This is what I’m working on at the moment. The handrail is original but I’ve renewed the baserail and am putting in spindles to stop any kiddies falling through the gap. I went to a proper timber shop for the materials where they planed the spindles down to size and machined the baserail from standard stock. OK, it’s not particularly refined but it’ll do! There are a huge number of angles to cut – all at 41.9° – not only the spindles but also the fillets between them at top and bottom. A quick estimate comes to seventy-eight of them! Also, there have to be careful calculations and checks to make sure all gaps are even. Ah, so this is what I learnt that trigonometry for, forty-four years ago! Talking of school, the handrail is oak and reminds me of old wooden desks. I love the natural appearance and feel of it and will see if I can get away with leaving it untreated.
The old toilet pan from my blitzed bathroom seems to be taking root outside. I haven’t managed to dispose of it yet and part of me doesn’t want to. I’m getting used to seeing it outside my back window – it adds a bit of frivolity, quirkiness, fun. I’m seriously tempted to keep it. Maybe not there; maybe somewhere more out of sight, planted with red geraniums.
I moved into my house exactly 12 months ago – boy, time flies! I’ve been busy renovating it so that I can eventually rent out rooms and then go off working in Nepal or Cambodia – it involves replastering, new wiring, plumbing, bathroom and kitchen – in fact pretty much everything! Time might fly but unfortunately, progress crawls. I wish I was a lot further along the road than I am but there’s still much to do. It’s a big project and I’m slower than I used to be.
It isn’t easy when there’s just one of you. I admit that I’ve had occasional help from my son and daughter and from friends, for which I’m hugely grateful, but most of the time it’s just little, old me. For a while, my friend Gabor came round a couple of evenings a week. He was keen and not only did he help with sanding down and painting but his visits encouraged ME to be productive too. But he’s moved away now and so not much gets done in the evenings. Weekends are when work tends to happen but it’s hard to keep focus and maintain enthusiasm for such a length of time… I’m struggling but I won’t give up. Writing blogs? Social life? Pah! That’ll have to wait.
So, what stage am I at? Well, there’s still no bathroom but I have at least now got bath, basin, loo, shower and taps on order, and it should all arrive in a couple of weeks’ time. I still I haven’t chosen the wall tiles though, and they have to go on before the bathroom can be fitted. I’m hopeless at choosing things – whatever it is it seems to take me forever. Friends tell me they simply visit the showrooms, make a selection, and load up! For me, with no car, just visiting the showrooms is an ordeal. And once I’m there I seem to lack the imagination to picture things into my home.
However, the upstairs is nearly complete, decoration-wise. I’ve finished painting the stairs and landing which was quite an ordeal due to the height of the stair-well. A lot of ladder moving and precarious balancing. It’s not the colour I expected it to be – I thought it would be a kind of muted dusky-pink but it’s turned out a lot brighter than I expected. A LOT brighter! Friends have described it as “Gay Cerise” and “Camp Pink”! It certainly didn’t look so bright on the colour chart. Perhaps I should have bought a sample pot to try out but I’d already tried too many and rejected them all. It’ll have to do. It’s durable paint so it’s quite expensive and the cost to change it, and the effort too, would be just too much, so “Camp Pink” it remains. Perhaps I’ll grow to like it!
I painted the bedrooms a very light greyish-creamy-white paint called “Snowdrop White”. The colour is OK but the quality isn’t. Retail paint is dreadful these days – it contains very little pigment so you need more coats to get a decent depth of colour. With “trade paint” you only need two coats at most. Obviously I only learnt this after a bulk-buy of the shop stuff! And then I discovered that it marks very easily, so I ended putting a coat of trade paint over the lot – all three rooms. Maddeningly I then found that the trade paint was just as bad! Aaaarrrggghhh!! This particular paint is flat matt, and looks fine until you rub against it when it kind of polishes up and goes shiny. Well, tough (or rather, not).
I’ve gone through several iterations with the paint on the woodwork too. I won’t bore you with the details. I don’t think I’m being over-fussy, I can accept less-than-perfect, but so many things have turned out not as good as I’d hoped. I know that everything will get knocked and bumped as soon as the place is lived in but I’d like it to start out looking good at least.
