Monday, 5 December 2011

Hey big brewer

I made cider.  Lots of cider.  With a few bushels from our own apple trees generously augmented by Jonesy I’ve made about 70 litres of the stuff.  Bottles now fill the wine racks in the garage.

It turns out that it’s remarkably simple, and as Jones himself said, you can’t really fuck it up.  Here’s how to make cider:

  • Pick apples

  • Mash ‘em up a bit

  • Squash ‘em a lot

  • Put some yeast in

  • Leave for a bit

  • Bottle

  • Drink

And now I have so much free and delicious booze that it is merely a question of will and desire as to when and whether I have a glass.  Time will tell how that particular equation resolves.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Hey big spender

Seb has submitted our plans to the might of the council for approval.  The presence of a planning notice on our front gate post rather wrong-footed us, as we hadn’t told the neighbours to expect it.  One or two fairly hasty visits to slightly worried looking neighbours later and all seems smoothed over (although comments are still open so who knows what will come).  And who can blame them, the new people in the village suddenly submitting a planning application, which could have been anything from adding an unsightly extension to knocking it all down and starting again.

In fact though, we’re making such minor changes to the house’s appearance that the only reason we need to get planning permission is because the insulation we are adding will increase the apparent size of the house by approx 10cm on three walls, which means that on balance the council would like our planning fees.

As that is what we have decided, despite my imagining all summer a completely different approach, Seb has persuaded us (didn’t really take much persuading, we just decided to trust him) to approach insulation from the outside.  So the plan is to re-roof the house and put Tri-Iso quilting down when we do so (I am still slightly unsure of this approach, but Seb seems convinced).  And at the same time put external cladding with approx 10cm of Celotex on the outside.

So we get a shiny new exterior, rerendered and redecorated and a warmer house, but it means that when it comes to prepping the rooms inside for redecoration it’s all down to me, whereas previously I’d imagined internal insulation and brand new plaster for painting.

And it’s a lot more expensive, although this is more to do with scope than anything else.  Before we moved in I’d envisaged about £25k to refurbish and reinsulate the top floor and redo the boiler.  Now we’re looking at three times that (if not more) because we’re going to do the whole house instead and do some electrical rewiring at the same time.  We’re in the lucky position that we can afford to do this, but it fair brings a tear to my eye, a dent in ambitious holiday plans, and probably puts off retirement a bit too.

If all goes smoothly, work starts in the New Year, so we’ll get three months of disruption, leaving me about six weeks to tidy everything up before the baby comes along.  Eeep.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Out of the garden and back into the media room

Sometime around April, in a fit of excitement and enthusiasm, I moved stuff out of what will be the media room (to be filled with consoles and gadgets) in preparation for getting it looking good.  Or more realistically getting it looking like it has been decorated in the last twenty years, not much we can do just yet about the two types of carpet that decorate the floor.

But, just as I was about to start sugar-soaping the walls and filling the manifold cracks and holes, spring hit the garden like a dose of growth hormones and I was forced to spend what seems to have been the entire summer outside nervously grappling powertools and hateful brambles.  The media room has languished, bare and unused apart from Ula’s frequent flings onto the beanbag.

During that period it has loomed large in my guilty conscience, and as a result the apparent work has grown ever bigger as I procrastinate or forget to get the tools and just get on with it.

Well, no more.  Islay forced me to pick up bucket and sponge and sugar soap the walls.  And last week, as another preparatory job, I attempted to mount the projector screen on the ceiling, so I’d get a chance to make mistakes and still get time to correct them before painting.

And make mistakes is exactly what I did.  Like some carefree oil firm It took 10 or so exploratory drillings before I struck the solid bedrock of the ceiling joists.  Then it took two attempts to get the brackets mounted so that they lined up squarely and accepted the screen.  And finally it took a few minutes to realise that our skewiff house means that the ceiling joists are not perpendicular to the walls, and so the screen is slightly off square.  Bah.

I’m going to see how it looks, but I can already tell that even if the lack of alignment is not that noticeable in practice, it will nag at me until I do something about it.  And I don’t really know what to do about it, that seems like one step too far for my cack-handed DIY skills.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

With an ever-increasing pile of hedge trimmings, pruned roses and lopped branches, I thought it time to take a match and lay waste to the waste.

