but the chemicals involved don’t appeal to us.
We’ve been poring over conservation details that let moisture through, involve digging deep (into our pockets) and filling in with large particle aggregate to allow effective soakaway.
Yes, we think, this solution should be ‘water off a duck’s back’.
But then there’s the fact that we’re built only 7 inches off bedrock – potentially floating on an aquifer – so actually this is perhaps more a case of a sitting duck…