Living on a building site.

I’m trying not to get stressed out but the house is a bomb site at the moment. On any given day there may be a plumber, carpenter, decorator or labourer here and some days they are all here! It becomes a full-time job keeping everyone in hot drinks and biscuits. And then there are the dogs. I have to pen them in and herd them from room to room and of course, all they want to do is say hi to everyone. I set my alarm each night, get up very early and try to be dressed and ready before anyone arrives, although there is usually a van or two on the driveway before 7.45am. When Vern is here I can relax a little as he is always up with the lark but three days a week the responsibility rests on me to be up and ready before they turn up. By 4pm they have all packed up and gone and I am left with the aftermath of the days’ work. Did I mention the dust? It gets everywhere. It covers every surface and collects in every crevice. I hate it. Often there is wet paint to avoid, not easy with three dogs running around. New hazards crop up all over the house from tools being left behind for the next day, extension cables trailing everywhere and actual holes in the floorboards. I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m having my house beautified beyond all recognition but IF we ever move house again it will have to be to a completely refurbished house with nothing to be done, because I am never doing this again!

Our builder Lee reckons Phase One of the Money Pit refurb will be complete in the next couple of weeks. He is throwing everyone at us in a bid to get it done as he has a huge job coming up in the Spring elsewhere which will need all his tradesmen. Phase One covers installing underfloor heating in the living room, decorating and creating new steps. When we moved in there were huge semi-circular steps down into the room which dominated the floorspace. These are now sitting proudly in the skip and we have smaller square steps which are much more modern. We are also turning the downstairs bathroom into a wetroom with an LED shower which has mood lighting. Now that the hall floor has been levelled we are decorating throughout and replacing the floor, along with the old wooden banisters. We now have eight new doors downstairs, all of which shut properly and I am planning to upcycle some of the old furniture. Vern plans to build a bookshelf and tv stand using industrial steel fittings (his company makes them) and reclaimed wood. It’s all very exciting. This weekend I got really excited when I found the perfect light fitting for the living room. It was pricey so I had to compromise on the hall lighting which will be simpler and cheaper but it’s totally worth it. Since the day we bought this house I have had a vision of how the living space should look and I’m sticking to my guns, no matter what. Lee thinks I’m mad because I want to paint the hall ceiling dark grey but he will eat his words when he sees the finished result!

Phase Two will happen later in the year. This will be a total kitchen revamp. I want to include my baking hobby in my little tea party business so I will need an all-singing, all-dancing kitchen with double oven and proving drawer (this is a deal-breaker) to create beautiful cakes and scones in. The bedrooms also need a facelift but we will decorate those ourselves once all the building work is finished. Oh, and I forgot to mention that we also need to work on the back garden as there is currently a two foot drop down from the orangery! So plenty to keep us busy, and broke, but I cannot wait to get it all finished. I’ve been taking photos throughout to make into a book so we can look back at the changes.

Thanks for reading. xx

The Money Pit strikes back.

It has been an eventful, roller-coaster ride of a week. I’m slowly recovering from my mystery virus. Most of the yuckiest symptoms have gone but I’m still exhausted.

I think if you did a survey and asked a hundred people what is the worst thing about having building work done, I am certain they would all say it’s the dust. I mean thick layers of dust that find their way onto every surface and into every exposed body cavity. My poor little French Bulldog Wilson has a constant runny snout because of it. My hoover is suffering from over-use. Every day I am fighting a loosing battle to try to keep one space in the house dust free. The orangery is my sanctuary. Even though it is freezing cold as most days the plumber is working on the dysfunctional pipework system, I come out here and sit at the table to write. The dogs sit in the windows and look at the garden. I pretend that the hammering and sawing, the sounds of Magic radio which the builders insist on listening to and the almost daily changing of the skip on the driveway are not happening. Occasionally I am asked a question by one of the guys. Something technical like the thickness of tiles we have chosen for the bathroom? I usually look at them blankly at this point. Huh? I just chose the prettiest ones, I don’t have a scooby how thick they are! At some point during the day the contractor, Lee, arrives to check on progress and update me on stuff. He is old school and doesn’t really like talking to me because I am merely a woman. He is very much more animated when talking to Vern. They can chat away for ages about football and beer and other blokey topics. Unfortunately for Lee, my husband is usually away three days a week with work so more often than not he has to deal with me. We have a strictly “no need to worry your pretty little head about that” relationship, which I suppose is fair enough given that I don’t even know what thickness the bathroom tiles are for goodness sake!!

