Every time the report mentioned death-watch beetle, it seemed to intensify the menace by quoting its Latin name

It is not every day that one has to run up a chainsaw in a tight corner near the ceiling of one's sitting room, with exposed electric cables hanging out above and below. But desperate problems demand desperate solutions.

I should love to know how old our farmhouse is. We reckon 300 years at least, and a visiting dowser, as he swung his pendulum in the kitchen, once got a message that building had started in 1681.

When we bought the place 10 years ago, three centuries of settlement had left the house without a single upright wall or right-angle corner. In particular, subsidence had played havoc with the windows in the western end. Some of the stone mullions had lurched to the right, some to the left, and the coating of pebbledash stucco, put on as a weathershield maybe 50 years ago, had cracked and bowed.

In short, the house looked awful, and we vowed one day to put things right. Now at last we have started - and, sure enough, the old building has struck back.

The lintels above the windows were once baulks of oak four inches thick and 12 wide. Removal of stonework and plaster revealed that they are now largely powder.

I had always understood that if your house is infested with death-watch beetle, in the still watches of the night you can hear a faint clicking noise as the little brutes chew their way through beams or knock their heads against wood as a signal to their mates. Well - for 10 years we had listened acutely and heard nothing whatsoever; so it was an unpleasant surprise to discover what a feast they had made of our timbers.

Of course, it is possible that they quit or died while Queen Victoria was still on the throne. Nevertheless, at some stage they had concentrated their efforts on a most vulnerable spot, where a main beam that carries the living room ceiling rests on a lintel over a window.

Not only had the lintel been pulverised: the end of the beam had also been chewed into dust. With decay so advanced, there was a real chance that if we had not taken remedial action soon, the ceiling might suddenly have come down.

The immediate answer was to install a forest of Acroprops, the wind-up supports so beloved of builders. There was one in the cellar, floor to ceiling; another directly on top of it in the sitting room, ditto; two in the window opening - and for several nights we scarcely dared breathe in our bedroom above.

What finally drove us out was the searing stink of the insecticide with which a specialist firm injected the surviving beams. Every time the inspector's report mentioned death-watch beetle, it seemed to intensify the menace by quoting in brackets the Latin name, Xestobium rufovillosum.

Not all our discoveries have been so traumatic. One is that the main roof used to be mansard - that is, more steeply pitched at the bottom than at the top, with a bend in the middle. We also found that in the walls above the bedroom windows mice had laid in a store of walnuts, whose shells are now as desiccated as anything that was found in Tutankhamun's tomb. How they got the nuts in there remains a mystery, for the walls are two feet thick.

After six weeks of unspeakable dust and increasingly cold draughts, the new window-surrounds are in place. The mullions and drip-moulds, cut from a quarry near Bath, look beautifully sharp and solid. All we lack now are actual windows.

And that episode with the power saw? Ah, yes: needless to say, the one slab of oak that we found in pristine condition protruded into a space needed for the end of a new concrete lintel. Enter yours truly with his Stihl Wood Boss. In the confined space, the noise and fumes were appalling, but I managed to take off six inches of oak without touching either stone or electric cable.

When everything is finished, the house will look infinitely better. The whole structure at one end will be stronger, and we shall sleep more soundly, secure in the knowledge that our chances of dropping into the sitting room at dead of night have been much reduced.

But I have a nasty feeling that Xestobium rufovillosum is, or has been, grinding its teeth in many other places, and that our present upheaval will prove merely the first of several similar earthquakes.

News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Media baron Rupert Murdoch owns News Corps and 20th Century Fox
theatrePlaywright David Williamson is struggling to find a big name to star as the media mogul
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?