I’m not much of a DIYer, so when I noticed rectangular patches of rust round the bottom of the exterior walls of Murmur-y-Don, I simply painted them white. I hadn’t a clue what they were supposed to be.
Then the other day when I jabbed a paintbrush at one of them, it collapsed completely. There was a bloody great hole behind it. So that’s how the mice get in, I thought. Luckily the ferocious Bembo, our black moggy, dispatches them cleanly.
Anyway, I did some research and discovered that these holes were built in 1907 for cast-iron Airbricks. Airbricks don’t even merit a Wikipedia entry (I guess America doesn’t have them) but a Chambers Dictionary definition tersely describes an airbrick as ‘a block for ventilation.’
But ours were cast-iron, and seemed to have the remnants of some sort of mechanism. More research, and I discovered the venerable firm of J & J W Longbottom in Huddersfield manufactured a wide range of cast-iron airbricks, including a model identical to ours, called the ‘Hit & Miss’.
Basically it’s a sliding grille. You can open it in the summer and close it in the winter. Great. Just what we need. I ordered seven. They arrived in London, and they weighed a ton. When I saw the invoice I had to take to my bed. They were eye-wateringly, humungously expensive. I had no idea. Bang went the plans for the new Maserati.
Items of such scarcity and value had to be well-looked after. So I carefully painted them in red oxide primer, making sure the sliding mechanism worked after the paint had dried, then I undercoated them, making sure the sliding mechanism worked after the paint had dried, then the first coat of gloss white, making sure the sliding mechanism worked after the paint had dried, then the second coat of gloss white, when I found that the sliding mechanism didn’t work after the paint had dried. I had to take a hammer to them, and now they will perform, albeit not as smoothly as when they were raw.
Hari Pugh is installing them as I write. I hope. Except that I bought seven, and now I’ve found we have eleven airbrick holes. So I’m either going to have to save up, or buy four plastic ones. The plastic ones are 98% cheaper than the cast-iron ones. I kid you not. 98.31%, to be precise.
I just have to grit my teeth and save. Nobody said this would be cheap.