Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rewired for Sound

There are many side effects of building renovation that you don't consider until you're already commited. Our two children have suffered no end of upheaval, not to mention having most of their toys placed into storage and (more recently) being unable to have friends round to play or stay for tea - which means they doesn't get invited to other kids' houses either. People are not necessarily as understanding as you might think and a year of your life is a long time when you're a kid.

One of the biggest things for me has been the electrics and especially the lack of music in the house. Initially this was because we'd packed away our CDs when we sold the last house, never bothering to unpack them because of the imminent building work (no, I don't have an i-Pod. Dr B has an i-Pod but he takes it to work with him to play in the operating theatre; Stairway to Heaven being an interesting choice). When we moved in, there were only two sockets in the living room, one of which was occupied by the television and associated gadgettry and the other of which was located awkwardly behind a cabinet and had to serve a variety of random cables such as laptops and docking stations, hardly ever getting itself connected to the music system, as you can see in the top picture.

The electrics were in such poor shape that you had to be careful not to overload the system, which meant the cooker, dishwasher, washer and dryer had to take turns to use the electricity. You could wash your clothes and cook your dinner but you couldn't wash any dirty pots at the same time. The result was wet clothes waiting to be dried and dirty pots stacking up beside the sink. Never have I needed some loud music more.

Now we have no electricity at all, but we have socket boxes all over the place. I never thought I'd be so pleased to spend money on a rewire - I'll be plugging in with gay abandon; music and washing and cooking all at the same time. Party Time.


Over to the house to meet another carpet fitter this morning. His eyebrows were raised so high when I said the house will be ready for carpeting in six weeks time that they practically left his face - he has no faith.

The new kitchen is completely plastered, the playroom and utility are boarded and the rest of the house is about 40% plastered too. Plasterer reckons it will be finished by Friday and Matt the Spark is due back then to complete the second fix electrics, which is handy as we've no light whatsover and the clocks have just gone back.

As the plaster dries without any heating, the house is damp and there's condensation all over the windows, dripping down from the Velux windows in the kitchen. We now have to prove it's unlivable to the local council in order to claim a 90% council tax rebate, which means sending them photogrpahs and a letter from the builder. As an alternative, they might have considered asking their own building control inspector, who we have paid £700 to carry out periodic checks. The building inspector could easily confirm the condition of the house, but this is the council we're talking about, and there's no such thing as joined-up thinking.

Tonight's task is to plan the new bannister. Newel posts, caps and spindles all need to be ordered to replace the 1960's deathtrap which would effectively serve as a ladder for small children. One of the first jobs we did on moving into the house was to cover it with perspex (the other was to sit in the corner rocking and worrying about the dodgy electrics). Now it's being ripped out and replaced with something more suitable for a family house. I think the bricks are the only things left that we haven't actually replaced.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Week End

School holidays this week and we've been juggling childcare with trying to keep an eye on progress. Dr B impressed me no end by cutting out the old copper pipes from the central heating and taking them to a scrapyard with the old water cylinder, where he exchanged them for about £360 in cash. Ella helped carry the pipes, continuing her (self appointed) role as 'project manager.'

The plastering in the new extension was completed today, which means over half the total house is boarded and plastered and this time next week we'll probably have lights. Today we took one of our en-suite basins to the granite people who are cutting us a 1.5 metre piece of quartz offcut to sit them on, after which we went looking for carpets and staircase spindles. On Tuesday I had a minor heart attack in John Lewis when the nice man did a calculation of how much fabric I needed to make curtains for the living room, followed by a blue-light situation when the local carpet man calculated the square footage and told me I was looking at the best part of £3,500 to fit two 80/20 wool carpets and kit the remaining rooms with that nasty polypropelene stuff. I now realise this to be the down-side of enlarging your house - not only will it cost more to heat but you'll face enormous bills if you want new carpets, or anything else for that matter. And we don't even have curtain rails.

Alan the decorator came by for a part-payment this evening weilding the most enormous tub of paint I've ever seen in my life. Professional decorators must get through bloody vats of white emulsion, and though he's waiting for us to order colours for the rest of the house, I find myself option paralysed again. Determined not to mouth the words 'magnolia', not even in my sleep.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


As if my brain hasn't been hammered enough this week, arrived home to find paint and grout samples for us to choose. The 14 paint pots were supplied by the decorator and cost £40, which made me yelp because the children need new shoes. The grouts came from the tile shop in Altrincham. This is the sort of minute detail we continue to be involved with.