Success.  I singed my hair, got the neighbour’s fence smoking (but not actually burning) and reduced all the clippings to a circle of pleasing white ash.  And I managed to disappear the two bookcases we dragged out of the media room some months ago.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Finalising the specification

Seb, our architect, has spoken.

(As an aside, I still cannot really grasp who I have become.  My mental self-image struggles to adopt to me being someone who talks about having an architect, or gardener, or tennis court.  It seems like it must be happening to someone else and I’m just along for the ride.  There’s a Talking Heads song in there somewhere).

So anyway, Seb has spoken and suggested external insulation instead of internal insulation for the ground and first floors.  Which is good.  I suspect it might be slightly cheaper (thus justifying the cost of an architect), will reduce internal disruption and give us an excuse to redecorate the outside of the house.

And combined with that guidance and his more detailed spec for the rest of the insulation, we’re on the finishing straight for this stage of work.  All (all!  Ha!) that we need to do now is commission the builder and get on it.  The list will now be:

  • the insulation

  • changing the boiler

  • changing the lights in the kitchen for LED downlighters, unfortunately this will entail changing the ceiling as the holes in the current ceiling are too big

  • putting power sockets and most excitingly of all for me, data sockets into many of the rooms

That’s probably it for this phase of work, but I suspect that will be enough to trigger lots of dust, shouting, heart-tightening expense and a little bit of stress over the coming months.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Ian T Gardner

Next door have a lovely lawn.  Really lovely.  I didn’t think I was much of a lawn man, but it looks simply sumptuous.  Ours does not.  We have what’s nominally known as the tennis court - it’s the right size and when we moved in the net was erected.  There’s even a line marking machine in the shed.  But Wimbledon it is not.  It slopes and bumps, and thistles threaten an entire service box in the far corner.

Turns out that next door’s secret is they have a gardener.  He turns up once a week and makes it lovely.  We spoke to him the week we moved in, and he’s a nice chap and went to school with Islay’s sister.  Anyway, we asked him to come and give us some advice and a quote for doing some hardcore pruning work to help us get the trees.  His patter is obviously quite good, because he persuaded Islay that he should come and work for a few hours each week up until Christmas to do all the pruning and lopping and everything over an extended period.

So he’s been coming for a couple of weeks now, and the privet/gorse/box hedge separating the upper lawn from the rockery (how posh are we?  ”upper lawn”) has now been halved to provide better views, and the vast beech hedge above the tennis court is almost halved too (it’s half halved).

(As an aside - that beech hedge was so tall that it defeated me, my father and a ladder in our attempts to prune the top earlier this year, and ever since it’s looked like some sort of big-haired Morrissey wannabe with short back and sides and a big quiff shooting from the top.  A rockabilly hedge.)

But Ian’s a groundsman at a local cricket club (or golf, can’t remember) and it’s obvious that lawns are his first love.  He’s decided to tackle the tennis court too, and is mowing it every week.  He reckons it’s recoverable.  Perhaps the Chishill Open will take place next summer after all.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The architects

So the first phase of our building work is now complete.  And relatively painless it was too.  It included:

  • comprehensively rebuilt dormers, complete with some insulation and nicely fitting lead work

  • the top three courses of the chimney have been replaced, as have some rotting bricks, a pot has been placed on top and the lead work has been re done

  • the decaying satellite dish and unused analogue aerial have been removed

  • the roof above the corner of the lounge has been refilled

  • numerous slipped tiles have been replaced

  • new drainage has been dug

  • new manhole covers have been set

  • and the appalling piece of gutter routing that was cut through the render on the corner of the house to expose part of the timber frame to the elements has been redone and re-rendered.

So the house is much more weather-tight than it was before.

Now on to the next phase.  What we’re planning is to rip out all the walls in the old bit of the house to stuff insulation into the space.  At the same time we’ll refit the top bathroom and I’ll take the chance to route data cables everywhere.  Oh, and we’ll rewire all the kitchen lights (replacing the ceiling as we do so) and we’ll put a new boiler in.  I’m anticipating that living through these works will be slightly more disruptive than having stuff done on the roof.

