Archive | February, 2012

Two sugars please!

28 Feb

Our cavity walls are now officially insulated! Finally! I came back from the school run this morning to find two British Gas guys on my doorstep, not Marv and Harry this time (remember? the guys they sent first time round), I’m happy to say! No, this time I got the Miliband brothers , or the version of them that chose a life of filling cavity walls rather than politics (I’m sure there are parallels to be drawn between the two!). These guys unlike Marv and Harry were definitely experts at their trade. Before they started, they prowled the parameters of the house tapping walls, quizzing me about wall depth, chimney breast location, extension plans etc.  In all it took them four hours to complete the job – who knew cavities could be so time-consuming!

Now, like all the tradesmen that come round I offered the Miliband boys a coffee. They took it with milk and two sugars. Nothing unusual in that, except it struck me as I boiled the kettle that every tradesman, with the exception of two, that I’ve made coffee for since we moved in – 12 and counting – has asked for two sugars minimum. That seems a little high to be just coincidence. If you stopped 12 random people on the street and asked how many take two or more sugars in their coffee, I bet it would be fewer than 10. I’m not exactly sure of the significance of this preference of plasters, electricians, plumbers etc for sugary coffee. Are these guys simply the diabetics of the future?! Although there might be a link between the number of sugars they take and how good they are at their job because Marv and Harry took three each and the best guys in the double glazing crew took none!

Anyway, the neighbours must be wondering what on earth  was going on at our house today, because after the two giant British Gas trucks rolled out of the driveway, a big white van skidded to a halt outside. Out hopped a motley crew of four guys, each wearing high visibility jackets. After staring intently at the grass verge outside for a while, the tattiest and most dishevelled one broke away and ambled up my driveway. When  I opened the door, he immediately started talking at great speed and without making any eye contact. Clearly he wasn’t comfortable dealing with members of the public who weren’t wearing high vis jackets. Eventually after concentrating very hard and saying ‘sorry?’ a couple of times, I established they’d come to install a water meter. This was at our request as we are currently being billed on the basis of the old rates system, which means it doesn’t matter how much water you use, they’ll bill you according to the size of your house and the neighbourhood you live in. The four of them were out there for hours, digging away, fags in mouth, music blasting. The neighbours must love me, what with the roar of the machine that the cavity wall guys were using in the morning being replaced by afternoon of pneumatic drills interspersed with Radio 1 and the dulcet tones of four X-factor wannabes!

And how did I keep sane through the racket? A couple of hours pouring over my home furnishing/decor mags followed by  some internet browsing for inspiration for refitting the living room, once its been painted – I’m still working on the mood board. On my travels I discovered which maybe the rest of the world knows about already, but I didn’t.  It’s basically an online pinboard site on all sorts of topics like baking, storage, bathrooms. Cause of where I’m at just now, I especially loved a pinboard for the home by Jen Garry.

I also spent an age noseying round It’s billed as an online market place that sells unique products from hundreds of small creative companies. It reminded me of one of those arty shops you find in little English villages, the sort that sell vintage mirrors, wooden key holders and of course fudge!  I didn’t actually look for fudge on there, but I did find this……

Chesterfield Sofa

Here’s hoping that we come in under budget on the renovations!


Steamers, scrapers and perforators!

26 Feb

I’m going to resist the temptation (in spite of encouragement from IB) to start today’s posting with some innuendo about stripping and how I’ve spent half the weekend doing it! Instead I’m going to talk about how we’ve been engaging in some wallpaper removal, from the living room ceiling, no mean feat I promise you!

In spite of having a steamer, a perforator (which talking of stripping, looks like a piece of S&M kit) and two top of the range scrapers, it took us about 6 hours to get all the paper off. The room is roughly 6 metres by 4, so it’s not exactly huge but unfortunately the wallpaper seemed to have been put on with heavy duty paste and had been covered with at least three thick layers of emulsion. Even with all the right equipment, it was a struggle to get off.  Although partly, that was because of the challenge of using the steamer on a ceiling. You know how it goes with a steamer, you press it on the surface of the wallpaper, loads of steam comes out, and hey presto the paper usually comes away from the wall with a little help from your scraper. It’s not so easy though when a ceiling is involved. Firstly, there’s the effort of holding the steamer and the scraper above your head for extended periods of time. Unless you’re been pressing weights regularly, after about twenty minutes your arms get tired and you’re ready for a break.  In the end IB and I developed a routine that helped, whereby he’d steam a bit of ceiling in preparation for scraping then pass the steamer to me so while he scraped I steamed. Then while I scraped he had the steamer back and so on. That way no one ever held the steamer above their head for too long. The thing to watch out for though is steamer burn!  Steamers don’t like to be held upside down for too long, they start to spit boiling water which if you’re not careful (and I wasn’t a couple of times) can cause quite nasty burns. The best advice I can give, is NEVER steam directly above your head and if you do, don’t look up while you’re doing it and always lower the steamer gently from the ceiling at an angle so the water splashes away from your body. Oh and best tip off all, don’t get all Lara Croftish and overstretch while on the top step of the ladder, because you can end up cracking your knee on the wall on the way down and getting a steam burn to your forehead, which oddly enough can also cause serious injury to your husband if he’s brave enough to start laughing at you as you crash to the floor!