Today I'm off to the house to check where I will plug in lamps on the landing. Suspect we've forgotten a socket. Matt the Spark will be so chuffed when we ring him.


Photos illustrate the main bathrrom and ensuite, followed by the landing, half plasterboarded.

They've made us an airing cupboard on the landing, which you can probably just about make out. The ensuite in the second shot shows the space for the double shower held in place by the stud wall to the left.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow...

Returned from a week in Newcastle with some trepidation, not least because the nursery photographer has been in my absence and I'm still not sure whether Dr B put Alex's clothes on the right way round. He sent me a text on Thursday saying that the plaster in the old part of the house was knackered and needing to be completely removed, which made me feel slightly sick and provided quite a distraction from the neuroscience lecture I was supposed to be listening to.

I suppose it's a good thing that we've rumbled the dodgy plaster now - better than finding out when you try to hang a picture and the whole wall comes off at once. The house had thick plaster with no lining and had central heating for 50 years so it's no real surprise to find it had all dried out. At least we'll have nice smooth walls to play with.

Since learning about the plaster I've been dreaming about the house going 'back to brick' and imagining the dust and dirt entailed so that instead of taking notes in lectures I found myself plotting out schedules of work to enable us to get home for Christmas. I was expecting the house to look even worse than when I left but Dr B said I ought to go and have a look because Dr B knew that Carl the Builder had been on site at 6am yesterday morning with a brush in his hand (and that was a Saturday). In fact it didn't look too bad.

In the week I've been away, the gallows for the porch have been hung and primed and the stud walls upstairs in the extension have been plasterboarded. All of the plumbing is now in the right place after a brief moment when I spotted a rogue set of water pipes and couldn't figure out what they were supposed to supply (turned out the plumber was following the architect's plans rather than those drawn by the kitchen designer - the architect hadn't a clue how the inside of the house would look and drew a kitchen for illustrative purposes, which is very nearly what we'd have ended up with if I hadn't had my glasses on).

Yesterday they screeded the kitchen floor to bring it to the same level as the original house, so we can't walk on it for the rest of the weekend. I have the distinct impression it's all going to come together after all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I'm reluctant to mention to Carl the builder that our house has been turned into a mudbath because he'll probably sense a business opportunity and start handing out fluffy towels and charging membership. You don't get ahead in business without seizing your moment.

(Don't ask me why the writing on this blog is all 'spaced out' - I don't know - perhaps the man who hosts 'blogger' has been smoking weed).

Vinnie turned up on the job this morning. Vinnie is Carl's second-in-charge and I suspect the pair of them were bunking off school together this time 25 years ago, a crime I'm guilty of myself, which is probably why I can't add up.

'Carl's on his way' he said. 'He's got a plan, something to make you happy.'

What Vinnie and Carl don't realise is that I'm reasonably happy to begin with, though if Carl's plan involves sending us to the Bahamas until this thing's finished then I'll gladly pack my bags.

There's not been much progress over the last few days. The team are spinning several plates and one of the plumbers has taken time off work with a new baby - a situation we understand because we've been there ourselves, but the problem is we've both booked annual leave in a few weeks time - we need to get the house painted so it needs to be ready if we aren't going to waste our time off.

Carl's new plan involves sending a crack team of plumbers to 'batter' the house (as Vinnie put it) - it's a good thing I'm away in Newcastle all next week because the sight of the house being battered by plumbers would probably make me feel a bit ill, though I am slightly concerned about leaving Dr B in charge of the house and the children and wonder whether I ought to warn nursery that the little one might turn up dressed back to front with her knickers on her head.

You'll see from the picture that the house now has windows and the canopy roof at the front has been tiled in the last few days. The concrete slab has been laid on the garage floor, which means it can be measured for a door. The 'first fix' electrics are finished, which means there are cables hanging all over the place but still no electricity. There's still no plumbing, which I discovered when I used the downstairs toilet and had to return the next day with our mop bucket before I could flush the bloody thing.

This morning I had the man from the local Amtico supplier measuring up for flooring in the kitchen. I'd brought a sample door from the kitchen shop and typically, the matching floor was from the more expensive range (made in the UK) and not the Spacia stuff (made in China). And then the plumber pitched up and asked technical questions about the height of waste pipes and shower trays and I said I'd ask Keith the Click Clack, which entailed a trip into the shop and physically measuring the back of the toilets. For the record, the back of the toilet is 18.5cm off the ground. I haven't the foggiest what's going on in the real world these days but I know my waste pipes.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Empty kitchen

...and this will be the kitchen. At the moment it's all woodwork and breezeblock but once the 'first fix' electrics and plumbing are in, it'll be plastered. Carl the builder gave us the keys for the bifold doors so the workmen can't open them and stand their muddy boots on the margins.