But we still don’t really know what we want, at least not with the detail that’s essential for a smooth build.  So, Islay called in a couple of architects.  Actually, she roped them in mainly because she’s more concerned with the long term than I am, and wanted help creating a vision for what we might do with the house to add an extra bedroom and bathroom and perhaps make better use of the amazing view we have.  I’m down with that, albeit that our budget won’t stretch to a Grand Design right now.  But it turns out that an architect could also help us in planning and detailing what we need to get done right now.  

Of course I knew that, but I didn’t really appreciate it.  I thought architects were all about lofty visions and intricate structures of glass, latex and chicken wire, not the mundane practicalities of how much insulation to put in.  Now I’m sold.  It’ll probably cost us a bit more, but it will make me more confident that we’re doing the right things, and probably make our excellent builder Neville happier too.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Warning heavy plant.

The cherry picker lurks outside the front door.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The builders start

After a summer of faffing we eventually commissioned Neville Francis to do the work on the roof that we got a quote for about five months ago.

So we’ve two builders (I’ve not met them, but Islay speaks highly of them) who are conducting various roof improvements.  The major job was to replace the lead work on the dormers, and judging from the incredibly rotten wood shards littering the lawn, not a moment too soon.  They’ve extended their work to pretty much rebuilding the dormers.  As I write the lead work is done and the windows await the render.

They’ve also done some nice neat leadwork above the porch, and coming up this week (weather permitting) they’ll be repairing slipped tiles, replacing the top courses on the chimney and adding some chimney pots.

It’s surprising how much the house is improved simply by tidying up the dormer windows, and I’m convinced that the inside of the dormer is less damp than it was before.  It’s also satisfying to have some serious work started now.  We’ve booked them in to do the insulation refurbishment in a month or so, and that’s the big and hairy job.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Ground Source of Frustration

Where did the summer go?  Two places I think.  First up a lot of mowing and hacking as I got to grips with how to at least keep the place presentable.

And second, with patchy attempts to get someone to provide us with a credible quote for a ground source heat pump.  We hadn’t planned to look into a heat pump as a new heat source for the house, and had budgeted and expected to simply replace the existing oil-fired boiler with another (much more efficient) one.

But I got my head turned by a discussion with a plumber back in March and then spent a few days looking at various forums and websites.  The result of the research was deciding more serious investigation would be good.  In theory, what’s not to like: cheaper heating, eco-credentials, no more dependence on oil and the lure of a government tariff sometime next year.

Yet, despite all the press you can uncover about such heat pumps, based on the people we spoke to it seems like cutting edge tech that hasn’t got the depth of expertise we were looking for to support it.  So for new, modern, well-insulated houses the various people would have been comfortable, but as soon as we showed them around our creaking, badly insulated properly they got nervous.

We got one good, well-thought through quote from early on, but even then they couldn’t advise us about insulation.  And all the others that Islay dealt with just seemed flakey or unreliable, offering little more than glorified energy efficiency surveys.  The worst one was the guy who got defensive when Islay asked if he’d done any previous installations, before telling her “if anyone else says they’ve done something they’re lying”.

Anyway, with winter around the corner, we set a time limit of the end of last week to try and get something decent from someone, which no-one met, so we’re going to simply replace the oil boiler.

In sympathy the boiler broke down last week, just before the family descended for the weekend.  A £60 hose repair has kept it limping along.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

April update

Has progress slowed, or time sped up, it’s difficult to tell.  All I know is that I’ve not updated this list in a while, but I think we’ve been busy.

The frogs laid their spawn, left a couple of dead females at the bottom of the pool and departed.  They might as well have evaporated for all that we saw of their diaspora.  The spawn has hatched and now the pond is full of little tadpoles basking atop water lily pads and nibbling the edges.  However, the continued dry weather is resulting in the pond slowly dropping and drying out.  Rain is needed fairly soon.

