Monday, 25 November 2013

What ho!

What ho! What a jolly wheeze it was to get tickets for the whole bally lot of us to go and see Jeeves and Wooster at the Duke of York Theatre in the old metropolis on Saturday night. 

Such a rare treat to be the entire clan for a change: all three boys, plus Mater and Pater. Especially wanted to go because spiffing Stephan Mangan is in it, and we all think he's top hole. So, we pushed the boat out with a lovely nosh-up at Imperial China first, our absolute faves Chinese restaurant.

Bit of a pain that there was no rotten Northern line to transport us hither and thither from our neck of the woods, but no matter, with a stiff upper lip Pater looked up car parking in town and ascertained we could park for half price in a central car park on presentation of the old theatre tickets. Just the ticket! you might say.

The meal was top notch and then we tripped on round to the theatrical establishment, and would you credit it? No Stephen Mangan. Indisposed due to a bally rotten sniffle, or something. He says pneumonia, but you know what actors are like.

Was still a super show. Matthew McFadyen and the other thespian chap were a revelation. All those costume changes! What a hoot. And then it was time to a get a cab home, I mean, to climb aboard Pop's automobile. And would you believe it? The machine in the car park would not accept the ticket from the theatre. Scoundrels!

So, we paid thirty pounds. Thirty pounds! And drove home taking in the Christmas lights and sights, and flopped into bed just before the witching hour, only for Mater to wake up sick to the bally stomach. Something rotten in the state of Imperial China, methinks.

No matter, was a tip top evening nonetheless. And with regard to the old renovated kitchen quarters (I really dare not mention the topic), there is a floor there now, and units arriving today. All rather jolly disruptive to the old nerves, though, so I'm off to Totleigh Towers to get away from it all. Hope Jeeves has packed the smoking jacket, I'm in need of some serious R&R.

Love Bertie (aka E) x



Monday, 18 November 2013


(Fresh concrete going down.)

It has been a week in which 800 bags of soil, hardcore and cement have gone through our front door.

A week that has seen our new kitchen, which had lately had windows installed, been plastered, and was on the decorating home straight, transformed into a 52 square metre hole in the ground.

A week in which Husband and I have lain awake wheezing and staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night for more hours than we will ever care to look back and remember.

A week that began with shattering news and ended, thankfully, with a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel, or should that be foundations, and the joy of Middle One's birthday.

And also a week in which, in the midst of disaster, there have been positives: friends who have pulled the stops out to pick up the phone, to text and to write, to be supportive, empathetic and kind, and family, in particular my parents, a constant source of support and reassurance on the end of the phone, and most wonderfully of all, Husband. 

Who would have thought that going through a, let's call it 'very eventful', kitchen extension would have done wonders for the old marriage? In adversity, it turns out, we pull together and draw support from one another. Who knew?

It is quite literally one of my worse nightmares to have nothing but a hole in the ground at the back of the house. You know those dreams in which you have to give a speech and then you suddenly realise you're naked? Or when you are desperately trying to get through to someone on the phone and can't? Or when it's your Geography GCSE the next day and you haven't revised? (With me it's always Geography, no idea why. I got a B.) Well, I have one where the back of the house is missing. The builders have come and knocked it all down and gone away. And that pretty much came true, except that they didn't go away, thank God. I kept thinking that they might. Every night after they left I would do a quick audit of their tools and clothes: still there, I would think. Phew.

Here we are now, seven days on from 'that' day, the day we discovered that the concrete floor was no good and had to come up, and since then the builders have dug the whole lot out, down 400 mm into bare soil, carted nearly all of it out the front door, put down a new cement layer with DPM underneath (damp proof membrane, you see I know all the lingo now), built sleeper walls and joists and nearly completed the insulation layer before the marine ply and then underfloor heating go on top, all before the lovely Christof (see previous blog) is due to come back on Wednesday to lay the engineered timber. You see I told them, when we discovered the cock-up, that they had just over a week to sort it all out and if they manage to get it finished by Wednesday, as promised, we will end up only two days behind the original schedule and back on track for Christmas.

So, with reference to my previous blog sign off, I would say that it looks like he can do it, and that he is up to the job… but I'll have to let you know. 

Watch this space.

Love E x



Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Life is a series of problems.

The state of the concrete floor.

"Life is a series of problems that need to be solved," said Maggie Smith, aka the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey, during Sunday evening's episode. Or something like that. We seem to be having more than our fair share of them at the moment. 

Yesterday should have been a red letter day for us, a day to celebrate having a watertight kitchen again after 16 long weeks, with new doors installed by Express Bi-Folding windows, from Leeds no less. 

They have been great, a good service, on time, to a high standard. But. BUT. On the very day they were being installed, lovely Christof, from Waxed Floors in Clapham, popped in to test the moisture content in the concrete floor and check it was level before laying the beautiful engineered timber next week, and he was not happy. He rang me. I was at the library collecting parking permits. I sat down. 