Really, really thrilled to get to this stage so quickly. Well done, Urban!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bifold Doors

Very productive day on Friday, due largely to the fact that I sent Dr B to London on a 'field trip' to Pudding Lane. Ella's learning about the great fire of London, though the trip was just a smokescreen to get the spreadsheet to myself and do some simple choosing and 'boxing off' which takes much longer when Dr B's around (you should see him in a restaurant, by the time he makes his choice, I've eaten the napkin).

Arrived at the house early to wait for a spray painter who didn't show up - I suspect he thought I was actually living in the house and I'd have my feet up watching Jeremy Kyle, when I was actually loitering around in the mud and the dust, looking as though I was keeping my eye on what the lads were doing, which seemed to be feeding a lot of electricity cables under the floorboards. A welder was installing some steel joists to support the porch roof - the place was a hive of activity again.

Round the back, the bifold doors had arrived and were being assembled on the lawn. The installer didn't like the colour, describing it as 'girly' and 'sparkly' and for a moment I worried we'd chosen the wrong ones before realising he just hadn't a clue about renovating houses, especially when he eyed up the old sliding doors and wondered whether he could make himself a shower enclosure out of the (untoughened) glass.

Anyway, after a hastily scribbled note directing the spray painter to look at a wardrobe and a drawer (back of an envelope job), I hobbled off to see the kitchen designer to discuss knobs and other small details; 'hobbled' because I've sprained my ankle and I'm wearing a tubigrip and wondering whether it's grounds for time off work, you know, to 'project manage.'

I've finally arrived at some sort of speed decision making because the utility room doors and knobs and sinks and taps were chosen in record time (I'm virtually pointing and grunting at this stage in the project) and then it was off to the bathroom shop where I was sad to find Keith the click clack going out on a delivery because I've mentally adopted Keith and am on the verge of asking what it would cost to have him delivered to the house, you know, minus the discount but plus the VAT.

So two basins were purchased and a shower cubicle was ordered and then I was off to look at sectional garage doors and quartz bathroom worktops and patio flags, where the man delivering the concrete told me to watch out for cowboy builders before promptly passing me a tatty business card with three spelling mistakes that left me doubtful he'd be much cop with a spirit level.

Anyway, this is the rear view of the house this weekend - loads of progress this week, not least the roof and bifold doors. The patio sliders in the living room have also been installed. Do you like the bifolds? - gorgeous colour, beautifully made and well installed. Our architect left them off the plans after we asked him to draw them. He reckons we don't get the weather for them - we'll be the judge of that. And anyway, given the price of them, we'll have them open on Christmas day

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I was so tired coming home from work this evening, I thought I'd fall asleep at the wheel. We were up until gone midnight last night pouring over plans and marking on electric sockets, switches and aerials, for which I devised a nice little key in four shades of Ella's best coloured pens. The pens turned out to be sparkly pens but to be honest, I was so tired that I couldn't physically get up from the chair to swap them, and anyway, it's not every day you're presented with a nice glittery diagram, is it? Matt the Spark probably thinks I've lost it.

This morning we met with the kitchen designer, plumber and electrician, all of whom pitched up simultaneously at 8am and all wanting to discuss 'what goes where', so it was fortunate we were both able to get to the house. The window fitter, roofer and joiners were all working away by 8.15 - the house looked exactly like that programme '60 Minute Makeover', though unlike said programme, nobody was painting over my woodchip to give me a 'nice surprise.' (For the record, I'm not a fan of 60 minute renovations, which is why I'm making sure there's nothing left to renovate in this whole house. No nice surprises for me, ever).

We'd given plenty of thought to the electrics, though completely failed to notice that there was no wall space for light switches in the bedroom and ensuite, which meant a quick redraw of the stud walls and word with the joiner. And there's the issue of whether you'd have your outside lights all on at the same time - single switch or double? How many downlighters does one kitchen need? Where will we plug in the toaster? The hairdryer? My fingers when I've had enough?

To be honest, it was a relief to arrive at work, where I immediately telephoned the man who quoted for the driveway (Frank the Slab). He's been out to quote for the patio too, but nothing has appeared in the post. Frank's wife answered the phone, a voice betraying a 20-a-day habit and two grandchildren called 'Lambert' and 'Butler.' Frank wasn't home, she said - he'd popped to the co-op. By the time he called me back, I was in a meeting, so he left a Norman Collier message telling me he was coming back this evening with his lad, Terry - or at least I think that's what he said - the Norman Collier impression really was excellent and I heard only every third word.