The good weather has lead to more time in the garden.  Islay has been particularly busy, weeding a good array of flower beds and planting out over half the vegetable patch.  The greenhouse is full of seed trays.  It’s like the good life. 

I’ve been mowing.  Until the ride-on mower just decided to stop this last Monday.  I refilled it with petrol and it wouldn’t restart.  It is now a useless lump, and no-one can come to fix it before next week.  Bah.  I also trimmed the conifer hedges with the excellent hedge trimmer my dad leant me.  Woot.

On the home improvements front we’ve made no progress with the media room.  I moved everything out, and drilled a couple of exploratory holes in the ceiling for mounting the projector screen, but something stops me getting started and we’re spending so much time outside that there doesn’t seem to be time to get going.  When the weather turns I’m sure we’ll make some progress.

Francis Neville’s quote was OK, but I had to get him to redo it to include the sort of insulation I specifically requested.  Whilst I don’t doubt his overall competence, I’m now worried about where to find experts in insulation practices.   I could spec this work through researching appropriate internet forums, but I don’t know what I don’t know, and good insulation is critical to success.

On the heating side, we got a quote for a straight boiler replacement (including flue and radiator work comes to about £5k) and a quote for the other end of the scale which is installing a full on ground source heat pump (about £24k).  I’m sorely tempted by the ground source heat pump, but as noted above, success with that relies on good insulation.  We’ll also have to draw down on more of our savings, which always makes me feel a bit funny.  More quotes are to follow before I can put the big decisions off no longer.

The electrician’s report came back.  Overall it seems there’s nothing likely to cause sparks to leap from the sockets and melt our brains, but there is some evidence that the ridiculous 50W halogen spots in the kitchen are melting the insulation on the cable above them.  This, apparently, is a bad thing.  But I wanted to swap those lights out for 10W LEDs anyway, so I’m not that fussed.

Other than that, not much has happened.  We’re still prevaricating over actually commissioning some work, but it’s going to happen soon.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

A big writhing knot of froggy love. Spring has arrived.

Monday, 21 March 2011


Last night, whilst eating dinner, the security light outside the kitchen tripped on to cast a glare over the back garden.  Nibbling delicately from the bird feeder was a pair of muntjack deer, which explains why the seed in that feeder had dropped so quickly.  Islay is now worried for the vegetables she has (not yet) planted.

Since the last update, we’ve had a couple more contractors round, and I’m starting to get my head around what we want.

Our friendly local plumber Ian came around for a half hour look-see.  That turned into an hour and a half long discussion with me about options and the like.  He confirmed what we already knew - that the boiler and heat pump was very old - and added some more subjects for discussion.  We’re now hoping to get from him a quote for replacing the current oil boiler with a) a new oil boiler, albeit a much more efficient one, or b) an air source heat pump.  The latter sounds pretty interesting, with an approx £6k cost for the device, we can move off oil-fired heating entirely.  What’s not clear to me is whether the house is suited to a heat pump.  More research is required.

We also had friendly near-local builder Francis Neville to prepare a quote for roofing and for insulation.  He hacked (actually neatly sawed) a hole in the top floor bedroom to reveal a 4” deep space with a very thin sheet of very old insulation in it.  He seemed to think that 50mm Celotex and then thermal plasterboard would make it nice and cosy.

Also, we’ve had a full wiring check conducted.  Our poor electrician quoted thinking it would take him a day (despite us warning him of the size and confusion of the place), and it has taken him two and a half days to work out which circuits power what and how it’s all put together.  The final report is not yet in, but the relatively good news seems to be that it’s not as bad as we might have feared and that little remedial work needs doing.

I got the mowers running.  This necessitated a full oil change on the ride-on mower, something I’ve never done before, which turned out to be pretty straightforward.  I was very chuffed when the engine kicked into life.  Together Sarah and I gave the full lawn its inaugural hair cut, taking just over an hour.  I reckon I’ll be able to do it in two hours singlehanded once I’ve worked out efficient routes.  Good news here is that the ride on mower has, I kid you not, a drinks holder which did a great job of holding a can of Coke this around.  In future I imagine a bottle of beer might live there.