I employed a plumber for a few days and now have radiators installed throughout, but no gas boiler yet. There’s no point putting one in yet because there are no hot water taps or shower to test it on. Not having water in the radiators does at least mean that I can easily take them off the wall to paint behind. I’ve also had the gas meter moved from the kitchen to an outside wall – a right palaver to organise and expensive too, but it gives me a bit more flexibility in kitchen layout. The gas will have to be re-connected when the boiler goes in. The kitchen, needless to say, hasn’t been started yet.
I’ve asked the excellent Romanian guys who did my plastering to come back in a month’s time to do some non-plastering jobs – like the tiling and the bathroom installation. I can do all that stuff myself but I’m just too slow. I’ll get them to put up a fence on the boundary too even though it’s my neighbours’ responsibility, and have them cut back the neighbours’ ridiculously-huge over-hanging trees which dominate my garden, create near-permanent shade and draw all the goodness out of the soil. It’s not as if I can sit under the trees either – they’re filled with generously-shitting pigeons! Pigeons love to empty their bowels in dense, dark, hideous, inconsiderate, insensitive, thuggish Leylandii, or so it seems.
I had hoped that the house would be finished by the end of this year but there is still the downstairs and kitchen to do. Unless I get myself more organised, that prospect is looking increasingly remote. I’d better get those tiles chosen…
It’s been a while since I wrote about my house project but now, the 31st December, it seems as good a time as any to give an update. I moved in on the 25th of May so this is seven months down the road.
To say that the house occupies my every waking hour would be a gross exaggeration but it’s a big part of my life. It feels a bit of a millstone round my neck, to be honest. I have so much to do, organise or decide upon that it sometimes gets me down. Often I have to force myself to make an effort to get going and distraction comes really easily.
It’s cold now but thankfully the winter here in middle-England has been mild to date. Very wet, cold, windy, but not often below zero. Fingers-crossed it continues. I still have no central heating but cope by taking a couple of portable heaters from room to room, depending on where I’m working. It takes time to warm things up and some forethought, and the cold air between rooms is uninviting. I can think of plenty of excuses!
So, what progress? The biggest thing is that I’ve had all the rooms, bar the kitchen and dining room (my room), re-plastered. The two guys, Viktor and Claudiu (from Romania), did a very good and careful job. They embedded a fibreglass mesh everywhere so any future cracking should be minimal. The finish is very smooth and straight. They completed late November after being here three months on-and-off. I will admit, though, that I was relieved to have the place back to myself again after so much upheaval and dust.
The electrical wiring, which I’m installing myself, is coming along. I’ll get it checked and certified by a professional – have no fear! I’ve painted the ceilings of the first two bedrooms and have put in lighting fittings. Like the heating, the electrics can only really be finished once the decorating has been done and that’s a long way off.
I’ve been fitting skirting boards – there was a stack of over 100 metres of them in my lounge at one point! I’ve only done two rooms so far so the pile is still big. They have to stay in that room because, until I cut them to length, at five-and-a-half metres they’re way too long to get up the stairs!
In one of my better decisions I got the guys to halve the depth of the airing cupboard. A lot of hammering and rubble, but there’s now more room in the bathroom for a radiator and perhaps the heating boiler. The tiles have been hacked off and the walls re-plastered, but the old bath, basin and toilet are yet to be removed.
Painting – I’ve finally chosen a colour for the bedroom walls – “Snowdrop White” by Crown, which is a very pale gold-white shade. Now that I’ve painted the first bedroom with one coat I’m not sure that pure white is right for the woodwork – another dilemma!
There are three big jobs coming up – redoing the bathroom, refitting the kitchen and installing the heating. They all involve plumbing and a lot of disruption. The jobs are all inter-related in some way and need design choices to be made. I won’t do the work myself – I have more than enough work with the electrics and especially the redecorating – I’ll have to get tradespeople in. It all needs careful organising and, without a car, it’s not easy getting to places to choose fittings. But, I suppose, I’m making steady progress. Onwards and upwards!