Anyway, progress this week has been good. The hall and living room ceilings have been skimmed to get rid of the ugly ripples of Artex which afflict the whole house. Why do people do that? What possesses people to draw patterns in plaster on their ceilings like tacky tattoos? It’s a mystery to me. The bathroom finally has a floor and as of today, a brand new ceiling, well, a plaster board impression of one anyway. The tray for the walk- in shower is going in too, it’s all very exciting.

In other news, I have managed to build a website for my china hire business. I bought a domain name ages ago but have only just got round to using it. Hopefully it will bring in some business. I’m well stocked, registered and prepared. Now I just need some bookings. I have done a few charity events so far for practice. Fingers crossed I get to show real customers what I can do!

Thanks for reading. xx

 

 

 

Bakewell tart cake

This is not one of my prettier cakes. I made it for my daughter’s birthday last weekend. She loves Bakewell Tart and this cake has all the flavours of her favourite dessert. It’s an almond flavoured chiffon cake filled with raspberry jam and cream cheese buttercream. The decoration was a new one on me. Unfortunately I mixed some jam into the frosting I was using to crumb-coat the cake which made it a bit soft so when I tried to pipe on the different colours they were sliding off!!

Well it certainly tasted better than it looks and my daughter didn’t mind the scruffy appearance, she was happy with the flavours. xx

A massive can of worms.

Early January and I have finally succumbed to the virus that has struck just about everyone I know and that I smugly declared I had dodged. It got me. Sunday evening I woke in the middle of the night feeling so sick I was convinced I had food poisoning. When I was a teenager I foolishly enjoyed a drunken kebab from a van in the high street after a night of clubbing and whatever meat I had consumed contained a very nasty bacteria which made me terribly ill. I turned vegetarian after that for many years, indeed even the smell of meat cooking still turns my stomach sometimes. So, back to Sunday evening and the struggle not to vomit. I was feverish, achey and my head was literally banging. I spent the remainder of the night propped up next to my snoring husband, keeping dead still and finally drifted off to sleep.

My alarm went off at 7am as the builders were coming early to start ripping out our second bathroom. My husband had left a couple of hours earlier for three days in Birmingham where he works. I felt so ill I actually sobbed as I staggered around, seeing to the dogs and clearing the bathroom. I must have looked shocking when I opened the door to the plumber and his mate because they asked me if I was ok. They set about removing the giant corner bath and were soon hacking tiles off the walls, whilst I huddled in the corner of the sofa, sipping ginger tea, my head throbbing.

By lunchtime, there was a problem. Once the tiles on the floor had been taken up it was clear that there had been a serious leak happening for a long time. The floorboards were soaking wet. The old bathroom had been clad almost entirely in hideous green tiles and every single bit of pipework was boxed in so it had been impossible to tell if something had been leaking. We knew that the downpipe outside the bathroom went straight into the ground originally, a problem we had to fix soon after we moved in when we realised that rainwater soaked right into the walls instead of being channelled away from the house. My husband set up a makeshift solution involving a water-butt and a hose pipe but after several heavy downpours we got our builder to dig a channel along the side of the house and put a soak away into the drive. This solved the issue of the damp on the walls but no matter what we did, the ceiling was always covered in black mould.

The building contractor turned up and explained that the floor had to come up and be replaced completely. They then turned to the ceiling and once again it was found to be wet. The plaster came down easily, revealing a layer of ugly polystyrene tiles, every builders nightmare. What’s more, underneath the tiles was a third ceiling made of a strange fibrous material and underneath that was the original ceiling made of narrow strips of plaster. Beneath all this, the wooden beams were wet, signalling an historic leak coming from above. Thankfully the plumber quickly concluded that the leak had stopped  so plans were made to replace the ceiling once the electrics had been put in place. Some heaters were installed to try to dry everything out overnight.

The following morning the builders returned to take down the rest of the ceiling. I was still feeling unwell so again I huddled on the sofa, watching tv while they hammered away next door. I had broken the news to Vern over the phone and although he was worried, we both were pragmatic about everything.