Finally, I stripped all the picture hooks we weren’t using off all the walls.  Despite leaving holes behind, this has made the house look better.

With the mowers running, the next official project is to tackle the media room.  Sugar soap, Polyfilla and decorators calk are lined up, and we’d like to get it ready to paint within a few days.  I am nervous, who knows what state the walls will be in when we get up close and personal.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The fridge. Kneel before its awe inspiring glory

Heat and noise

We always knew Walnut Tree House would be cold and/or expensive to heat.  That much was clear from the EPC we got pre-purchase which suggested it might cost a mind-melting £4k a year in oil and electricity.  Having had to top up the oil tank a mere four weeks after 500 litres went in there, I can now believe it.

Ula’s room aside the house is quite warm.  The Aga does a good, if expensive and almost certainly inefficient, job of heating the kitchen, and our room, sandwiched between under eaves storage, lounge and Ula’s room remains plenty warm enough.

The main problem is that there is almost no insulation anywhere in the house.  Most of the walls are timber framed with a coat of render on the outside, plasterboard on the inside and only air, fraying electric cables and escaping heat in between.  Add to that a boiler that we believe is older than Islay and you can see why burning fivers to keep warm might be more cost effective than the current arrangements.

But, we’ve planned and budgeted (very crudely) for spending money this year, perhaps £30k or more, on uprating the insulation and installing a new boiler and radiators.  The problem we’re both finding is that we’ve no clear idea of what we want to do (other than make it cheaper to run and warmer to live in), no idea what our budget will get us, and worse, no idea who to ask to help us solve the problem.

Since we’ve moved in we’ve had the following suggestions:

  • My mate Ian says install an air source heat pump and solar water heaters

  • Our surveyor Brien says get solar PV panels

  • One bunch of roofers says we should take the roof off and insulate from the outside

  • One plasterer says take the plasterboard off and insulate the wall space

  • Another says don’t take the plasterboard off, just stick thermal lining over the plasterboard

  • And the internet says do everything, but it’s all terrible and you should do the other everything.

Most of which seem more or less reasonable, but none of which help us reach a conclusion.

Hope may be at hand, we’ve found some local heating and insulation contractors and consultants.  I’d just like to find someone who seems to know a bit more than I do and can put a proposal forward.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Week 3: The ratchet of progress

This blog seems to be little more than a list of works completed to date, but I’m going to keep it up so we’ve some way of looking back and seeing what we’ve accomplished.

In that spirit, here’s what’s gone on since last week:

We got an Aga engineer out to service the cast iron bad-boy.  According to him the smell of oil is not unusual, it’s just that our valvework is stored in a kitchen cupboard rather than just tucked away around the back.  Other than that it’s in rude health, and that’ll be £90 for the privilege.  Googling after his visit I found out it consumes 40l of oil a week.  A WEEK.  It’s a middle-class lifestyle affectation and, much as Islay’s enjoying it and I quite like its warmth on a cold day, I’m going to start plotting its downfall soon enough.

Islay played host to many contractors.  We got two quotes for plastering the media room (£110 and £630.  I think they’ve offered different things).  A quote for some fencing work.  A visit from some roofers, but no quote yet.

Our surveyor, Brien Walker, also paid us a follow up call (at our request).  He walked us through the survey and we got a chance to ask him how the property worked.  Very helpful, very friendly, highly recommended.  His nutshell summary: nice area, nice grounds, pretty poorly built but nothing wrong that’ll make it fall down.  Which is sort of reassuring I suppose.

At his prompting I clambered onto the flat roof on Saturday and, armed with a sturdy broom, swept five barrowfuls of moss out of the hidden valley and onto the compost heap.  It looks better now, and presumably might prolong the life of the roof a little.  Whilst up there I had the dubious pleasure of seeing quite how poorly cabled the antennae are (for there are two of them, and a satellite dish) with their cables draped loosely over the roof.  Two of them will be coming down soon.

I purchased my first ever crow-bar, actually a mini crow bar, and now I feel like Gordon Freeman.  My first target was not a headcrab but the recalcitrant shelving unit at the back of the media room.  With a little help from my dad it was out of the room and into the greenhouse in short order.