My house renovation is coming along slowly. It’s unbelievable that eight weeks have passed already – there doesn’t seem to be a lot to show for all the time I’ve been spending on the place. The biggest task has been the removal of the paint from the walls in preparation for plastering. I’m not wholly convinced that it’s as necessary as the plasterer tells me it is but he’s the expert and should know better than me. It’s very time-consuming and I’ve tried to apply a bit of technology to speed things up. My belt sander works but eats belts at an alarming rate and produces so much dust so quickly that my vacuum cleaner simply can’t cope. My friend’s Dyson overheated and stopped working after ten minutes… not a good sign! I’ve tried loads of things including blowing the dust into a dustbin full of soapy water. The bubbles would trap the dust… or so I thought. Okay, okay, I should have seen it coming… a roomful of bubbles and just as much dust! You learn from failures they tell me.
In the end I’ve just had to resort to scraper, wire brush, wet and dry sandpaper, abrasive sanding pads, industrial “Scotch Brite” and lots and lots of water. Very messy. Very slow. Hard work, but no dust!
Roughly five weeks ago I moved into my new house and started to renovate it. All my spare time is going into the project and I’m very aware that time is passing and I haven’t reported on how it’s going. Thing is, it takes me quite an effort to sit down and come up with sensible words so I’ve been putting it off. But I want to record and share this process so, as they say in Sri Lanka, “what to do?” I decided to challenge myself by attempting a video blog for a change and here’s the first installment. It may be the first of several or a one-off, time will tell. Recorded in two chunks, in one take, and no editing (so it’s rough!)
I lost count of how many times I said “it’s going to have to go!”
Since March, it has been a case of “Operation House” and little else. I viewed the place on the 2nd March, viewed it again on the 4th, made an offer on the 5th and had it accepted on the 6th. I finally picked up the keys on the 23rd June… three and a half months! Don’t ask!
On the 25th June I hired a VW Transporter van and, with the kind help of my housemate, Gabor, I moved in. One load to move my stuff in, and three loads to the tip to remove junk! The executors had kindly left behind the things I had asked for but, in addition, a whole lot else they thought would come in handy. But, to be honest, it was very dated and very “tired”, so it had to go. Two beds, old sideboards, dressing tables and cupboards, 3-seat sofa and armchair, a threadbare carpet and a whole lot more all made their way to the local recycling centre.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve stripped four rooms and cleared out the sheds. There’s now a big pile of bags full of wallpaper and, once-trendy, polystyrene tiles and covings cluttering the patio area, along with paint-pots, woodworm-ridden old timber, ancient deck chairs, rusty tools, old wall cupboards, and the estate agent’s sign. I took an electric storage heater off the wall yesterday and narrowly avoided being crushed as it smashed on the floor. (God knows what the neighbours thought that was!) It’s now been dismantled, with the twisted metal and bricks in their respective piles.
The garden is very overgrown but it has a lot of potential. It has a greenhouse, a big old plum-tree and fruit beds. Oh yes, and four snakes! Rubber ones, about a metre long and very realistic! I have yet to figure out what they were for apart from scaring new owners! The old guy who lived here must have been a bit of a gardener when he was able. It probably all became a bit much for him – he died when he was ninety-eight after all! Just breathing was quite an achievement at that age, let alone looking after the house and garden! He had some strange ideas about decoration (and snakes) and, probably, not a lot of money, but he kept the place as tidy and clean as he could. I would have liked to have met him – I think we might have got along. It turns out that I have met his son, 73, who was a local barber. In fact I regularly sat in his chair, had my hair cut by him, and talked about why I wasn’t at work and where I was going for my holidays!
I feel very comfortable here – it’s a good, solid, well lived-in house, and it has a lot of potential. The area is quiet and the house looks out onto a tree-fringed green. The neighbour parks his unsightly big van in the front but, if that’s my biggest bugbear, then I think I can cope. I’ll probably have a word with him anyway…
So, four rooms stripped and more to go. Today I plan to remove the main fireplace but may also tackle the other three. It needs new wiring, heating, plumbing and will all have to be totally re-plastered, re-decorated and re-furnished. The kitchen and bathroom both need replacing, and the garden needs blitzing.
I’m working all my spare hours on the place – I can see that I’m going to be very busy for a long time but, as my friend Edna observes, I’m happy.