Today I got up early again and I felt a little better. My son decided he needed a bath before work so he had to use our beautiful refurbished upstairs bathroom. This is an added stress of only having one bathroom for the time being. It is the best room in the house and it is mine. Woe betide anyone who makes a mess in there! For the first few weeks my husband was too frightened to use it in case he got water on the floor. I was looking forward to the new floor going in downstairs but unfortunately it wasn’t to be. Our poor plumber discovered something even worse under the floorboards in the hall. Turns out the waste water pipe which feeds out from the bath and toilet into the hallway ended right there rather than continuing out of the house. The void under the floor in the hall had standing water in it where all the water had been draining into the earth. We had opened a mahoosive can of shit-eating worms and now there was nothing to it but to push on and fix the mess left behind by the previous owners of this botched house.

So, tomorrow the builders will return and begin the laborious job of digging down into the footings in order to reinforce the rotten joists before they can replace the floor. It will mean weeks of sharing my bathroom with my smelly son but hey ho. I may just go completely mad before this house is finished. More to come as the project continues.

Thanks for reading. xx

 

 

Reasons to be thankful – Part 2.

July 2018, Early on is my son Patrick’s birthday. He now has his own little family so they spent the day together then we had dinner with them in the evening. It is astonishing how quickly he has matured now that he is a father. The middle child, Patrick was always frivolous with his money, but once he and his fiancé had their son he realised things had to change. We are so proud of the man he has become.

Every year, usually in July, my husband and our youngest son go off on a boys holiday to Germany. Vern loves Bavaria and the mountains in particular so they go across to France on the Eurostar, then drive for twelve hours or so across to Germany. They always stay with a family in Wallgau who rent out their flat upstairs to tourists. One year when my son was unable to go I went along to see for myself why they loved it so much. The family is lovely, the flat is on the top floor of their beautiful wooden Alpine lodge and has a balcony where you can sit and listen to the cow bells chiming in the distance. The area is stunning but unfortunately I am not good with heights so the prospect of taking a cable car to the top of a mountain filled me with dread. When the boys go they relish climbing in the mountains and visiting six or seven different countries during the week, so I leave them to it. I actually look forward to a week by myself, although I do miss them after a few days.

This July we celebrated my mums’ 70th birthday. She had tasked my sister and I with organising a party for her. She wanted a traditional English tea party for all her friends and family on a strict budget. We began months beforehand, hiring a hall locally and mum picked the date – July 15th. At the time we didn’t know that this was the date of the World Cup Final, nor did we know that England would do particularly well this year! All the preparations were going swimmingly but, as England got through round after round we began to get twitchy. Then, just a week before the party the owners of the venue told us that they needed the social club back on that date for the football. They made it clear that we would not have full use of the facilities if we went ahead with our booking. Mum steadfastly refused to change the date as there were people coming from other parts of the country so my sister and I searched frantically for another venue. By some miracle, a friend of my sisters who owns an equestrian centre said we could use her barn to hold the party in. It is huge and is used for wedding receptions most of the year so everything we needed was there. We hired vintage china and cutlery from a local business but did everything else ourselves, catering all the food, making bunting to hang around the barn, fashioning a photo booth in one corner and baking a huge, tiered birthday cake. I baked scones and cupcakes and Em made beautiful centre pieces for the tables with sunflowers. It looked gorgeous and mums face when she walked in was a picture. We enjoyed organising the party so much that we decided to go into business ourselves. We now have a fledgling china hire business which we run together.

July ended on a high with my birthday present from Vern. He had managed somehow to get tickets for us to see Damien Rice in Spain. We flew out to Barcelona on the Saturday and spent the afternoon by the pool in scorching sunshine before heading to the beach for an evening meal. Then on the Sunday we spent the day exploring before making our way to Castle Roig, which stands proudly on top of a hill, overlooking the sea, for the night concert. I have been a fan of Damien Rice for years and had always wanted to see him live. It was an unbelievable evening, he was on top form and I will never forget it!

August 2018, We were invited to the chairman’s barbecue, hosted by Vern’s boss, at his beautiful home in Oxford. I was especially nervous about this as I am socially retarded (my own definition) and don’t cope well around people I don’t know very well. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and we were collected from our home for the hour-long journey. When we arrived we were greeted with waiting staff holding trays of champagne and canapés. I was so worried that I would fall over or say something stupid but thankfully the time passed without a hitch, although there were no sausages or burgers on the barbecue, rather a huge marquee with waiter service and yet more champagne. I felt like  a fish out of water but I survived!

