You will probably find this is distemper or ceiling white, it's called a few different things. The best thing to do with it is to remove it and yes it will be messy and take quite a while. If you try painting over it the chances are that the new emulsion will just peel off taking the ceiling white with it. I usually put newspaper on the floor below the area, wet it a few times with warm water with some fairly liquid in and then scrape it off. Once it is off wash it down. After this give it a coat or two of watered down emulsion, 25-50% water to emulsion as a mist coat followed by a couple of coats of the finish emulsion. It is what they used to use years ago instead of emulsion but there are many houses that still have it on ceilings and often on the walls. Good luck with it. Shed.
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