Seriously though, it’s been a blast and we’ve got a real sense of achievement from our 6 hours of stripping (sorry, IB insisted I put that one in!). Anyway, thanks to my dad who took the paper off the walls when he visited earlier in the month, the room’s all ready for the plaster coming tomorrow. Now we just have to choose some paint. I found a great colour in a home décor magazine, SC233, but when I rang up the London based shop which sells it, they told me it would cost £58 for a 5 litre tin and the best part of another £20 to ship it to me. Even a tester pot cost £14! I should have guessed that price might be an issue when I saw the ‘by appointment to her majesty the Queen ‘ badge emblazoned on the home page of their website.  So tomorrow I’m off to the Dulux counter in B&Q, where I’m told they can mix up any colour for you from all sorts of things, whether it’s a piece of carpet, a scrap of material or (I hope) a picture of a room in a home furnishings magazine!!!

The Perforator!

Tah dah!

Me stripping!

Curtain challenge

23 Feb

The sun is out! And what a difference it makes to this house. For a start, I’m only wearing  three layers of clothing instead of the normal five, even tho’ the  guys are still working on the windows!  But outside, WOW, the difference! The back garden is bathed in sunlight and it just makes it look so much bigger and greener. All the fir trees are standing tall and the various ever-green shrubs around are looking more pert, even the pile of old concrete slabs that the previous owners abandoned behind one of the oak trees looks good in the sunshine. And Max has come out to play! Max is the squirrel that lives in the bigger of the oak tree.  he seemed to have a partner when we first moved in, but either she was just a fling and has moved on to pastures new, or he’s forbidden her to leave the tree trunk because of poor nut etiquette or some such squirrel misdemeanour. Either way, he’s been gallivanting around the garden all afternoon! The kids love Max as they know all our spare cash is being sunk into the house and he’s the closest they’ll get to a family pet until everything’s done.

The sun has been a welcome distraction from the panic that’s starting to set in about sorting out new curtains for 18 windows. Up until now we’ve made do with what was there, generally creamy yellow floral numbers with mahogany pelmets (hard to imagine but true, see the photo below, they were clearly especially made and probably cost a bomb). Then there were a couple of sets of mustard curtains – and some white and lavender ones made from thick crunchy polyester, the kind they stopped making circa 1979. We had planned to buy the curtains room by room as we decorated each one, but the problem is that as the new windows are going in, the curtain poles/pelmets are coming down because they were attached to the old wooden frames and obviously can’t be reattached to the new PVC ones.

So now I’m wondering where to go for curtains and whether blinds (maybe with curtains) might be better on the upstairs windows of which there are six in total.  My friend H was round at the weekend and she is a marvel with a sewing machine. She’s only ever bought about three pairs of curtains in her life, the rest she’s made herself, along with cushion covers and various other material based household items. She regaled me with earnest tales of how easy and satisfying it would be to make my own curtains. Unfortunately she did this in front of IB, who now thinks this is a great idea. I wasn’t altogether convinced as a. I can’t sew to save my life and b. I’m sure the sense of satisfaction I get from ordering curtains from John Lewis or Next will be just as great! In the end though the prospect of saving a thousand pounds did strike a cord so I might just have to give it a go, although the first step is to buy a cheap second hand sewing machine on ebay. In the meantime, I’ve been searching the internet to see what sort of curtains I might like to ‘copy’  while looking for blinds that are not prefixed by the word ‘blackout’. I’ve  found some good ones on blinds2go and 247 curtains!

I still have no idea about colour schemes and I’m not very good at picturing what a room will look like once I’ve done it up a certain way.  But I’ve been reading up on mood boards at young house love, they seem like a fantastic solution for me.  It basically involves pulling together all your ideas for furniture, wallcolour, curtains etc., in one place, whether on a physical board or on the computer, so you can see more easily whether it will all work together.  I’m going to try putting one together for the living room and the spare room, now where did I put those house/decor magazines……………….

Max playing in the sun

A sunny Wednesday in our garden

Mahogany Pelmets

To bar or not to bar!