At the end of the month the builders arrived to begin work on the orangery. They demolished our old conservatory within a day but the reinforced concrete base proved trickier to get rid of. The poor guys had to chip away at the solid concrete and cut out the metal grids for almost a week. They then had a few days to get the walls up and secure the building before we were due to go on holiday.

September 2018, After a very stressful, dusty and noisy few weeks we were more than ready for a break. We flew off to Greece, leaving our son to look after the house and our three dogs. We travelled to Kefalonia where a taxi was waiting to take us to the port, about an hour away. We then got on a local water taxi for the short trip across to Ithaca. The sea was very choppy and our party of British holidaymakers soon felt a little queasy. I tried to focus on a landmark in the distance to stop the nausea but twenty minutes into the journey we were diverted to another water taxi which had broken down. We picked up their passengers, thankfully only two people but five large suitcases and they squeezed into our tiny boat for the rest of the crossing. By the time we reached the island I felt like kissing the rocky landing dock, I was so glad to be on dry land! Our rep was fantastic and gave us all water and sweeties, we must have looked a fright. Once we found our little villa we quickly settled in and spent a glorious two weeks basking by the pool and exploring quaint little villages. Ithaca has a Monastery, high up in the mountains. It is a gut-wrenching, bottom-clenching car ride on treacherous roads but once you are up there it is undeniably beautiful with stunning 360 degree views of the island. It is a very spiritual place, I definitely felt peaceful up there, almost in the clouds. It was an unforgettable day. We also took an early evening walking tour to the supposed ruins of Odysseus’s Palace which was fascinating. I studied Homers work at school and much of the ruins match his descriptions. We ate delicious food, swam in the warm sea and fully unwound. The only downside was that Ithaca is home to some vicious wasps. We were both stung and the results were quite unpleasant!

When we returned the house was still standing and both son and dogs were still alive so work resumed on the orangery and the aforementioned son started his exciting new job in banking.

October 2018, Not much to say about this month. The building work continued, delayed slightly by several leaks in the roof. I also decided I needed a change and spent the whole day at the salon having my hair coloured bright red, orange and yellow, autumn hues to ring the changes. I loved it so much that it is still those colours now. My stylist Louise was accepted by Wella onto a Master’s Degree Course in colouring on the strength of the pictures she submitted of my hair, so we were both happy.

November 2018, a fairly quiet month. Preparations for Christmas were underway and the orangery was almost finished. The plastering had been done and the decorator was ready to paint the walls. I made a special cake for a friend who was turning 50 and began thinking about how I was going to celebrate my milestone birthday next year. We decided we needed a very large dining table for the orangery so that we could fit the whole family around it and, after an intensive search, we found someone to make one to our specifications. It is solid oak, almost three metres long and very beautiful. We ordered six leather aviator style chairs and two dark blue, velvet Carver armchairs to go around it. Exciting stuff!

December 2018, the final month of this eventful year and the busiest. Our gorgeous grandson Jason celebrated his first birthday. The day started with a cake smash photo shoot as is the trend these days. The pictures were so cute, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of my favourite one in a frame for Christmas. In the afternoon, my son and his girlfriend took Jason to see Father Christmas and he didn’t cry. He is fascinated by beards, he loves to grab handfuls of Vern’s beard when he comes to visit so seeing Santa’s lush white beard must have been, well like Christmas for him!

The following day we had a party for him. I spent hours making a birthday cake in the shape of a number one. I went to town with the decorations and I was really pleased with how it turned out. Jason had a ball in the soft play area, he is just walking and loves being around other children. When the time came to cut the cake we all gathered around with our cameras and phones while Jason sat in his high chair eyeing the cake. His mum cut a big slice and put it on the tray of his chair, whereupon he snatched it up and jammed it into his face, blue icing and buttercream covering his hair and everyone standing close to him. Everyone fell about laughing and Jason thought this was hilarious. He is such a dearly loved little boy, I especially enjoy our time together when his mum is at work and we get to play or watch Paw Patrol. Being a nanny is the best thing in the world.

