It must be every householder’s worst nightmare, but in a 200 year old castle water dripping from the ceiling is more than just a bad dream.
It’s howling a gale outside, the rain is coming at us horizontally and the roof is clearly not keeping it out. I’m walking up the main staircase when I feel a sudden cold clammy something on my head. I look up and another spot of water falls directly into my eye. As I squint to see where it is coming from I can make out with horror a dribble of water trickling down one of the ribs in the vaulted ceiling.
The last time I checked there was no vaulted ceiling section in B&Q. No easy three step click together panels for repairing curved plaster cornicing and gilded bosses. So there is nothing for it but to drop everything and investigate before the whole thing ends up on the floor.
First stop is the loft. The main access hatch is some thirty feet away from the staircase ceiling and there is no direct access above it so it’s a case of shimmying along some beams and rafters and sticking my head sideways through a small access hole, together with one arm holding the torch to see what’s going on. I feel like I’m being born but in reverse.
What I can clearly see (and it is rarely the case that anything is this immediately apparent) is that water is being blown into the roof space under some dodgy lead flashings. This means I am going to have to get out on to the roof and do some emergency repairs.
Time is of the essence, it will be dark in an hour and a half, the wind is blowing ever harder and I don’t like heights unless I’m inside a pressurised cabin.
As I tog up, Wendy tells me to be careful. I say that I will bear that in mind and thank her for the advice.
The roof is only really accessible in two ways: Either a) by abseiling down on to it from the top of the tower or b) squeezing through a tiny window half way up the tower and landing in a a mucky puddle in a rain soaked gutter – this really is like being born all over again. It is, however, my preferred option of the two. Once on the roof I fancy I’m quite dextrous and am soon in the required location straddling a ridge and ready to slide down the tiles to the valley gutter twelve feet below.
I’ve come armed with some sheet lead in one pocket of my Drizabone which has done nothing towards keeping me dry as a bone since I snagged it on the TV aerial on another heroic rooftop escapade when I was almost left dangling over the battlements by my sleeve.
I did manage to rescue myself on that occasion but my tales of near death and heroic self-rescue were eclipsed by the family’s indignant howls that I’d completely messed up the television signal. I was hurt at the time that being left fatherless seemed less catastrophic than being left without TV.
Fortunately we’ve now got a satellite dish instead and I’m nowhere near it.
In my other pocket I’ve got some duck tape, some sticky gooey roofing tape and my super tool (a sort of Swiss army knife only better because it’s got a jolly good corkscrew on it). Wendy believes every man should take care of his super tool as she says you’ll never know when it will come in useful. Along with ‘do be careful on our storm lashed roof’ it’s invaluable advice I couldn’t do without.
I’m soon done and sure that the problem will be at least temporarily fixed – which in castle speak means it should hold for a good ten years. But a far bigger problem now presents itself. As I turn to retrace my steps I’m faced with twelve feet of very slippery black slate roof tiles at about 45 degrees, the wind blowing straight at me and no resources other than my super tool and half a roll of duck tape.
The only way down is going to be to scale the battlements and get a long ladder brought round to the front of the castle. I ring down – never, never go onto the roof without a mobile phone – but it’s engaged. I ring again and again. Still engaged. Surely, I kid myself, someone must be concerned for my safety up here.
It’s not long before I begin to wonder how long it will be before I am reported missing, will my swollen and bloated body be discovered next summer by a chance fly past of a passing microlight?
After what seems like hours but is, in fact, probably about sixty seconds, the phone rings. I think, ‘they’ve remembered me and while I’m up here they just need the television re-tuning’.
I answer, ‘Hello, thank God, I’m stuck.’
‘I’m trying to find reception.’
‘I’m looking for reception.’
‘Never mind the bloody TV, I can’t do anything about the reception, I’m nowhere near the satellite dish, who is this anyway?’
As I peer over the battlements at the front I see a very angry looking man with a red face jabbing his finger at the doorbell with a phone pressed to one ear and I realise that the castle phone must be diverted to me. I don’t much care for the look of him but it’s clearly unreasonable to blame him for my current predicament.
‘Oh yes, sorry, reception speaking, how may I help?’
‘I’m at the front door, it’s raining and there is no answer to the doorbell.’
‘I’m terribly sorry, I’m in a similar situation, perhaps slightly more precarious situation. It’s raining, I’m on the roof and nobody’s answering the phone, I don’t suppose you’d be able to nip around the back and fetch a ladder would you?’
‘What?!’ he bellows.
‘No, OK, bad suggestion, just bear with me a moment.’ He looks up and I duck out of sight behind a turret.
Just then I spot a cable to my left running vertically up the roof and over the roof ridge and decide this may be just the extra support I need to get over the top. It is just enough to allow me to plant my feet in the right spots but as I reach the top the cable comes loose and although I am saved from dying a cold and lonely death, I can’t help wondering if that might not have been a better end for as my eyes follow the cable in my hand I realise it leads back to the satellite dish, or did.
Faced with a choice of squeezing back through the tiny window or abseiling down the castle wall on the now disconnected satellite cable, I opt for the squeeze.
When I get downstairs (happily the leak has indeed stopped) I find Wendy placating the gentleman who says he has been insulted by a raving lunatic who claimed he was on the roof and wants to know what sort of place we think we are running. She is simultaneously trying to calm the children who are as equally irate about the snowy screen on the television and the horrific prospect of a Hannah Montana-less evening having to converse with each other.
I back out stealthily and wonder about ending it all honourably and quickly by throwing myself on the pointy end of my super tool.