20 Feb

So two weeks ago, after receiving the last of our three quotes for double glazing – just like all the experts recommend – we booked a company to come and fit our new windows. While this company is only marginally cheaper than the other two, they said we could visit their window supplier to see the quality of the windows on offer and talk through our options in terms of handles, Georgian bars etc.  This seemed like a good idea, so  I popped in there one lunch time with IB. Now, if you’re ever getting double glazed windows, I strongly recommend you meet directly with the manufacturer,  you learn so much more than if you just talk to the middle man. The supplier was passionate about windows and spent nearly an hour answering our questions and talking us through the product. Best of all for us was that we learned that we could have lead-lined Georgian bars and it wouldn’t cost any extra which was excellent news as we’d thought our budget would only stretch to grey or white bars, neither of which look very classy.  In both cases it’s like a kid has taken a pot of grey/white paint and a ruler and drawn a load of squares on the glass. Also the guy was really open and told us not to bother paying to have the bars ‘distressed’ because the weather would do the job for us.  So, we ordered 18 windows and a set of French doors on the spot and the builders started work putting them in today!

I am SO excited at the thought of how warm I’m going to be when they’re done. In the meantime though, it’s going to take seven working days to get all the windows fitted. That’s SEVEN days of having gaping holes of varying sizes in the house in temperatures hovering around 1 degree. I have now abandoned all hope of ever dressing fashionably/presentably again. My daily uniform – in the house(!) – is five layers made up of t-shirts, vests, jumpers and a fleece, plus fingerless gloves and a four foot long woolly scarf that goes round my neck three times.  I do have to remember to unwrap a length whenever I go to the front door lest the person knocking thinks I’m recovering from some kind of plastic surgery.

We had of course hoped after our disaster with the cavity wall insulation that the windows might go in without a glitch but  we came home this evening to find the Georgian bars on the INSIDE of the windows. Our initial thought was that the glass MUST have been put in the wrong way around, after all, how would the bars ever become ‘distressed’ if they were on the inside of the house. But then, you know how if you look at something for long enough, it starts to look right? Well that’s what happened to us and by the end of the evening although we favoured the bars being on the outside of the window, we decided in a fit of post modernism that we could live with our Georgian bars on the inside. Anyway, it wasn’t to be, the builders just called to say that the suppliers had put the ‘fit this side out’ stickers on the wrong side of the panes, so our windows will be ‘flipped’ in the morning and the bars keeping us locked into this renovation project will remain firmly on the outside!

Old Windows

Shiny New Windows!

My not so guilty pleasure………….

17 Feb

Maire Claire, Instyle and Red – these are my usual monthly magazine addictions. On the 5th or 6th of each month, I head to my local newsagent to pick up my supplies. But not this month, OH NO! This month I’ve been perusing the DIY and decorating mags and OMG who knew how many there are to choose from. I stood in WHSmiths for nearly an hour this afternoon, scanning my options – Elle Décor, Homes and Gardens, Country Living, Ideal Home …………………….. I didn’t know where to start, I wanted them all but given the average price is £3.50 and my magazine budget was £10 (and yes I did go a little over budget in the end!) I had to choose carefully! The problem was each one had something in it that was relevant for me, like an article on how to choose the best oven, ten things you should look for in a new kitchen, and twenty stylish updates for under a £1,000! Just like my favourite fashion magazines which tap into an area of ‘weakness’ in my life and make me think they’re going to solve my problems, whether it be my working wardrobe, my battle to find the best fitting jeans or the perfect black trousers, each decorating magazine I picked up seemed to offer an insight into some DIY/decorating crisis that I am having or might have over the next twelve months!

When IB told me this morning that our budget wouldn’t stretch to me having my fix of fashion mags this month AND a bundle of DIY mags, I felt totally cheated and even rummaged around in all my handbags to see if I could cobble together enough loose change to cover this week’s Grazia (two pounds of money that had been earned pre-budget and big house surely didn’t count!). You see magazines are my drug of choice, they are for me a stimulant and a relaxant, a total indulgent escape from reality. I can be having a really crap day but put me in a corner with the latest edition of one of my favourite glossies and after twenty minutes of flicking through photos of the latest trends in jeans/shirts/shoes etc., I’ll be a little calmer and maybe even a little excited at the possibilities on offer for my next shopping trip. Little did I know that decorating magazines would give me all this and more. The same buzz, the same excitement (the pages smell just as good too!). But even better reading them is both a pleasure AND a constructive use of time because I’m learning stuff that we can put to use in our new house.

For example, we’re just about to do up the first bathroom. We wanted to make it all about the bath (a free standing thermafoam number from the bathstore) but IB’s brother and his wife (fellow doer-uppers) thought we were missing a trick not to put in a shower unit. While we could see their point, unfortunately the bathroom’s not that big and putting in a shower unit would make it a little cramped. The solution came to me when I was flicking through Living etc, a circular shower ring rail that would live above the bath.  I had never heard of such a thing but apparently they do exist and it’s the perfect solution for our compact bathroom!!! I’ll post a photo when it’s up and you can decide for yourself!

What goes up…………..