'And this Quote our Terry gave you for the drive, it's wrong. I've got it £3,000 more expensive.'

'That's a shame' I replied. 'Cause I haven't got another £3,000.'

This week, I'm buying a lottery ticket.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Mike the groundworker was on site when I arrived at 8.15 this morning, an impromptu meeting organised last night in order for me to talk through the positions of the stud walls upstairs. I don't know whether he owns the digger but he certainly looks at home in the seat and I can't help wondering why I chose a desk career rather than something where I could mess about with spades all day.

I was excited to see Mike because it was Mike who's misunderstanding led to the drains being removed, which means he's here to rectify his handiwork and install some drainage to the house, thus allowing us the luxury of using the toilet when we're on site rather than avoiding the blue cabin on the drive. The blue cabin has started to smell - there's no way I'm parking my bum in there - I'll keep carrying my membership card for the local gym and go there if nature calls.

As you can see, Mike has exposed some drains which lead away from our downstairs loo - as we suspected, the drains were accidentally smashed during the initial groundwork, so they need sorting out.

Dr B was stirring a curry when I got home from work. He explained that he'd met with Carl the builder and the issue of the drains had been discussed. 'We have two choices' he began. 'They can put a new drain in that trench or they can put one in the garage and feed it into the downstairs loo through the wall.' He continued to stir the curry while I turned white at the idea of the builders even setting foot in said downstairs loo, let alone breaking into it. As you probably know, the downstairs loo is sacred. It's the only room that's been done - God only knows how I'll let the electrician in there to sort out the wiring, but I suspect gin will be involved.

'Don't worry. I told them to put it into the trench.'

Knocked Through

We appear to have reached the dreaded knock through, though to be fair, when you aren't living in the house there's not much to dread. This is the entrance to the first floor extension - the windows represent two bathrooms with stud walls yet to divide them.

You see that chink of light? That's us getting our life back, and it's almost within touching distance. I want to go home.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Monday - Beginning of week 9. I don't much like Mondays at the moment because on Mondays I'm at home with our 2 year old and I'm doing 'Mummy things' like taking her to a music group and making Yorkshire puddings and waiting for that hour she goes to sleep at lunchtime so I can make phone calls about matters more pressing than Postman Pat and/or his flipping black and white cat. I've got showers to order, garage doors to consider, quotes to chase. I realise this makes me a bad mother, but the situation is temporary and in any case, it really is very difficult because I can't even go into the build because I can't risk the stress of taking her in there with me. Keep. Calm. Carry. On.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather last week - 24-27 degrees at the end of September and the roof went on with barely a hitch. I say 'barely' because the porch roof was removed and couldn't be replaced because the joiner and structural engineer realised it needed some sort of metal thingy to stop the new roof from collapsing - and that's got to be fabricated.

So the porch was left exposed all weekend, which was fine until yesterday when it rained all afternoon and evening and our recently-delivered letters sat exposed to the elements. A woman would never have made this mistake - she'd have thought through every possible thing that could go wrong and top of her list would have been a porch without a roof. I rang the builder's wife today ask her to talk to him about the porch roof before my new textbooks arrive from Amazon and suffer a similar fate. It's good to have at least one woman on the job.

Anyway - progress on the house today - The scaffolding was supposed to come down but didn't - I think it's taken root and we'll have to put up with it. The joiners were busy hammering down the flooring upstairs, which means you can now actually walk around the new first floor. I discovered this by chance when I called by to collect the post - Mike the project manager invited me to go and have a look, which left him 'babysitting' my younger child while she sat in the back of the car (she's not allowed in the house since, as you know, she's always looking for new and interesting ways to kill herself and the house currently offers several options).

As I walked upstairs I could see that the main bedroom had now been split into two by a stud wall partition to create bedrooms 4/5. 'You're not going to put the other stud walls up today, are you?' I asked the joiner. ''because they're not in the same position as they are on the plans.'

The looks on their faces told me they were about to do exactly that.

'So where do you want them?'

'I haven't got the exact measurements. Dr B has been plotting the rooms out - I'll ask him when he gets home.'

'And the airing cupboard?' they asked

'Not in the same place,' I replied.

Bloody good job I popped in. Good job Mike told me to look upstairs, good job he was on hand to 'babysit' the car so I could go into the house. Living away from the build has obvious advantages, but not being on site every day is potentially much more hazardous.