With naught but a squeegee and some washing up liquid I fitted a window film to the conservatory door so Ula can run pell mell around the house without (much) fear of losing a limb to falling sheets of plate glass.

And best of all our new fridge turned up.  It now looms vastly in the corner of the kitchen like a white domestic version of the monolith from 2001.  Albeit a monolith with two doors and really cool lighting system when you open it up.  It is a slice of 21st century awesome in an otherwise rather outdated house.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The ceiling leaks again

Between three different sets of guests and Islay’s 16 mile marathon training run we weren’t able to fit too much work in this past weekend.  Chief achievement these past days was to rip out the manky and dank smelling cupboard from the family/media room and take it to the tip.  Doing so revealed some musty smelling carpet of an entirely different pattern to the rest of the room and some strange expanses of blown plaster on the back wall - we concluded we’ll have to get a plasterer in to strip some of it back and make good the rest.

On the very positive side I finally took delivery of my new projector.  I had intended to clean, fill and paint the appropriate wall of the media room, but with blown plaster and guests I just didn’t.  I was finally allowed to fire up the new toy at 11.30 on Saturday night and despite a filthy yellow wall and masses of keystone correction, I was stunned by the quality of the picture.  TV will never be the same again.

Of course by 9am today I wasn’t feeling quite so chirpy when we discovered that Islay’s assiduous sealing of the shower tray wasn’t quite enough and water was dripping into the hall after our morning showers.  I suspect it’s because the tile grouting has gone, so perhaps more work than anticipated will be needed.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Why bother finishing the plastering when you can just cover it up with chipboard bookshelves?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

DIY begins

So we’re in now, the boxes are mostly cleared and most things are unpacked.  And now the fixing up starts.  Here’s what we’ve done in the last ten days:

  • Islay’s done more cleaning than I can comprehend, including attacking limescale with screwdrivers, bleach and a jutting jaw of determination.  The cloakroom taps now gleam where once they, er, didn’t.

  • Islay’s also resealed the en-suite shower cubicle, after four showers in rapid succession left a damp patch spreading across the hall ceiling she hacked it back with (again) a screwdriver and a jutting jaw and neatly resealed it.  The damp patch seems to be getting drier.

  • I spent £80 on rock wool rolls and, together with my dad, tackled insulating the loft above Ula’s room, disposing of a wasp’s nest in the process.  The loft space is now basically full of insulation.  We can’t tell if it’s making much difference as the weather is changing so much.  I’ve still quite a lot of loft space to go, but in order to do that we need to insulate the pipes and water tanks and get the timbers checked for wood boring insect.  That work’s on hold for now.

  • And with a screwdriver in my hand I’ve set about dismantling the extensive shelving at the back of the family room.  I had to dig numerous screw heads out from behind filler (missing three in the process that left holes in the ceiling).  The interesting discoveries so far are that there is a corner of the room previously hidden that was left unplastered for reasons we can’t determine, and the existence of some strange, small, regular holes in the ceiling that may or may not correspond to small damp patches on the top of the top bits of wood.  Further advice is needed.

  • We’ve also compiled a list of jobs both small and large, drawn from the survey and from our desires.  The list seems to do nothing but grow at the moment as we come to appreciate quite what Brien, our entertaining surveyor, meant when he said that the house was of merely average quality construction throughout.

Still the broadband is finally up and running, the house is plenty warm enough and I’m sleeping better than I’ve slept in years, so it’s not all work.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

From out of the boxes

Now that we live in the country, I decided to try to sleep last night with the curtains open so that the first light of the day might wake us.  Instead, neither Islay nor I slept well, minds churning with the enormity of the job we have just taken on and every time I woke the blackness outside the window consumed my view.

A cup of tea later and things felt a little better, so we started, once my dad had turned up to help with Ula babysitting, to unpack the kitchen.

But it took ages.  Just a seemingly non-stop grind of moving boxes around, steadily unpacking them and discarding mountains of wrapping paper, putting items on the side so that Islay could find an appropriate cupboard and then breaking the boxes to lay them flat in the hall.