Christmas was upon us in no time and I worked on a showstopper reindeer cake for Christmas Eve when all our family plus my sister and her family gather for a party. We play silly games, eat too much food and have a few presents. It’s my time to connect with my sister and my beautiful niece. My son’s girlfriend is Portuguese and they traditionally celebrate Christmas through the night of the 24th so they took Jason home early to celebrate with her family, then they returned on Christmas Day to have lunch with us. The giant table was a great success, we could all fit comfortably around it and it was a very special day. Jason kept us all entertained, toddling around and causing chaos. It was the perfect end to a spectacular year and I look forward to what the next one will bring.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading. xx

 

 

Reasons to be thankful.

Over this Christmas period I have been wondering what I can write about now that my Bake Off challenge has finished. There are lots of exciting projects coming up in the new year, plus, I have a new business to get off the ground so I’m sure I won’t be short of subject-matter but for now I want to focus on what I loved about 2018. Sometimes our lives just get so busy that we lose track of what really makes us happy. In the run up to Christmas I’m often so stressed out, trying to create the perfect festive atmosphere that I forget to be in the moment and just enjoy it. All too soon it is over and I realise that it has passed me by in a blur. This year I decided to take stock of all the wonderful things that have happened and give thanks in this post.

January 2018, our house was on the market and we were looking for our dream house in the country. We were excited, but at the same time there was a little doubt-monster niggling away at us. You see, we had just become grandparents. Neither of us could fully commit to moving away from our families, and especially from our tiny baby grandson who had captured our hearts. We also celebrated our daughter’s birthday and she came to stay for a few days.

February 2018, our contract with the estate agent was coming to an end. We were disappointed at how unhelpful they had been and since we had not received a single offer on the house we decided to take it off the market and renovate instead. Once we had made the decision the relief we both felt was immense. Once we told family and friends, their delight that we were staying put confirmed that we had made the right call and we began to make plans for the renovations. We needed to find a good builder!

March 2018, my favourite month, the one in which I was born. My mum, sister Em and I went to see Rag ‘n’ Bone Man at the Alexandra Palace. It was a bitterly cold evening and we queued for hours to get in but, man, it was worth it! By the end of the evening we were all hoarse from singing and yelling. It was an incredible experience and we all floated out of the venue, into the cold night on cloud 9. Even the taxi failing to turn up to collect us could not dampen our mood. We finally got back to the guest house, still on a high and spent the night chatting and laughing until our sides hurt. It was a night I will never forget. Vern was in Germany on my birthday, as he often is, so we celebrated together the following weekend. We also made a start to the work on the house, having our noisy old boiler replaced, ready for the next phase.

April 2018, started with Easter, my favourite annual celebration and not just because of the chocolate. I loved the story of Easter as a child, the message of hope and rebirth it sends is one I am particularly fond of. It also means that Spring is arriving, bringing with it new life and warmer weather. My sister had got me tickets to see Sarah Millican at our local theatre, The Hexagon, for my birthday and I was so excited. It was another brilliant night, full of laughter and filth! I have the best time when I’m out with my sister. A few days later we met Paul Lewington, a local glazier, and plans were put in place for our new windows and orangery.

May 2018, Vern was away with his job most of the month but we managed to all get together to celebrate our youngest son’s birthday. The end of this month took a sad downturn when my dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

June 2018, Vern was in Poland on business so I supervised the new double glazing going in. Twelve windows and a new set of patio doors were installed within a few days. We then had wooden shutters fitted throughout. The house was looking better already! My dad went into hospital to have his tumour removed. Unfortunately his surgery was more complicated than the doctors had anticipated and a few days later he had sepsis. My sister and I visited him in Intensive Care, he was extremely poorly and we were warned that he might not survive. This was so hard to deal with. My relationship with my dad is tricky. He was not around for my childhood. He reappeared when I was a young adult but it was messy as he was effectively a stranger who had another family. He didn’t push things and it was many years before we had any kind of meaningful contact again but, when faced with the possibility that he might die, I couldn’t bear it. After another surgery to clear the infection, he thankfully pulled through. He lost a lot of weight and was very frail but after three or four weeks in hospital he was allowed to go home. He has remained cancer free so far and is regaining his strength. We still don’t see much of each other but he texts me to tell me that he is thinking of me and I’m okay with that.

Well that is the first six months and I am getting writers cramp so I will do part two tomorrow. It has been fun looking back over the months and remembering the highs and lows. More coming very soon.

Thanks for reading. xx