"Bad news, I'm afraid," he said, and I knew what he was going to say. We already had an inkling that all was not right. 

I realised that my breathing had become a little laboured, shallower, and that my hands were shaking ever so slightly. All I could think was: "what's the solution, what's the solution, what's the solution?" I always want to hear a solution straightaway but you have to let people tell you the problem in detail in their own time first and usually, for me, that means SLOWLY. SLOWLY. SLOWLY. I'm nothing if not impatient, it's a characteristic I deplore in myself and it has caused me many a problem in the past. Act in haste, repent at leisure. I think about that a lot.

So, do you want the detail, or the long and the short of it? I thought so. Here's the long and the short of it. 

The concrete is crap, it's dust, something went wrong with the mix. It's not level either but that hardly matters by comparison with the quality. It has to come up. It is coming up right now as I write, and quite quickly and easily too as it happens, probably because it is crap.

What now then? What is the solution? Do we have a new concrete floor put down, which will be quick to lay but take 5- 6 weeks to dry before the engineered timber floor can be fitted on top, and which definitely means missing Christmas in our new kitchen? Or, do we get the builder to make a new floor with joists, with the underfloor heating coiled between? I believe that's called a floating floor. 

Answers on a postcard (or below) would be great because we really have no clue what to do for the best, and unfortunately neither does our builder. On the plus side he is trying to put it right. For free.

We originally wanted a concrete floor because they conduct heat well and retain that heat for a long time, and it's the cheapest and easiest thing for the builder to do (you would think). The downside is that it takes time to dry before you can lay engineered timber on top.

The floating floor is a skilled job. It all has to be cut and laid and made level. This is what, at the moment, we have decided to aim for because if it can be done in a week we can still make Christmas. IF. The builder says he can do it in a week...

But can he? 

And is he up to the job?

New windows going in. Finding out that the floor had to come up rather rained on our parade.



Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The builders

(Eldest shooting a video for his media project in the 'kitchen'.)

The builders have been here since Friday July 26th and I have officially had enough.

I am aware that moaning about builders is what Middle One calls, 'a first world problem'. We're not a displaced war-traumatised family in Syria. We're not Eritreans so desperate to flee poverty we're prepared to risk life and limb in an overcrowded leaky old boat on rough seas. We are a middle class family of five in south London having a kitchen extension. 

Still, I think I might be suffering from a PTBS, that's post-traumatic builder stress, except it's not 
so much post because they're still very much here. Unfortunately. Here are a few observations -

1. Kitchen extensions in Victorian terraced houses are inherently horrible because everything has to come through the front door. That's every wheelbarrow, every ounce of concrete, every pipe and wire and breezeblock, every brick, and every bum-crack sporting brickie

3. Builders don't tell the truth. They can't help it. Number one is the 
schedule. "Oh it will only take 11 weeks max," means, "It will take five and a half months and by the time we're finished we will all loathe the sight of each other."

4. Builders offer to do extra things in your house at the start of the job and then don't follow through. You want that underfloor heating tweaked in the upstairs bathroom? No problem, we can easily fit a new control panel for you. All such offers miraculously dry up the minute the build starts. We all know this will happen but choose to be optimistic.

5. Why?

6. The price always goes up, never down. Even if some things end up quicker and easier than they thought. 

7. Who am I kidding? Nothing ends up easier or quicker than they thought. 

8. Quite how the price goes up is a mystery since you told them exactly what you wanted at the outset. 

9. When builders make a mistake they pass the cost on to you. (For example, not building the trench for the foundations deep enough and having to re-dig them.) When you make a mistake the cost stops with you. How any builder in London ever goes out of business is a mystery, it's foolproof. Having said that...

10. So far our builders have - failed to cover the beautiful front tessellated path so that it's now worn and cracked and damaged, tripped out the leccy when we were on holiday so that all the food went off in the fridge and had to be thrown away, failed to consider disconnecting the kitchen alarm so that it went off the whole time upsetting the neighbours, put a foot through the cellar ceiling damaging a pipe and causing a flood, made an absolutely bloody huge mistake with the main supporting beam so that it was failed TWICE by the building inspector and there are now cracks all over the place, made a glass door with a frame too narrow for a proper handle, plaster-boarded around a fireplace with non-fireproof board, over-run by four weeks with no real end date in sight. Although I'm sure most of this is par for the course.

On the plus side the beam has finally passed, the plasterers are in today and the builder seems to be a basically good guy who gave Husband a bottle of vodka for his birthday and mended our wedding picture. And he says he'll fix the damage to the house free of charge. He's going to put that in writing.

So watch this space reader…

Love E x

(Beautiful glass door, no space for a proper handle.)