15 Feb

New boiler, TICK!, Thermostatic valves, TICK, oversized radiators replaced with ones within spec, TICK! Loft insulation, TICK! Oh I can’t wait to see the next gas bill – words I NEVER in my life expected to say! Everything I’ve read says all of these things should cut our bill by at least 30%, which is just as well as paying £200 a month for gas would put pressure on our finances that we really don’t need just now. Of course we would be further along the road to energy efficiency if the cavity wall insulation had been done on Friday but alas it wasn’t to be. Two guys turned up from British Gas, a tall one and a short one complete with beanies. They looked just like Marv and Harry from Home Alone. Anyway, they knocked on the door to let me know they’d arrived, then they went off to inspect the house from the outside while I made them a coffee.

Five minutes later there was another knock on the door. ‘Sorry love we can’t do your cavity wall insulation’. You what now? Turns out that although we’d removed the asbestos tiles  from the utility room (the little ‘outhouse’ on the side of the kitchen) as requested in preparation for the cavity wall insulation being done, the temporary plastic tiles we’d put up to keep the room dry were now in the way!  They were only held in place with a couple of screws but Marv and Harry were adamant they weren’t allowed to remove them. Fair enough I said. What about putting your ladders in a different position and working around the problem?  Beanies were shaken. ‘Sorry love not possible’. OK, could you not do the rest of the house and that bit (we’re talking about 5% of the house) could be done later? Definitely not was the reply. My friend who was here for coffee even said in a loud voice, “could they not unscrew the tiles for a few quid?” We glanced hopefully at them but they took refuge in their coffee which I now deeply regretted making them. To add insult to injury after we established that they couldn’t do the job, they sat outside my house in their van for another hour! So the materials to insulate my cavities and the men who could do the job were there but nothing was going to happen!  For someone with chronic chilblains who has to wear 5 layers of clothes everday to even stand a chance of feeling just cold rather than freezing, this was a form or torture too much to bear!

Anyway we lodged a complaint with British Gas and an engineer was sent out to inspect the site i.e. our house. He shook his head when I told him about Marv and Harry’s antics. Bottom line was he thought they should have started doing the cavity wall insulation (yeah so I was right) and asked me to get someone to remove the tiles while they were working on the rest of the house.  He even told me (off the record) that Marv and Harry probably looked at the size of the house and decided that they didn’t fancy spending their afternoon doing such a big job.  Anyway, the cavity wall insulation has now been rebooked for the end of the month, please let them send Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid this time, bet they wouldn’t be put off by the size of this house!!!!

The troublesome tiles!

Trade Talk

9 Feb

Why do builders/plumbers/tradesmen of any sort think that I’m going to know the answers to their ‘technical’ questions? So, for example just now I’ve had to deal with our (quite good looking!) plumber (one of the tallest men I have ever encountered in real life, his legs end around my shoulder level and I’m 5 foot 2 so I feel like I’ve been talking to his belly button for most of the week!) who wanted to consult me on how I would like our bathroom radiator plumbed in. He said something about it currently being plumbed into the hot water tank, so when the water in the tank gets hot enough the radiator will cut out. He wanted to know if instead, we would like it plumbed into the same central system that the rest of the house uses. A simple question like that I could have handled. However,  hunky plumber man felt obliged to take me through the detail of what the replumbing would involve.  To be fair to him, I do complain loudly to IB when tradesmen address all their conversation to him (and in a similar vein I hate when you buy paint/wallpaper/bathrooms/furniture, salespeople address all the conversation to me) and so it’s kind of refreshing to find one that is equally willing to talk to the woman of the house about the details of the job he is doing. But, I have to admit, I got lost half way through, and after the bit where he said something about taking the pipes down into the garage, in spite of concentrating really hard, all I heard was blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I did try to look interested. Then I started to panic because I know IB will grill me later on what exactly the hunky plumber said. Then my panic increased massively when I ended up saying yes to reconfiguring the system in the way he suggested, because what if IB knows ten reasons why we shouldn’t do it like that?!  Anyway I’ve said yes now and I can hear him banging away in the bathroom, so it’s too late to change my mind. I might just have to google ‘replumbing radiators into hot water tanks’ before IB comes home!

Although even if I have made a mistake, IB hopefully will still be riding the wave of excitement that his asbestos removal kit triggered when it arrived yesterday. Not since our eldest child donned his first Liverpool kit have I seen such joy! IB needs the suit because we have to remove the six large asbestos tiles on the roof of the utility room (a freezing brick construction that was added on to the kitchen years ago and which you have to go out the back door to reach) before British Gas will do the cavity wall insulation for us. IB has to extract a sample from the tiles and send it off to be tested so we know whether or not it’s ‘landfill’ asbestos i.e. the kind that you can bag and take to the tip! Here’s hoping!

Our 'utility' room!