By the end of the day we could see most of the kitchen floor and the pile of boxes in the hallway had grown to knee height.

Today’s delightful discovery was a pungent smell of oil from the cupboard next to the Aga, I don’t think that’s normal - must get a service booked.  More positively, a couple of very friendly neighbours popped around, providing yet more wine.  I like this village life.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Moving [in] day

Yazz had pretty much cleaned home, Doris, the old house, whatever we’re supposed to call it now top to bottom by the time we pitched up at 8.30.  A brief poke around the empty place, some tears (from Islay) and showing a trepidatious looking Dick around his new home and we were off again.

Walnut Tree House was nearly quiet when I arrived, a nervous looking Simon and Sarah finalising the cleaning and leaving of their own childhood home and the claggy fog of a February day.  They left just at Butch, Jon and Julian pitched up and reversed their vans, shouting at each other, into the drive.

It was pretty intimidating to walk through the new house in its empty state.  With each room unfurnished the fairly careworn state of the place was abundantly clear - “not so much tired as exhausted” as Betsy commented.  And as the rooms filled up with cardboard boxes, furniture and dirt tracked across the carpet it only became more intimidating.

I busied myself erecting furniture so that we could have somewhere to sleep for the night.

Some of the neighbours popped round to be social, and by the end of the day we wound up with three bottles of wine, a freshly baked Victoria sponge cake and a loan fridge courtesy of Denise.

Dinner was fish and chips on the table, loomed over by cardboard and grime, still feeling a bit rootless.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Moving [out] day

Drizzle and tea.  And a chance to take Ula to the chaos of Church Mice in the morning.

I found moving out to be unaccountably stressful, and I didn’t really have to do much.  The burly removal team rolled up on the dot of 9 - Jon, Julian and the correctly named Butch - and even whilst being shown around the house managed to come down the stairs carrying boxes to load on the lorry.  They seemed to work slowly, but the volume of boxes in the house went down and the volume of boxes on the lorry went up in a simple monotonic process.  Yet I fretted.  Worried about whether it would all fit, worried about how much would break, worried about whether they’d finish in time.

Islay despatched me to Church Mice to spend two hours with carousing toddlers and friendly mums, which helped calm me.  Then we left them to it, spending the afternoon at Granny’s whilst the guys slowly stacked it into lorries.

We had more stuff than anyone predicted.  The abiding image of the day was watching the three of them pushing hard on the back of a truck to get the door to close and hold back the mattresses that threatened to topple over them.  And they had to send for another van to get the stuff from the storage unit.

But then, an empty and quiet house and a night in limbo.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Boxes consume the kitchen

Life in the boxes

D-day minus four and I’m sitting in the lounge surrounded by bare walls, cardboard boxes and scattered toys.  At then end of this week we’re moving into Walnut Tree House.  We’ll be nearly doubling our living space, more than doubling our mortgage and taking on a list of necessary and desire improvements so long I can’t even begin to think about writing it all down.

This is the biggest life change since the last one (Ula, not yet two years old) and somehow the most daunting.  Life here in Doris is comfortable and easy.  I’ve developed a happy routine and Islay and I have have created a lovely, if slightly drafty home.

And at Walnut Tree House, who knows what new routines will develop?

Like my father, I’m a worrier, so in no particular order, here’s what I’m worried about:

  • There’s so much work to be done, and so much work we’d like to do.  How can we afford to do it, and what will it be like if we can’t

  • I won’t be able to have a beer after work and wobble home from the station on the bike

  • Islay will have no immediate support network, how will she cope?

  • What are we going to with 3/4 of an acre of garden.  At the moment we barely cope with a tiny patio, now we’re getting so much lawn we need two mowers, an unmaintained tennis court and a vegetable patch bigger than our current back yard.

  • I like walking into town when I’ve nothing better to do of a weekend, what will I do instead?

Ah well. The die is cast now, on Friday unspeakable sums of money will shuffle between bank accounts, and fifty boxes and crates will bounce in vans the 15 miles from here to there.  And when that’s done we’ll have to get on with answering the worries above, not worrying about them.