Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Top of the House

In the old fairy story, when Rapunzel let down her hair, her would-be lover didn’t say, hang on, love, I’ve just got to get this past Health and Safety. (There’s a reason why no-one writes Fairy Tales any more.) He was probably a French roofer in his day job.   
We have a little house in our garden, whose roof has failed under the weight of ivy and snow. It will need to be replaced completely, wood and all. Of all the jobs we have to do, that’s the romantic thing that we’d like to tackle first. Forget the septic tank; and who needs a kitchen? We’ve got a ruin, and it’s calling to us. 

Roofs. Most of your life, you don’t think about them. They are up there, doing their roofly thing, and you rarely raise your eyes above the parapet, as it were. 

When we were thinking of moving over here, we had to choose an area in which to look for a house. France is a huge country, so where do you start? It seemed worthwhile to come up with a limiting factor, so we decided to go for west and south enough for rounded red tiles to take over from black state. 

Never having lived with a clay roof before, we had things to learn. For instance, they aren’t attached to anything: they just curl onto each other. You have unders and overs, and they slot together in a sleepy fashion and lie there, being a roof. After a high wind (of which we had a lot) you might have to resettle a few. And bees can get in amongst them, and did – but that’s what happens when you have acacia trees right next to the house. 

Clay tile roofs are low, shallow of slope, and accessible. 

Slates are different; they are attached with nails, and lend themselves to a different sort of architecture. The fairy-tale Chateau of Josselin, for instance, has a tremendous slate roof. It has round turrets with conical pointed hats, a miracle of workmanship; but the point is that the castle is built on a rock overlooking a river, and the roof is a long way up, and the ground therefore a very long way down. 

I watched some men re-laying slates on a lesser building recently, but not for long – I had the sudden urge to sit down on terra firma and stay low. The roof was on a Medieval house, high and tall and very steep. The men were not attached in any way, but strolling about up there with trainers on their feet, tossing slates about, directly above the pavement just as it has always been done. 

When our neighbour needed a couple of tiles replacing after a storm the local man came to do the job. He’s over seventy, and has various metal plates inserted where, in the course of a long working life, he has fallen off and hurt himself. He parked his van, and got out the tools of his trade: two wooden ladders. He climbed up to the roof in a pair of old wellies, did the repair, climbed back down, and was off again. 

Where is the scaffolding tower, the English metal roofing ladder with the curved end to hook over the apex, and the full harness? Well, they built Josselin without them. There’s no apex on a conical roof to hang a ladder over. 

Our little house is nothing in comparison: a mere speed hump compared to a mountain. But it is a roof, and therefore up there. It will involve – well, anyone but me – climbing about with slates and nails and hammers a long way from the ground. 

So I was just thinking: isn’t it more romantic to have a ruin? 

There’s a lot to be said for a septic tank, after all; maybe we should do that first, and think about it. Sitting down.

© lms 2012

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean - they have a similar disregard for H&S here. Painting the top half of a four-storey block of apartments by hanging from a rope and pulley, the ground end of which is held by a work-mate. You wouldn't sleep with his wife, would you?